How to grow star of Bethlehem flowers (Ornithogalum)

Star of Bethlehem, Ornithogalum 'Magnum'

Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum) is a genus of bulbous flowering plants in the Asparagaceae family, native to parts of Eurasia and Africa. Although there are around 180 species of Ornithogalum, only a handful are currently available commercially. These bulbous perennials are characterised by star-shaped white flowers with a green stripe down the middle of each petal – all held on a straight green stem with lance-shaped leaves. The name, Star of Bethlehem, is derived from its resemblance to the star that guided the biblical Magi to the birthplace of Jesus. They make an excellent cut flower.

Star of Bethlehem flower is a perennial plant, meaning it regrows year after year, although some species are less hardy than others and should be brought indoors for winter. Bear in mind that Ornithogalum contains toxic compounds and should be handled with care. Avoid ingesting any part of the plant, as it can cause discomfort or illness if consumed.

While Ornithogalum is not considered invasive in the UK, it’s essential to monitor its growth to prevent overcrowding and maintain the balance of your garden.

How to grow Ornithogalum

Grow Ornithogalum in well-drained, loamy to sandy soil in a sunny or partially shaded position. Some varieties are not hardy so need lifting in autumn to overwinter indoors.


Where to grow star of Bethlehem

Grow Ornithogalum in domestic gardens, rockeries, or naturalised in grassy areas. It also does well in containers.


How to plant Ornithogalum

When planting in the ground, dig a hole that’s twice as deep as the bulb’s height and place the bulb in the hole with the pointed end facing upwards. Fill the hole with soil, firm it gently, and water the area thoroughly. If planting in containers, choose free-draining peat-free compost and follow the same planting instructions.

Different species have different flowering times and so are not all planted at the same time – see the species list below for details.


How to care for Ornithogalum

Star of Bethlehem, Ornithogalum umbellatum
Star of Bethlehem, Ornithogalum umbellatum

Once established, Ornithogalum requires minimal care. Water the plants regularly during the growing season, keeping the soil moist but not waterlogged. Mulching around the plants helps conserve moisture and suppress weed growth.

Where bulbs are naturalised in grass, avoid mowing the area until their foliage has died back.

Ornithogalum does not require pruning. After the flowers fade and the foliage turns yellow, you can remove the spent flower stalks and trim the yellowing leaves. However, it’s important to allow the leaves to wither naturally to ensure the bulb stores enough energy for future growth. Pruning can be done in late spring or early summer.


Propagating star of Bethlehem

Ornithogalum can be propagated by dividing the bulbs. Lift the bulbs from the ground during the dormant period (late summer to early autumn, depending on the species) and separate the offsets or bulblets from the main bulb. Replant the offsets at the same depth as the parent bulb, ensuring they have enough space to grow.


Pests and diseases

Ornithogalum is occasionally susceptible to certain pests and diseases:

Aphids feed on the sap of plants and can cause damage to the foliage if present in large numbers. Usually natural predators such as birds and ladybirds will keep numbers under control but if you need to you can use a jet of water from your hose to knock the insects off.

Slugs and snails can eat through the leaves and flowers of Ornithogalum. Use physical barriers like copper tape or eggshells around the plants to deter them. You can also handpick them off and dispose of them.

Botrytis blight, also known as grey mould, is a fungal disease that causes greyish patches on the leaves and flowers. Remove any plant parts and improve air circulation around the plants by spacing them adequately.

Bulb rot can be caused by excessively wet soil or poor drainage, particularly in pots. Ensure the soil is well-drained and avoid overwatering. If bulb rot occurs, remove the affected bulbs and replant in fresh soil.


Advice on buying Ornithogalum

When purchasing Ornithogalum bulbs, choose firm and plump bulbs with no signs of mould or damage. Look for reputable nurseries or online suppliers to ensure the quality and authenticity of the bulbs.

Where to buy Ornithogalum online 

Ornithogalum varieties to grow

Ornithogalum dubium 'Orange Star'
Ornithogalum dubium ‘Orange Star’

Giant chincherinchee, Ornithogalum saundersiae – this impressive variety bears large, fragrant white flowers. Plant in spring after risk of frost has passed, or earlier under glass, for flowering in July to August. Lift in autumn to overwinter indoors. Height x Spread: 90cm x 50cm.

Drooping star of Bethlehem, Ornithogalum nutans – this species features nodding white flowers. Fully hardy, plant in autumn for flowers in May and June. You can leave the bulbs in the ground over winter. H x S: 60cm x 15cm.

Chincherinchee, Ornithogalum thyrsoides – tall spikes covered in small white flowers. Plant in spring after the worst frosts have passed for flowers in May and June. Lift the bulbs in autumn to overwinter indoors. H x S: 60cm x 10cm.

Yellow chincherinchee, Ornithogalum dubium – orange-yellow flowers. Plant in spring after all risk of frost has passed, for summer flowers. Lift bulbs in autumn to overwinter indoors. H x S: 45cm x 30cm.

Common star of Bethlehem, Ornithogalum umbellatum – bears clusters of white star-shaped flowers. Fully hardy, plant in autumn for flowers in March to May. There’s no need to lift bulbs in autumn. H x S: 25cm x 15cm.

Dwarf Star of Bethlehem, Ornithogalum oligophyllum – a compact variety of Star of Bethlehem. Fully hardy, plant in autumn for flowers in March to May. There’s no need to lift bulbs in autumn. H x S: 20cm x 10cm.

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Composting

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