How to Cultivate and Maintain Bells of Ireland: A Guide to Growing this Unique Flower

As an avid gardener and plant enthusiast, I’ve seen my fair share of plant identification quizzes. Some plants are difficult to identify, but others, like bells of Ireland, are unmistakable. With their distinctive appearance, it’s hard to confuse these beautiful flowers with anything else.

Bells of Ireland, also known as Irish bells, shellflowers, and Molucca balms, are half-hardy annuals that belong to the mint family. They thrive in USDA Hardiness Zones 2 to 11, making them suitable for a wide range of climates. These unique flowers feature upright stalks adorned with clusters of small white flowers surrounded by light green calyces. Their striking appearance makes them stand out in any garden or floral arrangement.

If you’re captivated by their one-of-a-kind aesthetic, you may want to add bells of Ireland to your collection. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about growing and caring for these remarkable flowers.

What Are Bells of Ireland Flowers?

Bells of Ireland flowers are often misunderstood. Unlike the typical blooms you might find in a Google image search, they possess a unique charm. These half-hardy annuals can withstand cool air and soil temperatures in early spring, but they lack the hardiness to withstand frosts and freezes. They grow upright, reaching a height of one and a half to three feet and a spread of one to one and a half feet.

The flowers themselves are small, white, and fragrant, and they bloom from midsummer to fall. What sets them apart are the large, bell-shaped green calyces that encase the blooms. The fragrance of the flowers is refreshing, with hints of mint, apple, or even lime green Skittles. The calyces form in tight clusters along the square-shaped stems, adorned with small thorns. Scalloped leaves emerge from between the calyx clusters on long petioles.

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Despite their name, bells of Ireland do not originate from Ireland. They are native to western Asia, including regions like Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and the Caucasus. The Irish part of their name likely refers to the plant’s green color, often associated with the Emerald Isle. The Latin name, Moluccella laevis, was given by Carl Linnaeus and references the Molucca Islands in Indonesia. “Laevis” describes the smooth surface of the plant.

Since their cultivation began in the 1570s in Belgium, bells of Ireland have been cherished by horticulturalists worldwide. They are not only valued for their ornamental beauty but also used in perfume-making and are a popular choice for both fresh and dried floral arrangements. In the language of flowers, they symbolize good luck, making them a wonderful gift for those embarking on new endeavors.

Bells of Ireland Plant Propagation

When it comes to propagating bells of Ireland, you have two options: seed or transplanting.

From Seed

If this is your first time growing bells of Ireland, you’ll need to acquire seeds from a reliable source. After drying the seeds for about a week, store them in a labeled envelope in the refrigerator. This will ensure their viability when it’s time to sow them.

About 10 to 12 weeks before the last frost date in your area, prepare three-inch containers filled with a mixture of peat moss and perlite. Sow the seeds just below the surface of the media and lightly water them. Seal the container in plastic and keep it in the fridge for two weeks, maintaining moisture throughout.

After two weeks, remove the containers from the fridge and place them in a well-lit indoor area. Keep the media moist and give the containers a quarter-turn each day to encourage even growth. Once the temperatures are consistently above 40°F at night and between 50 and 60°F during the day, your bells of Ireland seedlings are ready to be hardened off.

Take the containers outdoors into direct sunlight for 30 to 60 minutes, gradually increasing the time each day. Eventually, they can spend the entire day outside. Now you’re ready to transplant!

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Via Transplanting

Before transplanting, prepare well-draining and fertile planting sites. Space the transplants 10 to 12 inches apart and dig holes slightly wider and as deep as the transplant’s container. When removing the transplant from its container, handle the root system gently, taking care not to damage it.

Place the transplant into the hole, backfill with soil, and water thoroughly. Repeat this process for each transplant, and you’re all set!

How to Cultivate Bells of Ireland Flowers

Cultivating and caring for bells of Ireland is relatively straightforward. Incorporating organic matter into your garden beds in early spring will provide the nutrients these flowers love. Aim for a slightly acidic to neutral pH level of 6.5 to 7.5.

Water and Fertilizer Needs

Bells of Ireland thrive in moist soil, so be sure to water them whenever the top layer feels dry to the touch. Additionally, feeding them with a balanced fertilizer during the growing season will provide the necessary nutrients for healthy growth.

Maintenance

Apart from regular watering and fertilizing, there are a few other tasks to include in your bells of Ireland routine.

These flowers are capable of self-seeding, so you can either transplant or remove any new seedlings as they appear in subsequent seasons. If you wish to prevent natural scattering, cut the stems before the seeds form in late summer. You can also use the dried blooms in floral arrangements if you time the cutting just right, as the calyces begin to dry and lose flexibility.

Pest management is crucial for maintaining healthy plants, as insects can carry disease-causing pathogens. Here are a few common pests to watch out for:

Aphids

These small, translucent, pear-shaped insects settle on the shoots of plants and feed on the sap. If left unchecked, they can stunt growth and cause chlorosis. Regularly inspect your plants and take action at the first sign of an infestation.

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Spider Mites

These tiny arachnids are difficult to spot, but you may notice the webs they weave on infested plants. Keep an eye out for these pests and take action if you see any signs of damage.

Cercospora Leaf Spot

Caused by fungi, this disease causes small brown spots on the leaves, interfering with photosynthesis. Practice good sanitation by removing infected leaves and avoiding overhead irrigation to prevent the spread of this disease.

Crown Rot

Crown rot occurs when the crown, located at the soil line, rots due to oversaturated soil conditions. To prevent this, ensure proper drainage and avoid overwatering your plants. Infected specimens should be removed and discarded to prevent further spread.

Best Uses for Bells of Ireland Flowers

Bells of Ireland are incredibly versatile and can enhance various settings. In the garden, they pair well with other annuals in mixed borders or can add a touch of uniqueness to a cottage garden. Their upright form also makes them great for containers and arrangements.

Florists particularly appreciate the beauty of bells of Ireland. Whether fresh or dried, these flowers make a stunning addition to floral arrangements. When cutting dry stems for drying, remove the thorns and leaves before hanging them in a well-ventilated area. For fresh arrangements, cut the stems when the calyces are about half open, ensuring they touch the bottom of the vase for better water absorption.

No matter the occasion, bells of Ireland complement purple hues splendidly. Consider combining them with ornamental alliums, butterfly bushes, or purple-leaved coleus for a captivating display.

With the right care and maintenance, you can enjoy the beauty of bells of Ireland in your garden or floral arrangements. So why not add a little luck to your life with these extraordinary flowers?

For more information and to explore a wide selection of bells of Ireland and other floral options, visit the Ames Farm Center.

Images and video courtesy of the original article.