All About Lupine

lupinelupine

By Marianne Willburn, gardening expert, landscape designer and writer.

An Exotic Beauty That’s Actually a Native

It’s been many years since Monty Python’s famous highwayman Dennis Moore uttered the immortal words “Your life or your lupines.” Gardeners and naturalists everywhere can perhaps understand his enthusiasm. Hybrid lupines are an exotic, stunning plant; and those species that we are lucky enough to call native can take your breath away on a spring morning when viewed en masse.

In addition, the soft, touchable qualities of lupine foliage make it a beautiful textural element in the garden. Large palmate leaves are covered in a microscopic coating of hairs, which give the foliage a powdery quality and trap drops of dew for early morning photo shoots.

They’re a sun-loving favorite for both temperate, cool season gardens and for dry grassy meadows – the only difficulty lies in figuring out how you want to grow them!

Easy to Grow with Just a Few Tips

Lupines are remarkably hardy (Z3-8), but in climates south of zone 6 the perennial hybrids work best used as annuals or biennials as they do not tolerate hot, humid summers well. Many gardeners choose to plant them like they would foxgloves – sowing them in flats in late spring, transplanting to pots in summer and setting out in fall for a spring bloom. In other climates, they are considered a shorter-lived perennial.

Seeds are protected by a very tough seed coat, which means that your results will improve if you first scarify with a file or sandpaper – or soak them for 24-48 hours. It’s an extra step for the gardener, but it’s a very clever way for nature to ensure that there are seeds in the soil for future seasons. Seeds must also make good soil/seed contact, so once they have been scattered and lightly covered with compost or soil (1/8”), it is important to tamp the soil down with a board or your feet. Seeds should germinate within 10 days.

Wherever they are sited, lupines require a sunny position and well-draining soil on the acid side if possible. They are calcifuge, which is a fancy way of saying they’re lime-haters, and will simply not tolerate alkaline soils or wet, boggy conditions. This is particularly true in the winter, when wet, cold conditions will rot the roots and kill the plant. If you have heavy clay soil, build it up with grit and sandy loam mixed with well shredded organic material, and then plant your lupines, taking care not to overwater.

lupine field in front of a houselupine field in front of a house
  1. Texas Bluebonnet & Snapdragon Seed Combo

    Plant Texas Bluebonnet and Snapdragons for a rainbow of colors from spring to summer! Texas Bluebonnet is a native, true blue beauty known for sweeping fields of color. Snapdragons c...

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    Texas Bluebonnet & Snapdragon Seed Combo Texas Bluebonnet & Baby Snapdragon Lupinus texensis & Linaria maroccana
    $99.95
    Per 2 Pounds
    Plant Texas Bluebonnet and Snapdragons for a rainbow of colors from spring to summer! Texas Bluebonnet is a native, true blue beauty known for sweeping fields of color. Snapdragons create a jewel-toned array of pink, red, yellow, and purple blooms. Plant this combo in part-sun to full sun locations for plenty of pollinators and gorgeous, fragrant cut flowers! Texas Bluebonnet are deer resistant. All of the seed we carry at American Meadows is non-GMO, neonicotinoid-free and guaranteed to grow. Annual. (Lupinus texensis and Linaria maroccana)
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  2. Perennial Lupine Seeds

    A field of Lupine is an amazing sight, with spiky blooms of saturated indigo-blue that last from late spring to summer. Combine them with later-blooming flowers (like Shasta Daisy an...

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    Perennial Lupine Seeds Perennial Lupine Lupinus perennis
    As low as $11.95
    Per 1/4 Pound
    A field of Lupine is an amazing sight, with spiky blooms of saturated indigo-blue that last from late spring to summer. Combine them with later-blooming flowers (like Shasta Daisy and Rudbeckia) for an extended season of color. Growing to be about 12-36” tall, Lupine is a great choice for the front of the meadow or garden bed. Extremely easy to grow and deer resistant, this perennial flower blooms year after year. Seeds are 100% pure, non-GMO, neonicotinoid-free and guaranteed to grow.
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  3. Texas Bluebonnet, Lupine

    Limited Quantities Available!Texas Bluebonnet is a true-blue beauty and one of the worlds most well-known wildflowers. Famous for creating carpets of sweeping indigo color mid-season...

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    Texas Bluebonnet Seeds Texas Bluebonnet Lupinus texensis
    As low as $12.95
    Per 1 Ounce
    Limited Quantities Available!Texas Bluebonnet is a true-blue beauty and one of the worlds most well-known wildflowers. Famous for creating carpets of sweeping indigo color mid-season in meadows throughout the country, this variety prefers sandy, loamy and well-draining soils, as well as a minimum of six hours of sun per day. In warmer areas, Texas Bluebonnets act as perennials, coming back year after year, but in colder areas, they act as annuals. All of the seed we carry at American Meadows is non-GMO, neonicotinoid-free and guaranteed to grow. Annual.
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  4. Blue Arroyo Lupine Seeds, Lupinus succulentus

    This is the famous wild lupine that carpets whole hillsides along the Pacific coast; grows well in any region. Annual....

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    Arroyo Lupine Seeds Arroyo Lupine Lupinus succulentus
    As low as $19.95
    Per 1/4 Pound
    This is the famous wild lupine that carpets whole hillsides along the Pacific coast; grows well in any region. Annual.
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  5. Russell Lupine Seed Mix

    The Russell Lupine Mix creates a dramatic, colorful statement with tall flower spikes that bloom in a variety of shades. Like all lupines, this mixture is very easy to grow and will ...

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    Russell Lupine Seed Mix Russell Lupine Lupinus polyphyllus
    As low as $9.95
    Per 1/4 Pound
    The Russell Lupine Mix creates a dramatic, colorful statement with tall flower spikes that bloom in a variety of shades. Like all lupines, this mixture is very easy to grow and will quickly become a permanent fixture in your wildflower meadow or garden. Russell Lupine is deer resistant and the colorful blooms call to be cut and brought inside for summer arrangements! All of the seed we carry at American Meadows is non-GMO, neonicotinoid-free and guaranteed to grow. Perennial.
    Learn More
  6. Dwarf Lupine Seeds Pixie Delight Mix, Lupinus hartwegii

    Dwarf Lupine Mix "Pixie Delight" is a great quick-bloom mixture of annual lupines. Only 12 to 18" tall....

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    Dwarf Lupine Seeds Pixie Delight Mix Dwarf Lupine Lupinus hartwegii
    As low as $11.95
    Per 1/4 Pound
    Dwarf Lupine Mix "Pixie Delight" is a great quick-bloom mixture of annual lupines. Only 12 to 18" tall.
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  7. Lupine Wildflower Seed Mix

    A great mix for lupine lovers! You get 5 different lupine species in yellow, blue, and a rainbow of other colors....

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    Lupine Seed Mix Lupine Mix
    As low as $11.95
    Per 1/4 Pound
    A great mix for lupine lovers! You get 5 different lupine species in yellow, blue, and a rainbow of other colors.
    Learn More
  8. Daisy & Lupine Seed Combo

    The Daisy and Lupine Seed Combo creates an instant cottage garden feel in any sunny spot in the garden. This classic combination features drought-tolerant, easy-to-grow perennial Lup...

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    Daisy & Lupine Seed Combo Shasta Daisy & Perennial Lupine Chrysanthemum maximum & Lupinus perennis
    $70.95
    Per 2 Pounds
    The Daisy and Lupine Seed Combo creates an instant cottage garden feel in any sunny spot in the garden. This classic combination features drought-tolerant, easy-to-grow perennial Lupine and non-invasive Shasta Daisies. Perfect for garden beds, meadows, and anywhere in between. Offers up armfuls of cut flowers year after year and attracts pollinators to the garden. Deer resistant. (Lupinus perennis and Chyrsanthemum maximum)
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The Russell Hybrids

Through the life’s work of a simple estate gardener in the early part of the 20th century, gardeners have incredible color choices when growing garden lupines. On his allotment in the north of England, George Russell intensively bred hybrids from the North American parent L. polyphyllum and other species over several decades.

lupine meadowlupine meadow

Absolute parentage is lost in the mists of history, but the resulting hybrids well-deserve the many awards they have received by a gardening community smitten with show-stopping shades of red, pink, orange, purple, cream, yellow & white. In many cases, the spires of tightly clustered flowers treat us to two colors on each spire.

Garden lupines do not need to be staked as a rule, but if your garden suffers from occasional bouts of high winds, it’s a good idea to lightly stake the spires as they appear. Lupines that have blown over will very quickly assume a curve to their flower spires as they try to grow back towards the sun (which makes for tricky staking later).

After flowering, the foliage should be allowed to die back naturally (though flower spikes can be removed). With the Russell hybrids, powdery mildew can often disfigure the foliage in hot, humid summers, and for this reason, many gardeners choose to remove the plants completely in those climates and replant new stock for the next season.

closeup of lupine with bee landing on itcloseup of lupine with bee landing on it

Patience & Perseverance

If you’re having problems with growing lupines from seed, you may live in a climate where excess moisture is causing the seedlings to dampen off with fungal disease, or you may not be scarifying the seeds adequately. You may also be dealing with a soil that is too heavy and needs building up with plenty of sandy loam before planting. Remember, lupines need good drainage, plenty of sun, and a cool spring to flower well.

If you’re having difficulty with getting your seeds started because of the ravages of birds and/or pill bugs (two of the worst pests for lupines), consider starting them in trays outdoors and transplanting when the plants are larger. As long as you haven’t let them grow too root-bound, you should be able to transplant them into a small hole filled with similar soil to the growing medium to lessen transplant shock.

Once up and growing strongly, lupines are deer-resistant, and so are a good choice for gardens without fencing. Children love them, as they attract scores of pollinators in the late spring and early summer and are plants that invite the touch of little hands – both on foliage and flower.

Whether you’re growing lupines in a field or in a simple raised bed, you are sure to be delighted with the many qualities that they can offer to your garden. Take your time, understand the conditions they need for successful germination and growth, and you’ll be a lifetime lupine lover – and grower!


About the Author: Marianne Willburn is a columnist, blogger and author of the new book "Big Dreams, Small Garden: Creating Something Extraordinary in Your Ordinary Space." Originally from California, she now gardens in Virginia – read more at www.smalltowngardener.com.

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