Growing Bluebells: Care Of Wood Hyacinth Bluebells

Growing Bluebells: Care Of Wood Hyacinth Bluebells

By: Susan Patterson, Master Gardener

Bluebell flowers are dainty bulbous perennials that provide a profusion of color ranging from deep purple to pinks, whites and blues from April to mid May. Although some confusion may arrive from various English and Latin names, most bluebells are also known as wood hyacinths.

English and Spanish Bluebells

English bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) are native to France and England and have been gracing gardens and wooded areas with their beautiful bluish-purple flowers since the early 1500’s. These spring delights reach heights of 12 inches (30 cm.) and can be planted in the fall for spring bloom. The flowers are fragrant and make a wonderful addition to any cut bouquet. An interesting feature of English bluebell is that the flowers are all on the same side of the stalk, and when gravity kicks in the stalk bends in a dainty curve.

Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) are similar in many ways to English bluebells apart from the fact that they bloom in open areas and are rarely found in woods. Spanish bluebell stalks are straight and do not display the curve as seen in English bluebells. Spanish bluebells do not have as strong a fragrance as English bluebells either and tend to bloom a bit later. Flowers can be blue, pink or white.

Growing Bluebells

The care of wood hyacinth plants requires minimal energy. These easy-to-please bulbs naturalize rapidly and prefer well-drained soil with a high organic content.

Like Virginia bluebells, wood hyacinths will thrive in shade or part-sun in the South and will tolerate full sun in northerly climates. Unlike some plants, bluebells will quickly multiply under the shade of large trees. Both English and Spanish Bluebells make excellent transition bulbs between early-spring bloomers and early summer perennials. Bluebells are excellent companions to hostas, ferns and other woodland native plants.

Planting Bluebell Flowers

Plant bluebell bulbs after the heat of summer has passed or in early fall. Several bulbs can be placed in the same 2-inch (5 cm.) deep hole.

Water the bulbs frequently over the fall and winter for best performance.

Divide during the summer months, once the plant has gone dormant. Bluebells grow best when they are left to naturalize in shade gardens or woodland settings.

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Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta)

Carpets of bluebell flowers in woodlands are one of the most glorious sights of the British spring landscape - but bluebells are also wonderful plants for gardens. They’re easy to grow. In fact, bluebells grow so readily and spread so quickly they can become too widespread if left to self seed.

Over the years, the poor bluebell has been given numerous different botanical names, including Endymion and Scilla , but is now regarded as Hyacinthoides.

The Spanish bluebell, Hyacinthoides hispanica, is even more vigorous than the British bluebell, and sadly hybrids between the two are causing the decline of the British bluebell both in the wild and in gardens. So, give them a helping hand and plant the British bluebell at home.

How to grow bluebells


Bluebells grow well in either sun or partial shade, but do better out of direct, strong sunlight. They prefer a humus-rich, moist, but well-drained soil that doesn’t dry out in summer.

Bluebell varieties

Hyacinthoides non-scripta is the common blue-flowered bluebell, but a few other varieties are also available Alba has white flowers and Rosea has pink ones.

Planting bluebells

Bluebells are best planted in shady areas – around trees or underneath shrubs – where the cool conditions intensify the flower colour.

Plant the bulbs 7.5cm (3in) deep, 10-15cm (4-6in) apart in autumn in well-prepared soil with lots of added bulky organic matter dug in. This will help prevent the soil drying out in summer. Potted bulbs are also available in spring.

Suggested planting locations and garden types

Flower borders and beds, patios, containers, city and courtyard gardens, cottage and informal gardens, wildflower gardens, naturalising.

How to care for bluebells

Once planted, hyacinths can be more-or-less left to their own devices. They rarely need watering when growing in the ground, unless the soil dries out during prolonged dry periods in summer.

Give them a light feed with a granular general plant food after flowering. Watering with a liquid plant food after flowering and until the foliage starts to die down will help build up their strength and size for the following year’s flowering.

Allow the foliage to die down naturally after flowering. It is a good idea to remove the faded flower spikes before they set seed to prevent the plants self-seeding and spreading where they aren’t wanted.

Bluebells are rarely troubled by any pests or diseases.

English Bluebells: A Field Guide

Strong, sweetly fragrant English bluebells love a deciduous forest. In fact, they’re a common identifier of ancient woodlands. Yet bluebells can be nearly as happy in a shady backyard garden.

Happiest in the British Isles but grown in Europe and America as well, Hyacinthoides non-scripta creates a violet-blue carpet before the woodland canopy closes in late spring. Most bluebells are grown from bulbs, love well-drained soil, and will need some water for the first couple of seasons. Once established, bluebells can handle dry soil and will multiply profusely. A mature plant reaches a foot in diameter. Don’t confuse English bluebells with their tougher, more invasive cousin, the Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica).

Growing Bluebells (Hyacinthoides)


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Tip: Growing Bluebells (Hyacinthoides)

Hyacinthoides is a genus in the family Hyacinthaceae. It includes
H. non-scripta the English bluebell (also known as wood hyacinth) and H. hispanica, a separate species. The two species have been know to hybridize in areas where their growing zones overlap, producing fertile offspring known as Hyachinoides x massartiana. The hybrid is quite vigorous and can easily replace the native species. They are all spring flowering.

Choosing the right bluebell for your garden is mainly contingent on your climate. The Spanish bluebell is the only viable choice, in the US, for gardeners in climates similar to lowland California. Globally, similar climates apply, as this species comes from Spain and North Africa. The English bluebell prefers colder winters and moderate to cool summers.

Let us begin with the English bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta). This species originated in western Europe and its habitat extends from northwest Spain to the British Isles, where it reaches its greatest density. These perennial wild flowers bloom in spring and are characterized by drooping bluish-purple trumpet shaped blooms. The flowers are arranged along one side of the nodding stem. The blooms have a strong, sweet scent. An interesting feature of the bluebell is its contractile roots. When these roots contract they pull the bulbs down to find layers containing more moisture.

The English bluebell is an inhabitant of deciduous woodlands, but can be found in more open areas in some parts of its habitat. They prefer slightly acidic soils. The flowers are rich in pollen and nectar and are typically pollinated by bumblebees. They can reach a height of 10 inches.

Because of their preferred woodland habitat English bluebells are frequently found in garden settings growing under trees. Both English and Spanish bluebells can be easily naturalized in your garden.

The Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanics, is hardy in zones 3 - 8 according to the USDA. It grows to a height of 9 - 18 inches, from small bulbs and propagates from bulb offsets and under the right conditions is also self seeding. The flowers of the Spanish bluebell are typically lighter in color than their English cousins and only have a slight scent. In addition to the typical blue color these bluebells are also available in white, pink, lavender-pink, and rose. Planting bluebells: English bluebells require moist soil and are not well suited to desert climates. Additionally, they do best in shaded locations.

The Spanish variety is much less fussy about soil and light conditions. Once established they can even do well in dry shade, a tough spot for many garden plants. As with other spring-blooming bulbs they are typically planted in the fall. This gives them time to root and exposes them to the colder weather needed for most bulbs to bloom.

Plant the bulbs 2 - 4 inches deep or 4 times the depth of bulb size, several bulbs can be placed in the same hole. Bulbs not planted in fall can be stored in a cold place over the winter and planted in early spring. Bluebells are very hardy and tolerant of delayed planting. Bulbs not planted in spring can be stored over the summer in a cool, dry, spot. You may layer them in sawdust to ensure that they remain dry and do not mold.

Once your bells have bloomed, contrary to what you may have seen some gardeners do, do not cut back the foliage. The leaves gather sunlight needed for the process of photosynthesis which feeds and strengthens the bulbs for future seasons. Once the leaves yellow and die back they can be removed to cleanup your garden.

As noted bluebells prefer partially shaded locations, but can grow in full sun in coastal areas. While loam is the best type of soil for your bells, they will also do well in clay soils that have some organic materials added.

Bluebells quickly multiply and can fill your garden. If you choose to divide them, do so in the fall. Discard damaged bulbs. Then you can replant in the same bed, a new location, or give some away.

Bluebells are an easy to care for flowering bulb. As noted they quickly multiply to fill your garden. This can be a good thing if you are trying to naturalize an area or it can tip them into the weed camp if they grow out of control. They can also seed freely and produce new plants that way as well. These bulbs are so hardy that they can survive your compost heap. The best method of getting rid of too many bells is to dig them out. It is easier to find the bulbs while they still have leaves present. Dig down below the level of the bulbs to help ensure that you find them all.

These easy to grow, inexpensive bulbs make a great addition to the spring garden. Give them a try.

Source: The New Sunset Western Garden Book, Wikipedia, Gardening Know How website, the Royal Horticultural Society website, and years of personal experience in both the love and hate scenario.


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Bluebell Flowers - Growing Information For English And Spanish Bluebells - garden

Bluebells have brilliant blue blossoms that add a dash of colour to the landscape. Each plant produces up to 100 tiny blue-violet bell-shaped flowers that emit a honey-sweet fragrance. They bloom season after season, gradually multiplying in number. Bluebells are the perfect choice for growing in lightly shaded rock gardens, under trees or amongst garden borders. There are two main types:

English bluebells are native to France and England and have been gracing gardens and wooded areas since the early 1500’s. They grow to 25-30cm and are planted in autumn for spring flowering. The flowers are fragrant and make a wonderful addition to any cut bouquet. The flowers are all on the same side of the stalk and when gravity kicks in the stalk bends in a dainty curve.

Spanish bluebells are similar in many ways to English bluebells apart from the fact that they bloom in more open areas. Spanish bluebell stalks are straight and do not display the curve as seen in English bluebells. The sword-like foliage is shiny and arches out of the ground in a tuft-like shape. The sturdy flower stems are 30-40cm tall and look great in a vase. Spanish bluebells do not have as strong a fragrance as English bluebells and tend to bloom a bit later.

Both are wonderful bulbs that make the perfect transition between early bulb flowers and perennial flowers in your garden. When the perennials come into bloom, the bluebells will disappear until next year.


Fortunately for all fans of this charming plant, bluebells are highly tolerant and can thrive in part shade to dappled sunlight. Plant the bulbs with the pointed end facing upwards, about 10cm deep and about 15cm apart. They will do best in fertile, well-drained soils. They seed down and naturalize easily and look beautiful in informal drifts among tall shrubs, under deciduous trees and among perennials. You must provide water regularly from the time you plant the bulbs and until the foliage dies down in summer. The bulbs are great for containers and are excellent for cutting.

Garden Plans For Spanish Bluebell

Because Spanish bluebells don't mind sun or part shade, you can plant them practically anywhere in your yard. Happily, there are many ways to use these easy-care plants.

Grow them in clumps at the base of deciduous shrubs such as rose of Sharon or roses to add color as the shrubs begin to leaf out in spring. Or mix them with spring-blooming perennials such as bleeding heart, hellebore, or lungwort to add interest and texture to garden beds and borders. Spanish bluebells look right at home in woodland gardens, too—and they're charming companions for ferns, columbines, and other shade-loving favorites.

Watch the video: THE BLUEBELLS