Cultivating bluebells

Native bluebells will flower in late April and May, and produce the wonderful sea of blue seen on the woodland floors of the British Isles.

Although they are a woodland flower, bluebells will survive happily in full sunshine.

Planting bluebell bulbs

Bluebell bulbs should be planted in the autumn. Mature bulbs which will flower are generally 4 years old or older, and these should be planted about 6 inches deep and at the density you choose—anything from about 160/m2 to 500/m2 will give a good or very good intensity of blue.

A bluebell blowing in the woodland breeze
Bulbs are the quickest way to cultivate bluebells
A bluebell woodland

One of the advantages of buying from us is that we also supply 2 and 3 year old bulbs. These will take longer to reach full flowering, but they are lower in price and easier to plant—2 year olds simply need to be worked into or dropped into scoops in the first couple of inches of soil, whilst 3 year olds can be planted at 3 or 4 inches depth. These younger bulbs will save you money and time!

A bluebell growing in full sunshine

Bluebells will survive happily in full sunshine

Using a combination of different bulb ages will provide some flowers in the first year, with flowering increasing in following years as younger bulbs mature. This is a particularly good approach if you have a large area to plant.

More on combination planting >

Sowing bluebell seed

Sowing bluebell seed is much easier than planting bulbs—seed can be scattered at a rate of 160-500/m2 in autumn.

Radicles 6-10 weeks after sowing

6-10 weeks after sowing the radicles are elongated and about 4-6cm in length

Depending on your situation and levels of shade, weed control may be necessary. The seed should germinate pretty soon and, though you will see a few flowers in the third spring, full flowering will occur in the fourth spring.

Combination planting and sowing

If you have a large area to plant we can help you save money and get speedy results. One way to do this is to order a combination of bulb ages.

Small woodland example

Let’s say you have a 4 x 5m patch ready to become woodland.

200x 4-yr-olds£45.00
1000x 3-yr-olds£80.00
2000x 2-yr-olds£80.00

This way you’ll have (approximately) 400 flowering specimens in spring, 1600 the following spring, and 3200 the spring after that. This works on the basis that about 20% of 3-yr-olds will flower.

Total £205.00 (saving of £440.00)

That’s 3200 bulbs for £205.00 — 3200x 4-yr-olds would be £640.00

This is enough to plant 20m2 at a rate of 160 bluebells/m2, which will give an excellent blue covering in spring. For more intense blue increase the rate—it can be as much as 500 bluebells/m2 in the wild. Alternatively lower the rate and allow the plants to spread over the years.

The 2-yr-olds also provide an economical way of obtaining a high density of plants and so producing the really vivid sheets of blue seen in favourable habitats.

Another advantage of ordering three-year-old and two-year-old bulbs is the ease of planting. The 3-yr-olds can be planted less deep than 4-yr-olds, saving labour. Planting 2-yr-olds offers a great advantage in that they can be planted in shallow scoops. The time (and therefore financial) savings are considerable—a roadside cutting planting which would traditionally be very expensive becomes great value, making a dramatic positive effect on the roadside environment a viable and real prospect:

Roadside cutting example

Let’s say the desired final density of bluebells is 160/m2, all flowering within 2½ years of planting. We would recommend per square metre:

10x 4-yr-olds£2.00
50x 3-yr-olds£4.00
100x 2-yr-olds£4.00

Around 12.5% flowering will occur in the first spring, 50% in the next spring, followed by 100% in the third spring.

Total £10.00/m2

In the examples above please note that all figures are approximate as plants will develop at different rates in different locations and in different years. For instance, a north facing slope of a cutting in a below average temperature year will take longer to reach maximum flowering.

Save time and money

Planting a combination of 2, 3 and 4 year old bulbs will save you money and still get quick results. Seed, which offers great value if you are willing to wait at least four years for decent flowering, can be sown instead of or as well as bulbs.

Buy Bluebell BulbsBuy seed

Management

Bluebells will survive happily in full sunshine provided they are not choked by weeds and coarse grasses. These are kept at bay in a natural bluebell wood by summer shade from mid May-November. If natural shade does not occur in the planting situation, such coarse competitive growth must be dealt with by other means if establishment is to be successful—for example a weed control program.

Spanish Bluebells

The Spanish Bluebell, Hyacinthoides hispanica, poses a threat to native british bluebells in that the two readily hybridise. The hybrids can exhibit a whole range of intermediate features and as such can be difficult to identify. Their presence changes the native stock. Our bluebells are not spanish and there are no hybrids either, just pure native stock. We have a licence to prove this. You can read more about the spanish hybrids by following the links below:

Bluebell identification tips from The Woodland Trust >
Bluebell identification and removal from the RHS >

Cultivating bluebells is rewarding
Seed is the longer route to growing bluebells
Bluebells growing in a sunny spot