Metro-East Living

Gardening: Lily needs 8 weeks of temps under 45

Lily-of-the-valley plant can be forced to bloom.
Lily-of-the-valley plant can be forced to bloom.

Q: I would like to grow lily-of-the-valley inside as I enjoy the fragrance that the flowers give off. How do I do this?

K. D. of Belleville

A: It may be a little questionable to try to bloom the lily-of-the-valley this year since the winter has been extremely mild. But it never hurts to try.

Dig the rhizomes and use the larger ones that will be as large as you little finger. Make sure there is a bud on the end of each one to produce a flower spike. The bud is called a “pip.” To get these to bloom, you need a temperature of 45 degrees for eight weeks. The pips need to be placed in barely moist peat moss placed in a plastic bag, then placed in the lower part of a refrigerator. Be careful not to place them near any apples, pears or cantaloupes. These fruits can can give off ethylene gas, which can inhibit the flowering process. They need to be kept there for about eight weeks.

Then you can remove the pips and plant them just below the surface of a rich soil in a container that drains fairly well. Place the container in an east window with low light. In about three weeks, they should bloom. The main requirement is to keep the pips for two months in a cool soil. So in a normal winter, you could place the pips in the outside soil, then after eight weeks dig a few and bring them inside to force them. Wait two weeks and bring in some more so you can have lily-of-the-valley blooming all winter.

Q: Can I grow calla lilies without having to dig them up in the fall to overwinter them? A gardening magazine I was reading said it was possible to do this, but my aunt told me to be safe and dig them. Is she correct?

D. N. of Columbia

A: Calla Lilies (Zantedeschia species) are native to South Africa. They should be left in the soil in winter only if the soil does not freeze. This year you could have probably gotten by without digging them. But we are located in the plant zone 6, which usually experiences frozen soil. If the bulbs freeze, they turn to mush and die.

I do know one resident in Belleville who covers all his vegetable plants in winter with old carpeting, which is held up by large concrete blocks, to overwinter the plants. He does not allow the carpeting to smash the plants but protects them from freezing. The south side of a brick house may hold enough latent heat to also get you by without freezing, but you may need to add some insulating mulch of leaves and straw deep enough to keep the bulbs from freezing. Still, you are taking a chance. At worst, the bulbs may freeze but you can always buy new ones. Or to be completely safe, dig half and let the other half overwinter in the soil. If we have an unusually cold winter, you will only loose half of them.

Q: I am trying to grow my own vegetable plants. How long does it take for tomato, pepper, cabbage, cucumber plants to germinate?

F. P. of Collinsville

A: Tomatoes germinate in 10 days. Peppers take two to four weeks to germinate. Cabbage germinates in ten days. Cucumber seed should be planted directly into the soil after the top 5 inches of soil has warmed to 55 degrees. Cucumbers have delicate roots, which break easily when you try to transplant them.

Charles Giedeman is a local contributing writer. Send your gardening questions to Lifestyle Editor Patrick Kuhl, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to

Do it now

▪  Even though the robin scouts have arrived and the geese are migrating north, do not rush to plant outside. Just wait for forsythia (golden bell shrub) to bloom to give the all-clear to begin spring planting.