Eucomis: Pineapple Lilies for Your Patio
The first time I grew eucomis was three years ago. I had never seen seen the plant or the flowers, so I didn’t know what to expect. Plus, not all tropical plants grow well here in zone 4. But there was no need for worry. This exotic-looking South African bulb was a big success and it’s now one of my favorite summer container plants.
Eucomis are in the same plant family as hyacinths. The common name is pineapple lily, and the reason for that is obvious when you look at the blossoms. There are about a dozen different varieties, with flower colors ranging from white through pink and violet. All of them are highly attractive to butterflies and bees.
How to Grow Eucomis
Pineapple lilies look exotic, but are incredibly easy to grow – especially in a container. Three bulbs fit nicely in a 12” diameter clay pot. The bulbs should be planted 3-4” deep, so choose a container that’s at least 8” tall. Use a high quality growing mix and make sure the pot has one or more drainage holes on the bottom.
In the southern half of the country, you can plant eucomis bulbs right in the ground. Wait until the soil is warm (65°F) and plant the bulbs several inches deeper than you would plant them in a container. Remember that these are tropical bulbs and they won’t tolerate frost or cold soil. So don’t put them outside until night-time temperatures are settled and relatively warm – at least two weeks after the frost-free date in your area.
When eucomis bulbs go dormant at the end of the growing season, they really go dormant and it takes a long time for them to wake up again. If you plant the bulbs in late May, don’t be surprised if it’s a full month before you see any foliage. If you want something to look at while while you are waiting, plant some cool weather annuals on top of the bulbs and then relocate them when the eucomis start to fill out.
While the bulbs are dormant, keep the soil lightly moist. Once the plants leaf out, water consistently for the rest of the growing season. To increase flower production, apply a water-soluble fertilizer twice a month. Eucomis bloom best when grown in full sun — except in the very hottest climates, where they appreciate a little shade.
In late summer, flower stalks will emerge from the center of the plant and rise to a height of 12 to 18″. Each flower is a column of florets, crowned with a topknot of tiny leaves. The florets open slowly from the bottom up, over a period of 3 weeks or more. After the flowers fade and the petals drop, there are shiny black seed capsules.
What to Do After They Bloom
Eucomis plants die back to the ground at the end of the growing season, even in zones 7-10 where the bulbs are winter hardy. In those areas, leave the bulbs right where they are planted and they will come up and bloom again the following summer. If you live in zone 7 and are growing eucomis in containers, you should bring the containers into a sheltered location for the winter. While the bulbs are dormant, they should stay relatively dry, so keep that in mind when choosing a planting site.
Gardeners in cool climates (zones 3-6) can treat eucomis bulbs as annuals and discard them at the end of the growing season. But why do that when it’s so easy to store the bulbs indoors for the winter? Here’s how:
After flowering, cut off the flower stalk and let the foliage continue growing until fall. If the bulbs are in the ground, dig them up before frost and gently remove most of the soil from around the bulbs. Let the plants (with bulb attached) dry in a frost-protected area until the foliage withers. Then put the whole thing in a black plastic trash bag with the top open for ventilation. Store at 45-50°F until it’s time to replant.
If your eucomis bulbs are in a pot, you can pull them out and treat them as above. Or, bring the pot indoors, stop watering and let the foliage die back. The dormant bulbs can be stored right in the pots until replanting in spring. The bulbs I saved from last year (see photo above) are larger than they were at the start of last season, so hopefully I’ll get even more flowers this year!
I hope you’ll give eucomis a try. All three varieties shown above can be found here. Bulbs are usually available March through May.