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There is nothing more spectacular in the woodland garden than when the trilliums are in full bloom. The flowers dance in the breeze, creating a carpet of white, red, or yellow flowers. It's truly a sign of spring.
Trilliums are ingrained in our culture. They grace U.S. postage stamps, are the state flower in many states and a Canadian Province, and are used as emblems on everything from restaurants to resorts. The characteristic three leaves and three-petaled flowers are immediately recognizable by many gardeners.
Trillium are native to Asia and North America. You'll find them in the wild in our Eastern forests, Rocky Mountains and West Coast. There are more than 40 species of native trillium. Look for species adapted to where you live. While it's easiest to grow those native to your region of the country, you can also try other species from different areas as long as you adjust the soil conditions accordingly.
The most common trillium is the Great White (Trillium grandiflorum). It's hardy in USDA zones 4 to 7, stands 12- to 18-inches tall and produces 2-inch diameter white blossoms. Often the white flowers fade to a light pink as they age. There is a West coast version of this trillium species (T. ovatum) as well. While the eastern Great White trillium thrives among deciduous trees. The West coast version is often found among the redwoods.
The bent trillium (T. flexipes) has a similar hardiness to the great white trillium. The flower bends downward and also turns a maroon color. The prairie trillium (T. recurvatum) features red flowers on 12- to 18-inch tall plants with mottled dark green leaves. It's hardy in USDA zones 5 to 8. The Yellow Trillium (T. luteum), features yellow flowers on stalkless plants that stand a stocky 1 foot tall. The flowers seem to emerge from the leaves themselves. The blossoms have a slight lemon fragrance while the leaves are mottled. It's as hardy as the prairie trillium.
The Painted Trillium (T. undulatum) features white flowers with a red throat. Its hardiness is the same as the Great White trillium and stands 12 inches tall. Stinking Benjamin (T. erectum) is an unfortunate common name for this beautiful red trillium species. It only stinks if you stick your nose right into the flower. The plant is hardy to USDA zones 4 to 7. The red to purple colored flowers form on 12- to 18-inch tall stalks. For something unusual, try the propeller toad trillium (T. stamineum). This Southern favorite features chocolate colored flowers that form like propellers on stocky one foot tall plants. It's hardy in USDA zone 5 to 8.
Trillium grow best in their native woodland habitat. They need dappled light to part shade from deciduous trees for good growth. They do most of their flowering and growing before the tree canopy fills out. The soil should be high in organic matter from decaying leaves or compost, moist and well drained. The best way to know where a good place in your forest to plant trillium is to look to see where the native species is growing. Plant rhizomes scattered randomly throughout the forest floor. They will eventually spread forming the carpet of color.
Select forest areas where trilliums won't have much competition from other woodland plants. Trilliums don't compete well with other plants and can get overrun if in the wrong location.
Yellow Trillium has stunning, rich green leaves spotted with silver. Its bright yellow blooms appear in the center of each leaf, with the petals rising upward. (Trillium luteum)...
White Trillium opens exquisite white blooms up to 5” across in mid-spring. Flowers fade to a pretty pale pink. This woodland wildflower requires patience but is well worth the wa...
Native Red Trillium is a beloved woodland wildflower with stunning, three-petaled burgundy flowers that float above a whorl of bright green leaves. Also known as Purple Trillium and ...
In the shade garden, plant them in compost amended soil in groups. Again, don't plant them near other perennials that might overtake them in time. Some good companions in the flower garden include any of the other spring ephemeral flowers such as trout lilies, foam flowers, woodland phlox,solomon's seal andcolumbine They also look beautiful planted near narcissus, Siberian squill and Species Tulips.
Overwintered primulas, pansies and violas often will be in full bloom when trilliums are flowering and these shade lovers compliment the trillium flowers well.
Some shade perennials have colorful or interesting foliage that contrasts nicely with trillium. Look for red-foliaged epimediums, Japanese painted fern, and fern-leaf bleeding hearts. You can also plant trilliums in among evergreen ground covers, such as vinca and ivy. The colorful flowers will bloom above the ground cover foliage in spring.
Trillium spreads by clumping and self-sowing. However, it's not easy to germinate trillium seed. It's best to purchase nursery propagated and grown plants. Seed grown plants can take up to 10 years to bloom.
Small trillium plants bought online or at the local garden center should bloom in a few years. As clumps spread and more flowers are produced, it might be tempting to use the trillium flowers as a cut flower indoors.
While this won't kill the plant, it will reduce flowering in subsequent years because you're most likely removing the leaves as well. The leaves only have a few weeks to store energy in the roots for next year's bloom cycle.
Since trillium plants go dormant and disappear by midsummer, mark where you'll want to plant more trillium in fall or early spring in the forest or your shade garden. The last thing you want to do is dig up established clumps because you didn't know they were there.
About the Author: Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden speaker, author, consultant, radio and TV show host. He delights in making gardening information simple, easy, fun and accessible to everyone. Visit his website, GardeningwithCharlie.com for how-to gardening information, and for more about Charlie.
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