Virginia Bluebells – Facts, Grow and Care


Virginia Bluebells is a herbaceous perennial wildflower native to North America.  It is one of the earliest plants to bloom in the Spring, giving you a lush pink-purple-blue carpet that is packed with pollinators.  Flowering will generally last for several weeks.  This native plant is trouble free if planted in it’s preferred conditions.  This is one of our Top 3 Early Spring Perennials you should grow.

 Virginia Bluebell Facts

  • The common name comes from the shape of the flowers, as they look like little blue bells.
  • Hardy from zones 3-8, check your USDA zone here
  • Native from Arkansas/Kansas, then North to Ontario Canada.  And East to the Atlantic Ocean covering all areas in between
  • Climate Change appears to be pushing these plants (as well as the whole ecosystem) to flower earlier.
  • Depending on your location, this can be a valuable plant for Monarch Butterflys early in their migration North
  • Although most often observed on the forest borders, tree falls can open up light gaps in the canopy.  This allows woodland wildflowers such as Virginia Bluebells to thrive

What is Virginia Bluebells Scientific Name?

The Scientific Name of Virginia Bluebells is Mertensia virginica

Do Virginia Bluebells Spread?

Virginia Bluebells will spread by seed.  They often form colonies via self-seeding.  Unwanted seedlings can be pulled quite easily though.

Are Virginia Bluebells Invasive?

Virginia Bluebells would only be considered invasive outside of their native range, which is generally anything West of the Missouri River.  However, if you are attempting to cultivate Virginia Bluebells in a manicured flower bed, be aware that they self-seed quite heavily.  So, they can form dense colonies over time.

Quick Reference Table – Virginia Bluebells

Click here to get the Reference Table on Growing Virginia Blue Bells

Virginia Bluebells Physical Description

A rather low-growing woodland wildflower, Virginia Blue Bells will rarely be more than 2′ tall (60 cm).  You most often find large colonies of this plant in open woodland with dappled sunlight.  The decades of leaf-litter decay provide substantial organic matter, which creates a loamy soil that is perfect for this plant.

Stalk / Stem

There will be a light green central stalk/stem that will be 1-2.5′ tall (30-75 cm).  Sometimes there will be some branching on the stalk.

Leaves

Virginia Bluebells will have alternate leaves along the stalk that are 4-7″ long (10-18 cm) by ~3″ wide (9 cm).  The shape of the leaves will be oblong, and very smooth to touch.  Margins of the leaf are also smooth, with no serration.

Flower

Mertensia virginica

Flowers of Virginia Bluebells are very beautiful.  There will be clusters of blooms (~20 blooms) from the top of the stalk that kind of hang down, similar to a street lamp.

The blooms are shaped like bells (hence the common name).  When immature, the flower petals are pink, changing to a rich purple-blue as the bloom opens up.

Flowering will last for approximately 3 weeks, when the bloom will dry and generate a fruit.  The fruit will contain several seeds.

Root

Virginia Bluebells have a woody taproot.

Virginia Bluebells Growing Conditions

Plant Virginia Bluebells in moist, rich loamy soil with partial sun for the best growing results.  That is where you typically find it in the wild, and it is always best to take a cue from nature as to how best to cultivate a plant.

I have grown it in clay before, but added a generous amount of compost when planting.  It seemed to do well.

How to care for Virginia Bluebells

If you plant Virginia Bluebells in its preferred growing conditions, it will not require any special care.  It is a native plant, so has evolved to thrive without special treatment or extra fertilizer.

Maintenance

Virginia Bluebells will go dormant in the summer.  So, the leaves will turn yellow and fall over, making it’s own mulch layer (so to speak).  If you don’t like the looks of that, then you can clear it out of a flower bed.  But that is about all the maintenance this plant requires.

However, Virginia Bluebells will self seed.  So, if you don’t want extra plants, you will have to pull unwanted seedlings.virginia bluebell self seed invasive

How to Establish Virginia Bluebells from Seed

Virginia Bluebells is a tricky flower to grow from seed.  The reason for this is you need fresh seed, or seed that has been refrigerated since it was harvested.  Also, be aware that this plant grows slowly from seed, like Blue False Indigo.

Gathering Seed from the Wild

So, it is best to locate a colony of these plants, and go gather seed in June when the plant is starting to go dormant.  Gather some seed heads and take them home.

Storing Virginia Bluebell Seed

Then, you can either plant them directly (knowing that germination will not happen until the following year).  Or, you can refrigerate the seed until Fall/Winter in a zip-lock bag, and direct sow then or winter-sow them.

Virginia Bluebell seed planting depth

Virginia Bluebell seed should be planted just below the surface of the soil.  It requires about a 2 month cold/moist stratification period.  Seed should be kept moist until spring, when the warm temperatures will germinate them.

If direct sowing in the fall/winter, take care to make sure it is in the proper location with it’s preferred growing conditions!

Transplanting Established Virginia Bluebells

Plants with taproots can be very tricky to transplant.  If you don’t get the whole tap-root, or enough of it, the plant will often die.  But, established Virginia Bluebell plants can be successfully transplanted, as I have done it.

How did  I do this?

  • I waited until plants went dormant, and all of the leaves turned yellow and were laying on the ground.  So it was not actively growing.
  • Then, I dug up the plant, getting as much of the tap-root as I could.
  • I wrapped the taproot in a sopping-wet paper towel, and then transplanted it to it’s new location within an hour or so.
  • I amended the soil with compost as I transplanted it.
  • Finally, I gave it a healthy dose of water.
This is one of the Virginia Bluebells that I transplanted when it was dormant. It bloomed the following Spring!

The following Spring, the two plants I transplanted came right up.  One of them even bloomed.  They were healthy, happy plants.

Virginia Bluebells Garden Uses

Virginia Bluebells can look quite stunning as a small wildflower patch or border garden that gets partial shade.  They can also be a great plant for a woodland garden, or strip that borders shade trees.  Just remember, they will go dormant.  So after mid-summer you won’t even know that they are there, sleeping in the soil!

Fauna

This plant is a bee magnet!  I always see them packed with bumble bees as well as other bee species.  But, Virginia Bluebells will also be visited by Spring butterflies and moths.  Virginia Bluebells is a great nectar source for early season pollinators.

Pests and diseases

No diseases seem to effect this plant.  Deer will eat the foliage in Spring, but generally not completely.

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Be sure to check out these other articles, I think you would find useful, as well:

How to Remove Sod by Hand – Our Easy Method

How to Make DIY Tick Tubes

Reasons to NOT Build Raised Bed Gardens

Our Simple Method to Compost

Native Plant Profiles

Invasive Plants

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Joe Foster

Hi - I grew up outdoors in nature - hiking, fishing, hunting. In high school I got my first job at a garden center where I learned to garden and landscape. I've been growing plants from seed and designing native plant gardens for over six years. I hope to share some of my knowledge with you! Additionally I am a wood worker / DIY enthusiast. I enjoy designing/building projects (with hand tools when I can!). I hope to give you some tips and useful information!

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