A Sight to See for Yourself
A wildflower that has inspired naturalists, artists, hikers and gardeners for centuries, Texas bluebonnet is a flower steeped in legend and lore. Indeed, the first time I became aware of Texas bluebonnets was through the haunting song, Gulf Coast Highway, by Texan folk singer Nanci Griffith. Griffith sang of a hard-working couple living for many decades in a little house on the side of the road, and whose bond with the land was rooted in the glory of a bluebonnet spring. “This is the only place on earth bluebonnets grow,” sang Griffith, “and once a year they come and go, at this old house here by the road.”
Griffith painted a picture I wanted to experience for myself; and I did, many years later on a trip through the state in the spring. I wasn’t disappointed, and was lucky enough to see them spiked with the orange-red flowers of another Texan favorite, Indian paintbrush. Lupinus texensis is one of five bluebonnet species to hold the title of the “official” state flower of Texas, and with the exception of one of the more northern species, they are annual plants, completing their life cycles in one year.
These days, and thanks to the commercial harvesting of bluebonnet seeds, this glorious wildflower is grown all over the United States by gardeners and naturalists alike. Understanding the life cycle and needs of the plant will make a huge difference in your quest to create your very own bluebonnet spring.
Timing Texas Bluebonnet for Blooms
Texas Bluebonnet's hard seed coat makes it a great candidate for fall planting. Cooler weather and exposure to a few months of precipitation will help to naturally break down the outer casing of the seed, allowing water access to the life force inside. This will lead to perfectly-timed spring germination.
If fall planting doesn't fit your schedule, no problem! You can mimic a lengthy winter yourself by soaking the seeds before planting. Small-space gardeners can also 'scarify' the seeds by placing them between two pieces of rough sandpaper and rubbing them together or by nicking them with a nail file or clippers. Once you have done this, it is important to plant them right away.
While you may have no trouble getting your Bluebonnet seeds to sprout without specialized treatment, soaking or scarifying will certainly improve your chances of a good germination rate.
Bluebonnet seed is planted in the fall (as early as August in hotter climates). It should be raked into sandy, well-drained soil in a very sunny location and covered with 1/8” of soil, tamping it down to make sure that the seed makes good soil/seed contact. Broadcast seeds at a rate of just over 2 ounces to 100 square feet, or plant a few seeds (for insurance) on 10 inch centers, thinning later. It can take a good amount of time to germinate, but seeds that have been adequately scarified should germinate within about 10 days.
Water the seeds in well, and then let the fall rains do their job. Once seeds have germinated and developed roots over the winter, they are very drought hardy and can be hurt by too much water. Foliage rosettes of 5-7 leaves will develop close to the ground and overwinter that way. Come spring and a little heat, the plant will expand, flower stalks will appear and you’ll have your breath taken away.