Siberian Squill: A Stalwart Survivor

When we bought our 90 year-old house in the suburbs, I anxiously awaited my first spring to see which flowers would emerge from the ground. After all, many generations had owned the property. Surely there would be a few long-lived peonies, some daffodils, bleeding hearts, and other “heirloom plants.” The property was graced with beautiful mature trees and a few overgrown shrubs, but there were no discernible flowerbeds. Grass grew right up to the stone foundation. To my surprise, there were only two perennials that had survived the years of garden neglect and emerged that first year – plain green hostas and Siberian squill.

Siberian squill (Scilla siberica) is a true harbinger of spring, emerging in the garden even before the crocuses. It is one of more than 100 species in the genus Scilla that are native to Europe, Asia and Africa. Despite its name, Siberian squill is not native to Siberia, but is found in other parts of Russia, and has been cultivated since the 1790s.

I love to look for the dark purple shoots of squill poking out of the ground – to me it’s a sure sign that the garden’s cycle of bloom has begun. Each tiny bulb produces dark green, grass-like foliage and 3 to 5 flower stalks that sport the bluest of blue flowers. The plants themselves are only about 6” tall. Each bell-shaped, nodding flower, has 6 blue petals and blue anthers. Its lovely floral scent attracts pollinating insects. The fertilized flowers form round green seed capsules and eventually release a multitude of tiny brown seeds. In no time at all, you have a carpet of beautiful blue flowers. Like other spring bulbs, squill’s foliage dies back in early summer and I simply cover it with mulch. The plants remain dormant until the following year.

Siberian squill requires no care after planting. It grows best in partial to full sun, in soils with good drainage and plenty of organic matter. Bulbs should be planted in the fall, 2-3” deep and 2-4” apart, and they look wonderful massed in drifts of 20 or more. Mine have slowly spread by seed and bulb offsets and now appear in several flowerbeds. They are perfect bulbs for naturalizing in the lawn or under deciduous trees and shrubs. By the time that the trees and shrubs leaf out in the spring, the squill are entering dormancy and no longer require as much light.

I also love the fact that squill is not a preferred food for voles, chipmunks, rabbits or deer. Voles and chipmunks have decimated many bulbs and perennials in my garden lately, and it’s a relief to find plants that they naturally ignore.

Siberian squill’s intense blue color looks wonderful when massed under a pink- or white-blooming ornamental tree or shrub that blooms at the same time, such as Amelanchier, Viburnum bodantense, or some of the early flowering cherries and small-leaved rhododendrons. It is also lovely when paired with other early blooming bulbs such as miniature daffodils, species tulips, giant crocus and glory-of-the-snow. No matter where it is planted, Siberian squill will delight you each spring and live on in your garden for many generations to come.