Walk through the forest in the spring and you might just be rewarded with the beautiful sight of a carpet of Virginia bluebells in flower. They’re one of the few plants with true-blue blooms, and stumbling across a mass planting—wild or cultivated—is a real treat.
Virginia bluebells are native wildflowers that colonize in the moist woodlands of eastern North America from zones 3-8. You can also recreate a bit of their spring magic in your own garden.
How to Grow Virginia Bluebells
Like most spring ephemerals, Virginia bluebells emerge early in the season before significant leaf cover, bloom, and go dormant by mid-June. They are deer-resistant: a major plus for suburban and rural gardeners. Plants, when happy, do multiply freely via underground stems and seed.
It’s fairly easy to establish large plantings. They make the biggest impact when planted en masse or as clumps scattered in multiple places around the garden.Flowers emerge a dusky-rose color and turn blue as they open.
When & Where to Plant Virginia Bluebells
Plant Virginia bluebells in the spring or fall in rich, moist soil in partial to full shade. Plants can handle a bit of morning sun.
The sunnier the area, the more water the plants will need. Because the plants are dormant during the summer, plant them near or among late-emerging perennials that will fill in the gaps left when plants die back.Hosta are a good choice for companion planting, as are ferns.
Light: As woodland plants, Virginia bluebells naturally thrive in partial to full shade.
Soil: Moist soil, rich in organic matter is best for Virginia bluebells.
Spacing: Space plants 12-18 inches apart for a lush look that imitates wild populations.
Planting: Plant transplants or dormant rhizomes in early spring as soon as the ground is workable. Place the rhizome one inch below the top of the soil. You can also sow seeds directly into the garden during the fall or six to eight weeks before the last frost in the spring. Seeds require a period of cold, moist weather (This treatment is called stratification.) in order to germinate.
How to Grow Virginia Bluebells Throughout the Season
Growth Habit: Virginia bluebells have an upright growth habit. In the spring, pendulous clusters of blue flowers bloom at the top of 1-2 foot stems. Flower stalks emerge from a cluster of long basal leaves.
Staking: Plants do not usually require staking.
Watering: Provide Virginia bluebells with regular water. They do not thrive in droughty conditions.
Fertilizing: As with most natives, growing plants in fertile soil results in better health than frequent fertilizing. If soil is poor where you’re planting, add a handful of organic fertilizer at the time of planting and topdress each spring when new growth appears.
Trimming & Pruning These woodland wildflowers are ridiculously easy to grow and require little care. They can reseed prolifically when happy with their location. If you want to control spreading via seed, deadhead the plants directly after the blooms fade.
Mulching: Mulch lightly around Virginia bluebells in the fall. As microbes break down the mulch, they’ll incorporate organic matter into the soil. Mulch will also help keep the soil evenly moist around the plants.
Virginia Bluebells: End of Season Care
Plants actually go dormant in midsummer after blooming. Foliage will turn yellow—adding an interesting dimension to the early summer garden—and will die back. You can cut back the plants when the foliage has turned completely yellow/brown.
Dividing & Transplanting: Divide and transplant in the fall when plants are fully dormant. If you divide in the spring you risk disrupting the bloom. Virginia bluebells grow from rhizomes. You can dig up and cut the rhizomes apart, taking care that there is a node on each rhizome. Allow the newly cut sections to dry out for a few days before replanting. While you can divide the plants, Virginia bluebells grow best when left alone.
When provided with adequate moisture and shady conditions, Virginia bluebells grow and reproduce with few problems. Do your best not to disturb established plants.
Virginia Bluebells: Extra Info
In addition to being deer resistant, Virginia bluebells are also rabbit-resistant. They are one of the few plants that will grow under black walnut trees, as well. In addition to being beautiful, Virginia bluebells are real garden problem solvers!