Squills (Scilla) – The Complete Guide

With a dainty 4 inches (10 cm) height of growth, the squill unfolds an amazing presence in the spring garden. While some of the graceful flower species run out of steam by the end of April, other Scilla species are on hand for early summer bloom.

Planting Squills Properly

As a typical bulbous flower, planting squills – unlike classic perennials – follows specific guidelines. Thus, there is no reasonable alternative to autumn planting, while you can plant them as container plants almost all year round.

However, the planting technique as such proceeds quite simply. Here’s how to do it right:

  • At a distance of 4 inches (10 cm) dig several holes with a depth of 2-4 inches (5-10 cm).
  • Insert a bulb in each hole with the tip pointing upwards.
  • Fill in the excavation enriched with compost and horn shavings and press it down.

If there are voracious mice or voles in your garden, first place a vole basket in the soil and then plant the squills in it.

Care Tips

If the flower thrives outdoors, experience shows that Mother Nature will take care of the squills’ water supply. Therefore, you need to water your squills regularly only if there is no rain.

Nutrient supply in the bed is limited to a single application of compost, horn shavings, guano, or bark humus.

Moreover, an important criterion for proper care is pruning. In the first step, cut off the withered inflorescences. Then give the plant enough time to absorb the remaining nutrients from the foliage.

Cut off the yellowed leaves close to the ground. Please keep in mind the mild toxicity of squills and wear gloves during all care activities.

Which Location is Suitable for Squills?

It is primarily the two-leaf squills or alpine squills (Scilla bifolia) that exude their floral charm in early spring.

The site conditions suitable for them are quite broad:

  • Sunny, semi-shaded locations to light shade under deciduous trees.
  • Nutrient-rich, humus-rich soil, freshly moist to moderately dry.
  • Preferably sandy-loamy, with good water drainage.

Squills are thus perfect for running wild in lawns or as part of a flower meadow. Wherever the soil is not extremely acidic or exorbitantly alkaline in structure, squills show what floral power they have.

When is Flowering Time for Squills?

The versatile Scilla genus gifts us with these bloom times:

  • Siberian squill (Scilla sibirica): February to March
  • Two-leaf squill (Scilla bifolia): March to April
  • Spanish bluebell (Scilla campanulata): April to May
  • Common bluebell (Scilla non-scripta): May to June

For cheerful splashes of color on the winter windowsill, the Portuguese squill (Scilla peruviana) presents its clusters of flowers between November and February, depending on location and care.

Pruning Squills Properly

Regardless of the blooming season, proper pruning of squills follows the same pattern. The withered inflorescences are simply cut off promptly to just above the leaves.

On the one hand, this measure prevents undesirable self-seeding. On the other hand, in this way the flower does not invest unnecessary energy in the growth of capsule fruits.

The green leaves remain on the plant until they are completely yellowed. During this time, the bulb stores all the remaining nutrients to create a depot from them for the next flowering season.

Watering Squills

On squills, consider a two-part watering regime. During the flowering period, water the flower moderately so that it does not come under drought stress.

When the flowering period comes to an end, gradually reduce the amount of water with the aim of dry overwintering.

Fertilizing Squills Properly

In the bed, squills readily accept compost fertilization in conjunction with fall planting. Hardy squills should receive a supplementary layer of compost for nutritious winter protection.

Potted squills should be repotted after their individual growth dormancy so that the flower receives adequate nutrients with the fresh substrate.

If you cultivate squills in a balcony box, we recommend a liquid fertilizer every 14 days until the end of the flowering period.

Wintering Squills

For the most part, squills are completely hardy. Freshly planted in the fall, we nevertheless advise a protective covering with leaves or compost during the first winter.

At the latest in early February, remove the protective layer so as not to hinder budding. In the pot or a balcony box, the plant bulb could freeze through.

Therefore, in case of frost, wrap jute tape or bubble wrap around the container and place it on wood in front of the south wall of the house.

The few Scilla species that are not frost-resistant, such as the Portuguese squill, need to overwinter at 50-68 °F (10-20 °C) on the windowsill in partial shade.

Propagating squills

For the reproduction of more squills, the flower provides the appropriate plant material by producing bulbils.

If you dig up the bulb of a well-established plant, you can see the small daughter bulbs at the base. Cut these off with a sharp, disinfected knife and plant them a maximum of 3-4 inches (8-10 cm) deep in the new location or window box.

Are Squills Poisonous?

Regardless of their different flowering times and growth characteristics, you should treat all Scilla species and varieties as poisonous plants.

Responsible for this are the saponins they contain, which can cause inflammation if they come into contact with the skin.

If the bulbs are consumed intentionally or unintentionally, unpleasant symptoms of poisoning are the result, such as nausea, vomiting, and even cardiac arrhythmia.

How to care for a Portuguese squill?

Since Portuguese squill (Scilla peruviana) lacks any winter hardiness, we recommend cultivating it in a pot as a winter-flowering houseplant.

As a substrate, use cactus soil or potting soil leached with sand and poured over drainage of clay shards. During the flowering period, water regularly without causing waterlogging.

Do not cut off the subsequently retracted leaves until they have completely yellowed.

Throughout the summer, this squill variety wants to rest. Therefore, water it only a little every 3-4 weeks until September.

If the plant sprouts again in the fall, repot it in a fresh substrate. In this case, it is not necessary to add fertilizer.

From October to February, place Scilla peruviana on a windowsill in partial shade at 54 to 68 °F (12 to 20 °C) and enjoy the colorful flowers during the dark season.

Beautiful Varieties

  • Scilla bifolia ‘Rosea’: A historic squill with soft pink flowers and robust winter hardiness. It thrives best in sunny to shady locations.
  • Scilla siberica ‘Alba’: A Siberian squilla with pure white bell flowers in March and April that harmonize beautifully with snowdrops.
  • Scilla peruviana: A mediterranean squill with blue flowers from May to June and a growth height of 12-16 inches (30-40 cm). This variety is not hardy.
  • Scilla siberica ‘Spring Beauty’: A gentian blue squill stretching up to 6 inches (15 cm) towards the sky in April. this variety is very robust and hardy.