Ledebouria, also known as silver squill, is a colorful houseplant with attractive, lance-shaped leaves heavily mottled in silver and green. The undersides of the leaves have a purplish hue and the foliage emerges from teardrop-shaped bulbs that sit above the growing medium. Gardeners love ledebouria because it’s compact and thrives in average room temperatures with minimal watering. It’s also super easy to propagate so you can get more plants for your collection or to share with friends and family. Keep reading to learn how to care for this popular plant.
What is ledebouria?
The plants in the genus ledebouria are bulb-forming with most originating from South Africa, Madagascar, or India. There are around 40 species in the genus, but it’s silver squill (Ledebouria socialis) that is most commonly grown as a houseplant. This popular plant is also called leopard lily (for its spots) or wood hyacinth. It was first named Scilla socialis by John Gilbert Baker in 1870, and has also been called Scilla violacea. A full century later, in 1970, the species was added to the genus Ledebouria. It’s the showy leaves, mottled in green and silver, that make this an eye-catching addition to an indoor plant collection.
Ledebouria plants grow 6 to 10 inches (15 to 25 cm) tall and wide, depending on the cultivar, and are perfect for small spaces. This plant isn’t just grown for its decorative foliage however, as it also produces airy inflorescences with several dozen small flowers. The individual blooms may be diminutive in size, but the flower spikes grow 10 to 11 inches long (25 to 28 cm long) and add spring color to indoor spaces.
In most regions, gardeners grow ledebouria as a houseplant with the small, teardrop-shaped bulbs planted in pots. In USDA zones 10 and 11, plant ledebouria indoors or outdoors. The compact, low-maintenance plants make an attractive ground cover or edging along pathways. Please note that ledebouria plants and bulbs are toxic to humans and pets.
The best light for ledebouria
The ideal light level for silver squill is bright light, but it should be indirect or filtered. Avoid a site with full sun. Alternatively, you can mimic sunlight by placing silver squill under a grow light left on for about 16 hours a day. When grown in shade or semi shade, the plants stretch for light and grow leggy. Too little light also affects flowering.
In cold climates, pots of ledebouria can be moved outdoors in late spring once the danger of frost has passed. Don’t place them in full sun, but instead, find a site with filtered or indirect light. Bring the plants back inside at the end of the season. I generally move my silver squill plants indoors in early October before our first frost.
The best soil for ledebouria
Like succulents, this drought-tolerant plant thrives in a well-draining growing medium. Cactus or succulent potting mix is best. An all-purpose potting mix can hold excess moisture causing root rot. It also helps to plant silver squill in terra cotta pots, which permit good air flow and let the soil dry out quicker.
How often to water silver squill
I’m a big fan of indoor plants that can take a bit of neglect, and silver squill falls into this category. In spring and summer the plants are actively growing and require regular watering. Avoid irrigating on a schedule which can result in overwatering. Instead, check soil moisture levels with a finger and if it’s dry about an inch down, grab your watering can. In autumn and winter, ledebouria plants grow slower and require less moisture. Water sparingly, just enough to prevent the plants from drying out.
How to care for ledebouria
Ledebouria, one of the most widely cultivated bulbs, is popular with succulent growers as it thrives with a hands-off approach. For example, it grows fine in average room temperature. It’s best to avoid spots with cold drafts, such as near a front or back door. Also keep the plants away from heat sources, like fireplaces, wood stoves, or heat pumps which can cause water loss and dry out the foliage or bulbs. To promote healthy growth I fertilize silver squill plants monthly in spring and summer, which is when they’re actively growing. I add a liquid houseplant food to my watering can and water the soil, not the plant. I don’t fertilize in autumn and winter.
If you’re having trouble getting silver squill to bloom, give the plant a semi-dormant period in autumn and winter. Reduce watering, and move the plant to a slightly cooler location, 50 to 60 F (10 to 15 C) is perfect. Once the day length starts to increase in late winter, move it back to a spot with increased light and start to water normally once again.
Propagation of silver squill
Like its cultivation, the propagation of ledebouria is simple and straightforward. If you’re looking for a new plant, you can buy a pot from from a garden centre, houseplant supplier, or source a few bulb divisions from a friend with a plant. As the plants mature, the bulbs become overcrowded and division of bulb-clusters becomes necessary. Repot ledebouria plants every 3 to 4 years. Do this in late summer or autumn after the flowers have faded.
When you’re ready to repot, start by popping the plant out of the existing container. Carefully separate out several bulbs. Depending on the size of the new container, you may wish to plant several bulbs in each pot. I usually plant 3 bulbs in a 6 inch (15 cm) pot or 5 bulbs in an 8 inch (20 cm) pot, spacing them 2 inches (5 cm) apart. Papery tunics surround the bulb, protecting them and preventing the bulb from drying out. When replanting, it’s important to plant the bulbs at the right depth. They should be placed so the top half to two-thirds of the bulb is set above the growing medium. Don’t bury them. Once you’ve transplanted the bulbs, water the soil to settle them in.
Silver squill problems
As noted above, these are considered low care houseplants, but issues can arise. Common problems include root or bulb rot, both caused by excessive watering. If you spot the leaf edges browning, take a look at the site and evaluate how much light the plant is receiving. Too much light, and especially direct sun, can cause leaf burn. If this is the cause, move the plant to a spot with bright, indirect light.
There are also a few pests that can affect ledebouria. Keep an eye out for insects like aphids, mealybugs, and spider mites. Control them with an insecticidal soap spray. I like to inspect my plants monthly, typically when I fertilize, to make sure there aren’t any pests lurking in the soil or beneath the leaves.
Cultivars of ledebouria
There are several cultivated forms of silver squill, although some are easier to source than others. If you’re a fan of this low-care plant, you may wish to collect them all. Below are three outstanding types of silver squill available to grow.
- Ledebouria socialis ‘Violacea’ – Sometimes called Ledebouria violacea, this is among the more common silver squill cultivars available with the plants growing 8 to 10 inches (20 to 25 cm) tall and wide. The top surface of the leaves have dark green and silver spotting. The leaf bottoms have a burgundy-violet hue, hence the name ‘Violacea’.
- Ledebouria socialis ‘Paucifolia’ – ‘Paucifolia’ is a cultivar with diminutive plants just 4 to 6 inches tall with bulbs that grow on the surface of the soil. It’s slower growing than ‘Violacea’ and has light silver leaves with bright green mottling.
- Ledebouria socialis ‘Juda’ – Looking for an eye catching selection? Check out ‘Juda’, a variegated cultivar with silver-green spotted leaves and pink leaf edges. Over time ‘Juda’ forms a dense clump of purple bulbs. Dig up and repot the plant every 4 to 5 years, sharing extra bulbs with gardening friends.
Discover more awesome houseplants with these in-depth articles:
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