How to Grow Trillium Plants

Gardener's HQ Guide to Growing Wake-robin, and Birthroot

Trillium are hardy perennials that reach from 15 to 45 cm in height.

They have large flat leaves and bloom from early spring to early summer.

When in bloom, Trillium carry flowers of white, red or pink; these may be single and large, or in whorls depending upon species.

A commonly grown member of Trillium in the garden is the Wake-Robin.

Trillium grandiflorum
Trillium grandiflorum - White trillium by Charles de Martigny.

Trillium Growing and Care Guide

  • Common Names: Wake-robin, Tri-flower, Birthwort, Birthroot.
  • Life Cycle: Hardy perennial.
  • Height: 6 to 18 inches (15—45 cm).
  • Native: North America.
  • Growing Region: Zones 4 to 9.
  • Flowers: Early spring through to early summer.
  • Flower Details: White, red, pink. Single flower can be carried on either an inflorescence or bract dependent on species. Three petals, three sepals.
  • Foliage: No true above ground leaves, but carries photosynthetic leaf-like bracts on horizontal whorls. Large, flat.
  • Sow Outside: : Easiest to grow from divided roots. Plant these at 4 to 5 inches (10 to 12 cm). Seeds take a long time to germinate and it can take over five years for seed-grown plants to flower.
    Seeds: Surface. Late summer or autumn using fresh seed. They should first be sown into flats. Next sink the flat into the ground in an area that offers shade, preferably close to a wall that faces north. Provide a glass/plastic covering. Keep an eye on the flats to ensure that the soil remains moist. Keep in situ over two winters. Then transfer seeds/seedlings to peat pots and keep indoors to 65°F (16°C). Transplant to their final location in spring or the beginning of autumn.
  • Sow Inside: Germination time: 1.5 to 3 years. Temperature: ~65°F (18°C). Space at 5 to 12 inches (12—30 cm). Sow onto a flat containing moist soil, wrap in a large plastic bag, then stratify by refrigeration for three weeks. Take the flat out of the fridge and keep at ~65°F (18°C) for 90 days. Return to the fridge for a further three weeks.
  • Requirements and care: Full sunlight or partial shade. Slightly acidic soil pH 5 to 6.5. Good drainage. Rich, moist soil. Keep soil cool by applying a permanent mulch with leaf mold. Regular watering. Once established do not disturb roots. Propagate: by dividing in the spring in cooler areas or the autumn in warmer areas, be very careful to cause as little damage as possible.
  • Family: Melanthiaceae.
  • Closely Related Species: Bunchflowers.
  • Miscellaneous: Traditionally used as a uterine stimulant during birth (leading to the alternative name for Wake-robin of Birth root. It is also claimed to control bleeding and diarrhea.

How to Grow Trillium

It is probably easiest to grow Trillium from plants bought at a garden centre or carefully divided plants. Plant roots about 12 to 15 cm deep.

Be aware that the seeds may take up to three years to germinate. If growing species from seed it is perhaps easiest to start off indoors.

Sow the seeds into a flat on the surface, the flat should contain a rich, slightly acidic soil (pH 5 to 6.5). Once sown cover the flat in a plastic bag and place in the refrigerator for three months. The flat should then be removed from the bag and kept indoors at a temperature of 15 to 22 degrees celsius. After three months the flat should again be put in a plastic bag and refrigerated for a further three months. After this period place at 15 to 21 degrees again, hopefully the Trillium seeds will germinate.

Once you have Trillium seedlings they can then transplanted outdoors in either autumn or spring. They should be grown in a shady or mainly shady part of the garden and spaced from 12 cm (small) to 30 cm (larger Trillium species) apart. It should take about 5 years until the plant will bear any flowers.

Caring for Trillium

Trillium are not the easiest plants to grow, but are nice enough to make the effort. They like a cool and moist soil so supply a deep permanent leaf mold mulch for them and keep well watered. If you require more plants they can be propagated by division in the spring; however do this very carefully as it is easy to destroy your plants.

I hope that you enjoyed this guide on how to grow Trillium plants. You may also enjoy the following Gardener's HQ growing guides: How to grow Stenanthium and Xerophyllum plants.