Flax Lily – Dianella

By Richard Flowers, ACCNP-Green Thumb Nursery-Ventura

Imagine having a plant that is tough, takes a wide variety of water regimens, easy care, durable, and not fussy, then Flax Lily could be your answer. Flax Lily grows well with just about any gardening application from rock gardens, containers, with palms, succulents, shady locations, sunny areas, under trees, and water features. If you are looking for linear blue green foliage in a difficult shady situation, Flax Lily may be a fit for you. There are so many types and varieties of this plant , I am sure you could find the one that best suites your needs. Some plants are attractively variegated, while others have handsome blue-green foliage, and as a bonus they provide you with small yet beautiful flowers (especially when large numbers are planted together making it a stunning display) and interesting, decorative, non-edible, mildly toxic berries. Want to know more about this botanical wonder, let’s dive into what Flax Lillies are all about.

Botanically known by the genus Dianella but commonly called Flax Lily because they resemble a similar plant called flax or Phormium so the common name stuck with it. Also the common name “Flax Lily” refers to the similarities between the simple, blue flowers of this plant to those of several species in the genus Linum, which includes Flax, a wildflower commonly found in seed mixes. Flax Lily is native to Australia and New Zealand which has much of the same climate as our own and as a result it makes it a favorite among Southern California gardens. In recent years these plants have become more and more popular because of their usefulness and durability. Flax Lily is a clumping, slow running (growing) rhizomatous perennial that ranges from little, cute and compact to big (3′) robust, spreading, hardy plants. Some types are more up right in growth while others may be more lax in habit. Generally, they need either part or full shade except along the foggy coastal areas where they will do fine in full sun.

The evergreen foliage of Flax Lily provides an impressive elegant shape, rounded and self-contained. The long stripy leaves often form a natural fountain, emerging from a central point in a soft cascade. The leaf color can range from an attractive vivid bright green, a splendid soft blue-green, my favorite white striped (variegated), or purple-grey, depending on the selection.

Most Flax Lillies range in height 24 to 30 inches tall by 20 inches wide. Their flowers are typically born in late spring into summer that arise on a 3 foot tall branching inflorescence. The flowers are blue and star shaped with yellow stamens. After flowering, they produce splendid dark, metallic blue berries which are retained through summer and fall. These fruits are quite noticeable and showy. The flowers are small, muted in color, and open scattered over a long period of time. The slightest breeze sets them gently bobbing and swaying making a dance in the wind. The flowers, leaves ,and fruits do well in cut flower arrangements.

Flax Lily likes to be irrigated regularly to only occasionally meaning they can withstand medium to dry soil moisture conditions. They grow well in sandy and other well drained soils but can tolerate some wet soil situations like clay. If planted in a clay soil, I advise planting them on a mound or raised bed so you get better drainage, air movement, and water penetration. Use Azalea -Camellia Mix when planting and fertilize with an acidic plant food. Flax Lily is hardy to 24° F and reportedly root hardy to around 10° F

The only real maintenance they require is to trim spent flowers and any un- attractive foliage can be snipped off to keep plants neat and tidy looking. To limit their growth, you can water less so they do not overwhelm the area. If they get a little big you are welcome to easily divide the clump. No serious disease or pest problems occur with this plant, however Powdery Mildew and various leaf spot diseases have been reported, but are usually not fatal.

Flax Lily plants can grow in a dry, dark, and shaded area and are known to be deer resistant.They can adapt and become drought resistant once established and are tolerant to salt spray in marine environments. This plant is used effectively when paired with other perennials in a mixed border. I have seen beautiful landscapes where Flax Lily is used as an impressive ground cover. Because these plants grow compact, they also make excellent edging for borders, driveways, paths and lawns, where they will need very little care. Flax Lillies look awesome planted alongside a house wall or fence under a tree . Try using them with complementary plants like blue fescue, Lily Turf, Lomandra, and Mondo Grass. For a natural and simple look, use them planted amongst large landscape boulders. They also work harmoniously when used with a mixed planting of Fringe Flower, Nandinia, Sago Palms, Mirror Plant, and Agapanthus. When planted en masse, they help cool the soil and keep weeds at bay. Overall these sought after plants are supremely easygoing and very tolerant of all kinds of conditions. Don’t forget to add mulch around them, I find wood chips placed among them brings out the color of the leaves especially the variegated types. What I also like about these plants is that when you water them, the droplets on the leaves brings out an ever cooling luster that is eye-catching.

Come by your favorite Green Thumb Nursery and check out these cool plants as well as other surprises for all your gardening needs.


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