Stalk of Molluca laevis, or bells of Ireland, in bloom
image by HelloMojo.commons.wikimedia.org
Bells of Ireland, known botanically as Molluca laevis, is a low maintenance flowering annual that is known for green bell-shaped calyx structures that encircle tiny white to pale pink flowers. A tall stately plant reaching up to 3 feet in height, it is usually grown in the back and middle of garden beds and borders and in cutting gardens for use in floral arrangements. Bells of Ireland seeds are sown in spring after the last frost and bloom throughout the summer and fall, dying back at first frost.
Provide bells of Ireland with a full sun exposure and maintain a nutrient-rich soil that has been amended with well-aged manure and/or compost. As the summer bloom approaches, the bells of Ireland may need to be supported with stakes to keep them upright in the garden bed. Metal or bamboo cages are ideal or for individual staking, use a thin bamboo pole cut to length, driven into the soil and affixed to the plant with flexible garden ties.
Water bells of Ireland so that you maintain consistently moist soil around the roots, never allowing the soil to dry out. In the heat of summer, this means watering every other day; in fall, this means once-a-week deep watering.
Mulch around the base of the plants with a natural mulch material, such as shredded bark or cocoa hulls. Mulching will keep moisture in the soil at the roots and keep down intrusive weeds.
Feed bells of Ireland twice a month with a general purpose water soluble fertilizer. Apply a fast-acting formula diluted with water according to label directions or a slow-release granular form that will only need to be applied once or twice a year.
Harvest the long stems for fresh flower arrangements by cutting down with clean sharp secateurs at the base of the stalk. It you are harvesting the stems for drying, cut them down at the peak of bloom before they seed in order to best preserve the form and color of the bells when dried.
Prune away and dead or damaged stalks or foliage as you come across them during the season. When the plant dies back after frost it can be cut off or pulled from the ground and discarded.