The following article is part of a series geared toward entry-level gardeners. For deep dives into a variety of perennials that we have sold over the decades, visit our archive of in-depth perennial articles written by Tony Avent, Dr. Patrick McMillan, and other Plant Delights and JLBG experts. We also have transcripts of our Gardening Unplugged videos, recorded during our Open Nursery and Garden Days, that have great information for gardeners of all experience levels.
Solomon's seal was previously classified in the lily family but are now considered a member of the asparagus family and are a cousin of agaves and hostas. In the shade garden, solomon's seal will slowly form dense colonies of deciduous stems. The spring-blooming bell-like flowers are followed by attractive blue/black fruit in the fall. While most solomon's seal flowers are white, polygonatums are also rarely available in pink, orange, and purple flowers.
Many species of Solomon's seal have been used as a food source and, at times, have been relied on as a famine food in parts of China. The leaves, stems, and rhizomes of some varieties can be utilized cooked or raw in Chinese cuisine and is often used as a side with pig's feet or chicken's feet. The rhizomes are also used to make tea or as a flavor additive for wine and liqour. The shoots can also be boiled and eaten similar to aspargus.
Solomon's seal also has a history of being used in traditional Chinese medicine and is believed to restore mental vigor. In the 1930's, German pharmacologist Hedwig Langecker discovered that Polygonatum officinale and Polygonatum multiflorum were effective in fighting nutritional hyperglycemia due to its glucokinin content.
Solomon's seals range in height from 6" tall to over 7' tall. Polygonatums are durable, easy-to-grow woodland plants that thrive well when grown among companions like hardy ferns, hosta, ophiopogon, farfugium and pulmonaria.
Tips for Growing Polygonatum (Solomon's Seal)
Growing Polygonatum, commonly known as Solomon's Seal, can be a rewarding experience for beginner gardeners. This elegant and shade-loving perennial plant offers delicate arching stems with bell-shaped flowers and attractive foliage. To ensure maximum success, follow these tips and cultural conditions:
1. Selecting the Plant: Choose a healthy Polygonatum plant from a reputable nursery or garden center. Look for well-established roots and disease-free foliage.
2. Location: Solomon's Seal thrives in partial to full shade. Select a location with dappled sunlight or morning sun with afternoon shade. Avoid planting it in direct sunlight, as this can scorch the delicate foliage.
3. Soil Preparation: Polygonatum prefers rich, moist, and well-draining soil. Amend the soil with organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure to improve its fertility and water retention.
4. Planting Depth: When planting, ensure that the crown of the Polygonatum (where the roots meet the stems) is at ground level. Planting too deeply can cause rot, and planting too shallowly can expose the roots to drying out.
5. Spacing: Provide enough space between plants, typically around 1 to 2 feet apart, to allow them to grow and spread without crowding each other.
6. Watering: Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. Regular watering during dry periods is essential, especially during the establishment phase. Mulching around the base of the plant helps retain soil moisture.
7. Mulching: Apply a layer of organic mulch, such as wood chips or shredded leaves, around the plant. Mulch helps conserve moisture, suppress weeds, and enrich the soil as it breaks down.
8. Fertilization: Avoid excessive fertilization, as Solomon's Seal prefers a slightly acidic to neutral pH soil. If needed, use a balanced organic fertilizer in early spring, before new growth appears.
9. Support: Some varieties of Polygonatum may benefit from light support, especially if they have tall arching stems. You can use bamboo stakes or discreet garden trellises to support the plants without detracting from their natural beauty.
10. Division: Over time, Polygonatum will form clumps. Divide the plants every 3 to 5 years in early spring or late autumn. This helps maintain plant health and promotes better growth and flowering.
11. Pest and Disease Management: Polygonatum is relatively resistant to pests and diseases. However, keeping the garden clean and free of debris can help prevent potential issues. Monitor for any signs of pest or disease infestation and take appropriate action if needed.
12. Winter Care: In colder climates, Solomon's Seal goes dormant in winter. Mulch the plant heavily in late autumn to protect the roots from frost and extreme temperature fluctuations.
13. Observation: Pay attention to the plant's growth and overall health. Regularly observe any changes in appearance or behavior, as this can help identify and address any issues promptly.
By following these tips and providing the right cultural conditions, you can enjoy the beauty and charm of Polygonatum (Solomon's Seal) in your garden, even as a beginner gardener. Patience and observation are key, as this plant may take a couple of seasons to establish fully and reveal its full splendor.
To learn more about this amazing woodland perennial and to see some of the amazing varieties of polygonatum currently being grown at Plant Delights and Juniper Level Botanic Garden, checkout our video Gardening Unplugged: Solomon's Seal in the Garden with Tony Avent.