Scented Garden : How to Grow Tuberose

To start my fragrant garden series, I would like to write about one of my favorite scented plants, tuberose. Its fragrance of jasmine, coconut and warm skin is one of the most intoxicating and addictive, while its tall stalks densely adorned with lily-like white flowers are graceful and beautiful. As it happens to be, tuberose is fairly easy to grow either indoors or outside, if you have a nice sunny spot. After all, tuberose is a tropical plant, and as much as it will adapt to its new surroundings, it will always crave the sun. If the plant can be given at least 5-6 hours of constant sunlight a day, it will reward the gardener with the most luscious and opulent of scents.

tuberose

Speaking from my own experience growing tuberose from bulbs indoors, I find the plant to be an easy one to nurture. Sunlight, well-drained soil, regular watering and fertilizer is all it takes! Sunlight can be easily faked with a plant light (I have a tall one that looks like a standing lamp, and I find that in the winter I love its soft light as much as my plants do.) Alternatively, find a spot in your house that receives plenty of sun.

Plant the bulbs with 2-3″ of soil above the top and space them about 8-10″ apart. Water generously right after planting to soak the bulbs. Almost any commercially available potting soils will suit tuberose, as long as they do not retain water. In other words, do not let tuberose bulbs be waterlogged or else they are sure to rot. Overwatering is perhaps the main danger when growing tuberose indoors, so make sure that your pot has good drainage holes. Tuberose is one of those plants that really appreciate fertilizer, therefore once the plant starts sprouting leaves and bloom stalks, feed your tuberose on regular basis (most gardening books recommend 8-8-8 fertilizer types for tuberose; I used Miracle-Gro with good results.)

Once the bloom stalks form (usually 90-120 days after planting), prepare some sort of support for them, as they can be quite heavy when studded with their thickly-petalled flowers. The opulent fragrance of tuberose is obvious throughout the day, but it is fully revealed in the evening, as the darkness falls. No wonder that young girls in India were encouraged not to smell tuberose after the sundown, lest its sensual, addictive aroma encourage lascivious thoughts. You can always pick a few flowers and float them in a bowl of water in order to delicately scent your rooms in the evening, if a whole blooming plant is too much for you.

If you are growing tuberose in your garden, consider planting it next to fragrant roses. The combination of fruity-citrusy rose and narcotic tuberose makes the most gorgeous orchestration, the likes of which are nearly impossible to find in a perfume bottle.

I had good luck purchasing tuberose bulbs from Easy to Grow Bulbs. They ship bulbs March through June, the best time to start planting your flowers. I planted my bulbs for this year only just recently, so I will update this article with photos of tuberose in various growth stages.

To read about tuberose uses in perfumery and various fragrances containing tuberose, please see my Note of the Week series, Tuberose.

Image: Double Flowering Tuberose, Rajanigandha ‘The Pearl’ courtesy of Forest & Kim Starr from Dave’s Garden.

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30 Comments

  • Cristina: Your post totally inspired me to plant something scented. I’ll get some tuberose bulbs but for now I got a small pot of basil for my kitchen window. I was shopping for lunch at Whole Foods nad it caught my eye. :-) April 30, 2009 at 12:37pm Reply

  • Marina: What a perfect description: jasmine, coconut and warm skin! April 30, 2009 at 1:14pm Reply

  • sweetlife: Lovely! I really should plant some of these, since I live so close to their native climate. I have so many garden dreams and so few garden hours, but I think I can manage to put some bulbs in a pot. April 30, 2009 at 2:45pm Reply

  • Lavanya: Tuberose is my favorite flower. The scent is probably one of my favorite smells. Funnily I’ve not loved tuberose in perfume with the exception of tuberose criminelle (which I LOVE)..It is very strange and I’ve not yet figured out why that is- but I have always thought of the smell of tuberoses as a cool/cold smell(or atleast a mix of cold and warm smells) while everybody else seems to describe it as a warm scent..Tuberose Criminelle comes closest to capturing my olfactory ‘picture’ of tuberose. (It has often made me wonder if something is wrong with my nose..lol Or maybe it is just a case of a relative mismatch in attributing adjectives?..As in I smell what you smell but I call it cold because of where I’m from?..lol)

    I’ve been meaning to play with the tuberose absolute I have, to try and coax it to smell like my ‘picture’..but haven’t yet..Most tuberose perfumes I’ve smelt smell more like the absolute rather than the flower..

    I was verry happy to read your post as I’ve been recently contemplating growing tuberose but wasn’t sure if it was doable- so Thank you for your post!! April 30, 2009 at 3:32pm Reply

  • Sveta: Krasota! I am also thinking of gardening this summer, maybe herbs. What herbs are easy to grow, Vika? April 30, 2009 at 4:46pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Cristina, basil is a great choice for any garden. It is fragrant, delicious and easy to maintain. Please do not be afraid to prune it. May 1, 2009 at 12:08am Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Marina, glad that you liked it. :) The scent of tuberose is so complex. One could find countless nuances. May 1, 2009 at 12:09am Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Alyssa, definitely try growing them! Tuberoses are among the most delightful plants to grow, esp. for fragrance lovers like us. May 1, 2009 at 12:11am Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Lavanya, you are right about the scent of tuberose–the top note has the cooling wintergreen sensation. Of course, there are so many associations that come into play. I always associate tuberose with India, its heat, its sun… When it comes down to it, it becomes difficult to disentangle all of these sensations and memories.

    I loved bhaat recipe you posted most recently. When I return from my trip, I will definitely try it.
    One of my future flavor/fragrance posts will be on Marathi black masala. I finally made a huge batch of it a couple of months ago after questioning people I know about their recipes. May 1, 2009 at 12:18am Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Sveta, mint, chervil, thyme and basil are quite easy to grow, and so is rosemary if you do not overwater it. I keep thinking of planting tarragon, but I have not gotten around to it yet. May 1, 2009 at 12:19am Reply

  • Madelyn54: Dear Victoria,

    What are some of your favorite tuberose scents ? Also can I grow tuberose in a planter in my apartment ?
    Happy May Day ! wILL you be wearing Diorissimo or some other Muguet ?
    So nice to see you again ?
    Madelyn E May 1, 2009 at 12:38am Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Madelyn, definitely! It can grow in a planter quite well, as long as the roots do not remain waterlogged (it likes damp, but not soaking wet soil.) As for my favorite tuberose scents, I really enjoy Frederic Malle Carnal Flower, Serge Lutens Tubereuse Criminelle and Michael Kors (the original.) Actually, Michael Kors is lately one of my favorite tuberoses–it manages to capture its heady opulence along with a strong suggestion of green. A fragrance that started a whole tuberose trend.
    I did not think about May Day yet, but since I will be on the plane, I probably will avoid any scent. Even my own perfume in a closed space can drive me crazy. May 1, 2009 at 1:04am Reply

  • Lavanya: That is so true about disentangling scents and the memories..I think that is another reason I find the scent ‘cool’- I associate it with the cool night breeze in India, wafting in from the balcony and mixing with the scent of tuberose..

    Am glad you liked the bhaath recipe- let me know how it turns out when you try it. Looking forward to the post about the Marathi black masala..:)

    Have a safe and wonderful trip, Victoria. May 1, 2009 at 2:25am Reply

  • Niktaris Dimitris: Happy May Day! May 1, 2009 at 6:36am Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Lavanya, thank you!
    Your association is wonderful, and I can see why you find the scent cool. When my tuberose blooms, I love to leave it outside in the evening and simply open the window to allow some aroma into the rooms. May 1, 2009 at 11:40am Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Niktaris, Happy May Day to you too! :) May 1, 2009 at 11:40am Reply

  • Flora: Lovely idea! I have grown it too, I need to do it again. Nothing is better for warm summer evenings.

    I can’t think of a tuberose fragrance I DON’T like! :-) May 1, 2009 at 4:08pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Flora, you are my twin then, because I adore everything tuberose. :) May 15, 2009 at 10:57am Reply

  • April: Hi, I was wondering about whether I could plant tuberose in a garden I am starting. I’ll have some veggies, some herbs, and some flowers. When we looked at tuberose, the grower said that it attracts snails (?). He said we could plant it at the ends of the garden (it’s 2′ x 42′ – basically a long planter box area) but I can’t get “snails” out of my head now! I’d hate to see my veggies/ herbs destroyed…

    If necessary, I could always put the tuberose in a pot elsewhere… but I’d rather have them in the ground.

    Thanks! July 17, 2009 at 5:33pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: April, I have not noticed slugs/snails near my tuberoses, and they are in pots near my vegetables. In general, unless you live in a tropical climate, it is better to have it in a pot, so that you can start the bulbs earlier than the planting season and then enjoy the blooms indoors in the fall, especially, if your bulbs sprout too late, like mine did this year. I will probably see flowers on my plants only in September. July 20, 2009 at 9:32am Reply

  • lgallo1930@aol.com: By accident i fertilized my tuberose with Plumeria fertilizer 10-55-06. what should i do. will this high phoserpous fertilizer kill tuberose? July 8, 2011 at 2:47pm Reply

  • Victoria: I think that it should be ok. They are hardy enough to handle it.
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile July 8, 2011 at 3:01pm Reply

  • Dawn Law: I have a clump of tuberose tucked in a corner of my garden close to the front door. I have not had a flower in 5 years!!
    I’ve fed nitrogen and potash, plus a watering of epsom salts.
    That area gets sun in the summer until afternoon, but because the clump is low growing it may not get enough benefit?
    Your advice wecomed.
    Dawn July 10, 2011 at 1:50am Reply

  • Victoria: It is hard to say why they don't flower, since I don't know where you live. Usually, tuberose requires a full day of sunshine. In my area, in Eastern USA, it means that I have to start them indoors under a lamp.
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile July 10, 2011 at 11:40am Reply

  • Dawn Law: I live half a world away from you on the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand in the south Pacific!
    We have a temperate climate, and in this area, the summers are very hot and dry so garden irrigation is necessary. Winter means a few frosts (no snow) but my tuberoses are under shelter.
    Does that help in solving my problem?
    Regards July 11, 2011 at 2:08am Reply

  • Tamara Morgan: Hello, Kiwi chum~
    I would dig them up and give them a rest for a season or so then begin again in your summer. Use a cloche in the ground or in containers. Try to reproduce a tropical climate. You might even try coaxing them to bloom the way we get poinsetta flowers in New England (insidde of course) and put them in a closet. July 8, 2012 at 2:31pm Reply

  • Tamara Morgan: I have never read such a perfect description of the scent of a tuberose. I first discovered them whilst living in Kenya. One double tuberose stalk would intoxicate everyone of us in a 7 room house like a gentle narcotic. Tuberose and ylang ylang (another African introduction on Zanzibar) could easily take anesthetists out of business as their hypnotic aromas carried away the patient to a realm where scent became a dancer and carried away the soul without even a whisper of pain. Thank you for your writing! July 8, 2012 at 2:37pm Reply

  • william jefferson: What is a good rose to plant near tuberose. I believe this plant has value as a sleeping aide. It is the most perfect aroma I have ever tested. Jasmine is close second. In my pecan orchard grows a button bush. The golf ball sized perfume balls have a very pure aroma that reflects innocents and beauty. Like the tuberose, the button bush bloom is not overbearing as the lavender and some hybrid roses. July 17, 2013 at 11:09pm Reply

  • Colleen: I love tuberose! So I must mention my all time favorite perfume Nuit de Tubereuse by L’Artisan Parfumeur. Ooh la la!

    I love three idea of planting tuberose next to fruity roses. I am completely re doing my garden and building it on fragrances.

    Do you have any other suggested pairings? October 19, 2013 at 7:54am Reply

    • Victoria: I would think that it would be great next to lilies or mock orange (although I’m not sure if you can make mock orange and tuberose bloom at the same time). But Casablanca lilies and tuberose would be a heady combination. October 19, 2013 at 9:50am Reply

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