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Solomon's Seal - Growing the Elegant Shade Perennial Polygonatum

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Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum odoratum 'Variegatum')

Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum odoratum 'Variegatum')

Photo: © Marie Iannotti (2008) licensed to About.com, Inc.

Overview:

Although the dangling, tubular white flowers and following black seed pods are charming, it’s the arching stems and foliage that make Polygonatum such a favorite in shade gardens and woodland settings. Once established, Polygonatum slowly spreads out and creates a nodding blanket of foliage that turns a golden yellow in autumn. The genus name biflorum refers to the fact that the flowers grow in pairs along the leaf axils.

Latin Name:

Polygonatum

Common Name(s):Solomon's Seal

USDA Hardiness Zones:

3 - 9

Mature Size:

12 -48" H (Depending on variety.) The width of the plant is really only the 3-5" leaf span, but since the stem arches up and over, the width is more like 12" - 36".

Exposure:

Shade to Partial Shade. Polygonatum can only take sun if the climate is cool and the soil is moist.

Bloom Period:

Mid-Spring to Early Summer. The berries persist into summer.

Description:

Solomon’s Seal is an elegant plant that is Native to North America. The slender, arching stems have alternating lance-shaped leaves that are either green or tipped with white. The small, tubular white flowers dangle underneath the leaves. More mature plants tend to have more flowers and are a bit more showy. But it’s the plant form that makes Solomon’s Seal such an interesting plant. They are easy growers, but somewhat slow to become established. Solomon’s Seal is deer resistant.

Design Tips:

Solomon’s Seal looks best when allowed to naturalize in a woodland setting. It pairs well with many shade garden plants, like Brunnera (Siberian Bugloss), Cranesbill Geranium, Dicentra (Bleeding Heart), Epimedium (Barrenwort), Ferns, Hellebore, Heuchera (Coral Bells) and Tiarella (Foamflower). These plants have attractive and often colorful foliage, providing season-long interest.

Suggested Varieties:

  • P. biflorum - True Solomon’s Seal. Very dependable and one of the fastest growing.
  • P. odoratum 'Variegatum' - Fragrant Solomon's Seal. Variegated form with white tips.
  • P. biflorum var. commutatum - Giant Solomon’s Seal. Grows to about 5' in height.

Growing Tips:

Plants are usually started by transplants or rhizomes. Seeds of Polygonatum can take up to 2 years to sprout, so you will get some seeding in established plantings.

Polygonatum like a rich organic soil with a pH in the acidic to neutral zone. They need some shade to truly thrive. Damp shade is even better, although once established, they are quite drought tolerant. Plants can be started in the spring or fall. Plant only 1 - 2 inches deep and about 2-3 inches apart.

Maintenance: Solomon’s Seal seldom needs division. It takes several years before a clump is large enough to divide for propagation purposes. When ready, divide in early spring or fall and leave several buds on each division, for the best success. The rhizomes can be divided even further, but it will take longer for them to become established. Another option is to remove and plant just the offsets at the out edges of a clump.

Solomon’s Seal does not require deadheading. The flowers are small and will drop off naturally. The foliage remains attractive all season, so the plant is virtually maintenance free. The stems even disconnect from the rhizomes on their own, after frost. But before that, the foliage turns a nice golden yellow.

Pests & Problems: Healthy Polygonatum growing in good conditions seem to have few problems. If the weather is extremely damp, you may see signs of powdery mildew or another fugal disease. These should ameliorate as things dry out. Better air circulation will also help. Slugs and snails can also become a problem in damper areas.

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