How to grow trilliums

Trillium grandiflorum

Trilliums (also known as wood lily and wake robin) are herbaceous, clump-forming perennials with large leaves and gently nodding, solitary flowers which stand on tall stems, above the foliage. Trillium flowers tend to be white or shades of burgundy, with the darker-flowered varieties known as ‘wake robin’ after the robin’s red breast. Native to North American woodlands, they thrive in full shade to partial shade. They are commonly used as ground cover and as underplanting for shrubs and roses.

Trillium plant roots and berries are toxic to humans, cats and dogs and will cause stomach upset. However their leaves can be eaten and are said to have a nutty flavour, though are more commonly used in medicine as a diuretic and antiseptic.

How to grow trilliums

Grow trilliums in moist but well-drained, neutral-to-acidic soil, in partial shade to full shade. Water regularly to help the corms establish, especially during dry weather. Prune out dead, diseased or damaged foliage throughout the growing season and apply an annual mulch of leaf mould or home-made compost in spring.

Where to grow trilliums

Trillium erectum f. albiflorum in a woodland border
Trillium erectum f. albiflorum in a woodland border

Grow trilliums in partial- to full shade, ideally in moist but well-drained, neutral-to-acidic soil. Planting between shrubs is said to protect trillums from wind and other elements, which will keep them flowering for longer.

How to plant trilliums

Trilliums can be planted from dry bulbs (corms) in late summer. Plant them 7-10cm deep and water thoroughly so they establish before temperatures dip in autumn, then continue watering again during the growing season, especially during a dry spell. However, take care not to overwater the plants as trilliums suffer when the soil is waterlogged.

Alternatively, plant trilliums from young plants in spring – this tends to be a more successful method than planting from corms. Plant from mid-spring and keep plants well-watered until they become established, and again water when conditions become dry.

How to care for trilliums

Trillium erectum. Getty Images
Trillium erectum. Getty Images

Trilliums require little care. Prune out dead, diseased or damaged foliage during the growing season. In spring, it’s a good idea to apply a mulch of leaf mould or home-made compost, as this will keep the soil moist and cool.

How to propagate trilliums

Established trillium clumps can be propagated by division after flowering. Simply dig up the plant as the foliage starts to die back, and separate it into smaller clumps, ensuring each section has at least one bud and some roots. Grow the cuttings on in pots or the soil, covering the rhizomes with at least 5cm of soil or compost. If you’re planting more than one cutting, space them 25cm apart.

You can also grow new trilliums from fresh seed saved from the spent flowers, however this is a long process as the seed goes through a process known as ‘double dormancy’. This is where the seed requires a period of chilling (winter) for the root to develop but then another period of heat and cold for the shoot to grow. This means, if you sow ripe seed from your plants in pots of peat-free seed compost and place in a cold frame in shade, they will start to grow as plants in two years’ time. Flowering may then occur a further two or three years later.


Trillium leaves are susceptible to the attentions of slugs and snails, while newly planted corms may attract squirrels.

Advice on buying trilliums

  • Buy trilliums as dry corms or young plants, bearing in mind that plantings from young plants tend to be more successful than from corms
  • Ensure you have the right conditions for growing trillium: a sheltered spot in shade, with moist but well-drained soil 
  • Always check plants for signs of damage and disease before planting

Where to buy trillums

Types of trillium to grow


Trillium grandiflorum

Trillium grandiflorum
Trillium grandiflorum

The most commonly grown trillium and the easiest to grow. Leaves are ribbed and shiny, and flowers are large, pure white and funnel-shaped. Height x Spread: 40cm x 30cm


Trillium erectum

Trillium erectum. Getty Images
Trillium erectum. Getty Images

Known as red trillium or purple trillium, this species bears nodding, three-petalled blooms in various shades of red to purple. Each trillium flower turns into a small red berry. H x S: 45cm x 45cm


Trillium chloropetalum

Trillium chloropetalum. Getty Images
Trillium chloropetalum. Getty Images

Known as giant trillium or giant wake robin, it has marbled green leaves that are attractive in their own right, and large burgundy flowers. H x S: 50cm x 50cm



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