How to Grow Star of Bethlehem

Star of Bethlehem plant with white star-like flowers and blooms

The Spruce / K. Dave

In This Article

Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum) is a perennial flower that comes from a bulb. It grows in clumps with narrow, grass-like leaves that stretch around a foot long. In the late spring, flower stems rise up from the foliage, each bearing around 10 to 20 star-shaped blooms that are less than an inch across. The flowers open in the late morning and close once the sun goes down or during cloudy weather. Star of Bethlehem has a fast growth rate and will quickly spread. Thus, it is considered invasive in some areas, so be sure to check your local recommendations before planting. The bulbs should be planted in the fall for spring flowers

Botanical Name Ornithogalum umbellatum
Common Names Star of Bethlehem, bird's milk, eleven-o'clock lady, nap-at-noon, grass lily, summer snowflake
Plant Type Bulb
Mature Size 6–12 in. tall, 12–24 in. wide
Sun Exposure Full, partial
Soil Type Loamy, moist, well-drained
Soil pH Acidic, neutral, alkaline
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color White, with green stripes
Hardiness Zones 4–9 (USDA)
Native Area Europe, Africa, Mediterranean
Toxicity Toxic to people and animals
Star of Bethlehem plant with white star-like flowers in grass

The Spruce / K. Dave

Star of Bethlehem plant with single white star-like flower on thin green stem closeup

The Spruce / K. Dave

Star of Bethlehem plant with white star-like flowers and buds closeup

The Spruce / K. Dave

Star of Bethlehem Care

Star of Bethlehem bulbs should be planted in holes 4 inches deep with the pointed end facing up; space the bulbs at least 4 inches apart. If you live in a colder part of the plant’s growing zones, add a 3-inch layer of mulch over your bulbs for winter protection. Remove the mulch once the ground thaws in the spring and the plants start to emerge. 

After Star of Bethlehem's blooming period is over, you will be left with a mass of tangled foliage that isn't particularly attractive. However, resist the urge to remove that foliage. As long as it stays green, it will be sending nutrients down to the bulbs. Ultimately the plants will go dormant in the summertime, leaving gaps in your garden bed. Many gardeners opt to plug those gaps with annual plants while others grow perennials next to their Star of Bethlehem plants that will fill in the space as summer progresses. 

Star of Bethlehem is typically a healthy plant and doesn't have any serious issues with pests or diseases. The bulbs will multiply over time, producing what are referred to as offsets or bulbils. You can dig up these offsets and plant them elsewhere if you wish to propagate your Star of Bethlehem plants. The plants also will spread via self-seeding. If you want to curb the spread, deadhead the flowers (remove the spent blooms) before they drop their seeds. You also can grow your plants within landscape barriers. 

Light

Although it can grow in partial shade, Star of Bethlehem prefers a spot with full sun, meaning at least six hours of direct sunlight on most days. Its flowering will be better in full sun.

Soil

Star of Bethlehem likes a loamy soil. Sharp soil drainage is key for healthy growth. In waterlogged soil, the bulbs can rot.

Water

Young Star of Bethlehem plants need regular watering to keep the soil evenly moist but not soggy. Mature plants have some tolerance for dry soil, but they still prefer a moderate amount of moisture. While the plant is actively growing in the spring and summer, water when the soil feels dry a couple inches down. When the plant is dormant its moisture needs are diminished, and it typically doesn't need any supplemental watering.

Temperature and Humidity

Star of Bethlehem is quite hardy to the temperature extremes of its growing zones. Humidity also typically isn't an issue as long as its soil moisture needs are met.

Fertilizer

Star of Bethlehem flowers best when grown in rich soil. Mix some compost into the soil each spring to promote healthy growth.

Ornithogalum Varieties

The Ornithogalum genus contains some similar flowers to Star of Bethlehem. They include:

  • Ornithogalum arabicum: This plant bears white flowers and grows to around 19 inches tall. It's hardy in zones 9 to 10.
  • Ornithogalum dubium: This species features orange flowers and reaches only around 10 inches tall. It grows in zones 7 to 10.
  • Ornithogalum nutans: This species grows to around 16 inches high and has white flowers with a lot of green in them. It grows in zones 6 to 10.
  • Ornithogalum thyrsoides: This species also has white flowers and grows to around 16 inches tall. It's hardy in zones 7 to 10.