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How to Plant Wildflowers
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Not only is the gardener rewarded with outstanding color from spires of densely-packed flowers in a multitude of hues, but the grayish-green palmate foliage also graces the garden with fabulous texture and shape.
Some of our favorite wildflowers across the United States are lupines, from the Texas bluebonnet (L. texensis), to the eye-popping displays of violet-blue Arroyo (L.succulentus) and L. polyphyllus running up the Northern Pacific Coast. Perennial lupine, the classic old-favorite is still wildly popular, as are the impressive Russell hybrids (bred from Perennial lupines during the 20th century) which come in shades of red, white, cream, orange, pink, purple as well as in bi-colored variations.
Wherever you grow them, however you grow them, you’ll find yourself wanting to reach out and feel the texture of the densely bunched oh-so-touchable flowers – but you’ll certainly have to wave away a host of pollinators first!
Choose a sunny site with average, well-draining soil. Lupines are legumes and can improve a soil’s fertility over time.
Light: Full sun is preferred. Lupine can grow in part shade, but flowering will be lessened.
Soil: Lupine needs well-draining soil above all else. It prefers soil on the acid side and will not tolerate high levels of alkalinity or water-logged conditions. Russell hybrids and L. polyphyllus have more tolerance for moist conditions than many other species, but none are lovers of high heat or humidity.
Spacing: If broadcasting seed, broadcast at a rate of approximately 1 pound per 1000 feet. If planting mature plants, space larger varieties 2-3’ apart, smaller varieties 12-18” apart.
Lupines are deep rooted and do not spread except through re-seeding. Seeds will not come true to the original variety planted, but will eventually revert to blue-violet and white.
The most important thing to note before planting Lupines, is that they are available as both annuals and perennials. While Lupine seeds may yield both annual (life cycle complete in one growing season) and perennial (long-lived, coming back each spring) varieties, potted Lupine plants are typically perennial cultivars.
For plants: Upon delivery in early spring, plant immediately in a hole that has been amended with organic matter and grit for good drainage. Do not allow mulch or other organic matter to touch the crown of the plant and induce rot. Water in thoroughly.
For seeds: Lupine seeds can be planted in very early spring, but tend to do better if planted in late spring and allowed to overwinter, blooming in the following spring like foxgloves. They have a very tough seed coat, and it’s a good idea to either soak seeds for 24-48 hours, or roughen them between two sheets of sandpaper before planting. Cover lightly with soil (1/8”) and tamp down the seeds well – making sure they make good soil to seed contact. Water in, and if the weather is dry, water lightly until germination which can take up to 10 days.
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...
This is the famous wild lupine that carpets whole hillsides along the Pacific coast; grows well in any region. Annual....
Dwarf Lupine Mix "Pixie Delight" is a great quick-bloom mixture of annual lupines. Only 12 to 18" tall....
A west coast native that's happy anywhere. With all the blue wild lupines, this is the yellow stand-out. Annual....
A great mix for lupine lovers! You get 5 different lupine species in yellow, blue, and a rainbow of other colors....
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...
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 ...
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...
Growth Habit: Lupine has a rounded shrub-like habit and grows from 12-48” high depending on species or variety. Individual flowers resemble those of peas and are densely packed on several spikes above the foliage.
Staking: For Russell hybrids and taller species, it is wise to stake flower spikes if you have the time. Though they stand very straight on their own, high winds can blow the flower spikes over and create a curve in the flower as it attempts to grow back towards the sun. Smaller wildflower species do not need staking.
Watering: For the first few months in your garden, make sure that lupine plants are getting adequate water for good root development (they are deeply rooted), but let the soil dry out between waterings. After that, water only during periods of drought or very dry spells.
Fertilizing: Extra fertilizing is not necessary, but a top dressing of compost is appreciated, as long as it isn’t placed close to the crown of the plant.
Mulching: A light dressing of mulch is not a bad idea, particularly in hotter climates, but it is crucial that mulch is not allowed to touch the crown of the plant and induce stem rot.
Trimming & Pruning: Lupine can bloom again lightly on side shoots if immediately deadheaded. If seeds have begun to form in the lower parts of the flower however, they are unlikely to repeat their bloom.
After blooming, the foliage is not as attractive in the garden and can often suffer from mildew. As cutting it back completely can kill or weaken the plant, many gardeners choose to remove the plants completely and grow lupine as biennials, placing out new spring-grown plants in the fall for the next season. This is especially true in the southern limits of its heat hardiness where humidity is punishing.
If you are growing lupines for blooming the following spring, it’s wise to make sure that they are sited where you eventually want them. Lupines have deep roots and do not transplant well as they get bigger. Moreover, they start growing very early in the spring when digging and transplanting might not be advisable.
Make sure that lupine is not situated somewhere that will suffer from wet soil during the winter months which is a difficult situation for the plant to recover from.
Dividing and Transplanting: Lupine does not need to be divided and is actually difficult to divide due to its deep tap root.
Pests & Disease: Lupine can suffer from powdery mildew, particularly in hot and humid climates for which it is not suited. There are no other major pests for this plant besides pill-bugs (roly-polys, sow bugs) which like to eat the seeds and seedlings. Birds can be a problem if seeds are not lightly covered with soil at planting time.
Additional Concerns: Lupine seeds are actually cultivated as a food crop in some areas of the world, and therefore people assume that all lupine seeds are edible. However, these are specific species – some of the cultivated varieties and hybrids are toxic. Therefore, it’s best not to use the seeds in any culinary way, and to instruct children not to put the pea-like seeds into their mouths.
One of the most striking combinations seen with garden lupines (Russell hybrids and large species) is planting tulip bulbs with lupine starts in the fall. By spring, the lupine foliage is developing nicely and providing a beautiful backdrop for the tulips. Once the tulips have bloomed well, the lupines are right behind, showcased by their own foliage.
Lupines are a terrific plant for cottage gardens and pair nicely with old favorites like allium, globe thistle and phlox. As hybrids come in so many colors, the combinations are endless.
Additional Uses: Lupines are a deer resistant plant and make a great addition to a landscape plagued by four-footed pruners. They attract bees and butterflies of all sorts with their multi- and bi-colored flowers, and are a great choice for pollinator gardens.
Lupines are a legume, and in symbiosis with a soil bacteria, are able to fix airborne nitrogen in soil into usable nodules on roots that can enrich the soil – especially if turned under as a green manure. Intensively planting lupine can increase a soil’s fertility.
As discussed previously, in some areas of the world, the seeds of lupine are cultivated for their high protein content (over 50%), and research is being done to see if this crop could rival soy. However, these are specific species with varying levels of alkaloids that can be toxic to human beings in quantity. Best not to snack from the garden on this one!
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