How to Grow a Carpet of Bluebells

Written by Hannah Miller. Reviewed and Fact Checked by Elizabeth Smith. Published to Spring Plants. Updated: 17th February 2023.

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Bluebells are perfect for growing under deciduous trees and large shrubs where they can be left to naturalise.

Once established, expect swathes of spring colour with distinctive purple and blue bell-like blooms appearing in the middle of spring.

Key points:

  1. A reliable ground covering space filler with bell-shaped bloom: I’ve found that bluebells spread quickly once established.
  2. Full hardy: They survive winters down to minus 20.
  3. I’ve seen them crowd out other low-growing plants and they can be difficult to eradicate once established, so only grow where you intend to keep them.

If you’re looking for a plant that offers excellent ground covering qualities, consider the mighty English Bluebell.

Size

Height: Up to 25cm (10″)

Spread: Up to 8cm (3″)

Type

Type

Deciduous: Dies back after spring and regrows the following year

Growth icon

Growth

May take a few years before the first flowers appear. Spreads via bulb offsets and seeds, it may spread rapidly

Difficulty

Easy to grow once established in suitable conditions

Native

English Bluebells are native to western Europe

Location

Under trees and large shrubs in fertile soil

Sunlight

Prefers shade and light-dappled sunlight under spring tree cover

Hardiness

US zone 4-8 and hardy in all parts of the UK

Water & Feed

No need to fertilise but water “in the green” bluebells after planting

Companions

Ferns, ornamental grasses or alone in swathes

Planting

Plant bulbs in the autumn and “in the green” bluebells in the spring

Flowering

Mid April to mid May

Bluebells growing in a field
Bluebells in woodland

How to Grow Bluebells in the Green

I asked experienced and qualified horticulturist Elizabeth Smith to answer some questions about bluebells:

How and When are Bluebells Sold?

Bluebells are sold as seeds, bulbs or as “in the green” plants, which means they come with the stem and foliage attached.

Seeds: I’ve found that these are the easiest to grow and I’ve scattered at a rate of 150-250 per square metre with good results. Germination can be erratic though and from my experience, can take anywhere from 6-24 months. The bluebells then typically flower after 4-5 years.

Bulbs: These should be planted up to 15cm deep (depending on age) and based on my experience, they usually flower before those grown by seed but, depending on the age of the bulb when it was harvested, it can still take a couple of years before flowering.

As a general rule of thumb, the older the bulb, the deeper it must be planted, but the sooner it will flower.

For example, a 2-year old bulb may take 3 years to produce blooms while a 4-year old one may bloom the following spring.

“In the green” plants: These cost the most and take the longest to plant, but they also flower the soonest as they’re already established. I’ve purchased “in the green” bluebells that flowered well immediately.

Seeds can be sowed any time of year, but autumn into early winter would be best.

Bulbs should be planted in the autumn.

“In the green” bluebells should be planted as soon they arrive in the spring.

Why does it take seeds so long to germinate?

Bluebell seeds require a period of chilling before they can germinate, so they are unlikely to germinate straight after planting.

With the milder winters we are now witnessing in the UK and US, I’m seeing it take years for the seeds to germinate.

Where is the best location for bluebells? How should the soil be prepared?

Bluebells are found naturally under deciduous trees (those that lose their leaves in winter), so any location similar to this will suffice.

In domestic settings, I’ve seen them grown successfully under large shrubs, trees or shaded parts of the garden.

Bluebells can be grown in full sun, but only if the soil is kept moist, and I haven’t always found this practical.

From my experience, the soil should be moist, well-drained and rich in organic matter, an environment that’s similar to their natural habitat would be ideal.

How much water and fertiliser do bluebells require?

If grown in an ideal spot, bluebells shouldn’t require any fertiliser or extra water. I never used any on the ones I have grown, and they’ve all performed well.

How quickly do bluebells spread?

While it can take bluebells a while to get going, once established, they can spread rapidly by seed, bulb offshoots and by hybridizing with other bluebells.

Bluebells should only be grown in a permanent spot; I’ve tried to remove bluebells in the past and it wasn’t easy, not without chemicals.

Do bluebells need to be pruned, deadheaded or trimmed with a lawnmower?

There is no need to deadhead or prune bluebells and any mowing should be done after the bluebell foliage has faded to a yellow colour.

Do bluebells suffer from any pests and diseases?

I’ve found that bluebells are extremely tough and resistant to most pests and diseases, I’ve certainly never had any issues with them.

Bluebells are susceptible to a fungus, but this is rare, and I’ve only ever seen it in a domestic setting where it was treated with a fungicide.

When do bluebells bloom and how long for?

Bluebells bloom from mid-April to late May, with about 4-6 weeks of flowering time.

What is the best way to propagate bluebells?

Bluebells can be dug up and their bulbs divided, or you can collect seeds in late spring.

I’ve found that propagated plants will not flower immediately and usually take a few years to get going.

Are bluebells toxic or harmful to humans and pets?

All parts of the bluebell are toxic to humans, pets, cattle and other animals.

Source.

Are bluebells beneficial to wildlife?

Bluebells are very beneficial to early pollinators and insects.

Can bluebells be grown in pots?

Bluebells can be grown in pots, and I’ve seen this before, but the soil should be kept moist and free draining.

They also should also be fed feed during the flowering season.

Try These:

500 X English Bluebell Bulbs - 'in The Green' Hyacinthoides Non Scripta - Eurobulbs UK® - Grown in The UK – Dispatched Royal Mail 1st Class
100 x English Bluebells Bulbs - Bluebells in The Green - Spring Flowering Bulbs - Bluebell Bulbs for Planting Now UK - (Free UK P&P)
500 X English Bluebell Bulbs - 'in The Green' Hyacinthoides Non Scripta - Eurobulbs UK® - Grown in The UK – Dispatched Royal Mail 1st Class
100 x English Bluebells Bulbs - Bluebells in The Green - Spring Flowering Bulbs - Bluebell Bulbs for Planting Now UK - (Free UK P&P)
500 X English Bluebell Bulbs - 'in The Green' Hyacinthoides Non Scripta - Eurobulbs UK® - Grown in The UK – Dispatched Royal Mail 1st Class
500 X English Bluebell Bulbs - 'in The Green' Hyacinthoides Non Scripta - Eurobulbs UK® - Grown in The UK – Dispatched Royal Mail 1st Class
100 x English Bluebells Bulbs - Bluebells in The Green - Spring Flowering Bulbs - Bluebell Bulbs for Planting Now UK - (Free UK P&P)
100 x English Bluebells Bulbs - Bluebells in The Green - Spring Flowering Bulbs - Bluebell Bulbs for Planting Now UK - (Free UK P&P)

At a Glance:

Here are 10 key points anyone growing bluebells should consider:

  1. Gardeners should double-check that they are buying English and not Spanish bluebells, which can crossbreed with our English variety creating hybrids that have the potential to overtake the native bluebells.
  2. English bluebells prefer dappled sunlight and light shade and although they can survive in full sun, the soil will likely be too dry for them.
  3. Choose “in the green” plants if you want to see flowers as soon as possible; otherwise, choose bulbs or seeds.
  4. For best results, grow a mixture of plants, bulbs and seeds.
  5. Only sow in the garden where they can naturalise and settle permanently.
  6. I’ve seen bluebells grown in pots and containers successfully, but extra attention should be paid to watering and fertiliser.
  7. Choose companion plants carefully as in my experience, bluebells will smoother out many bedding plants.
  8. Bluebells offer a long flowering period, often up to 6 weeks.
  9. Largely pest and disease-free, I’ve found bluebells easy to maintain once established.
  10. Be careful where you plant bluebells, it can take several attempts to remove them once established.

Companion Plants

Most plants grown near bluebells will eventually be smothered out so they are best planted in a woodland setting under tall trees that shed their leaves in the winter.

I’ve found that some tall shrubs, ferns and ornamental grasses go well with bluebells.

Bluebell Alternatives

If you think bluebells might be too much of a handful or your garden isn’t big enough to accommodate them, I recommend these alternatives:

Camassia is a popular alternative to bluebells, and its growth isn’t so vigorous. Expect striking star-shaped blooms in spring, and as a bonus, camassia compliments many other plants and won’t smother them.

Muscari blooms at the same time as bluebells and produces scented, grape-like bells on short stems.

Solutions to Common Problems

My experience with bluebells has been positive, and I’ve found that they are largely problem-free. A good dose of patience is usually all that’s needed when a problem arises.

Here are solutions to some issues I’ve seen:

Bluebell seeds not germinating: Bluebell seeds require a period of cold temperatures before they can germinate. This means that it can sometimes take over a year for them to germinate and start growing.

Bluebells not flowering: Bluebells grown from seeds and bulbs may need five years or more before they produce flowers. I suggest you buy “in the green” bluebells or bulbs that are 3-4 years old if you want to see flowers sooner.

Leaf Rust: As shown in these photos, bluebell rust affects the leaves but shouldn’t prevent the bluebell from flowering.

More Photos

Bluebells in woodland
Closeup of bluebell flower
A cluster of bluebell flowers
Bluebells in the green

Our Expertise: Backed by a Qualified Horticulturist

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This guide was reviewed and fact-checked by qualified horticulturist Elizabeth Smith.

Explore: Elizabeth's profile and qualifications.

Meet The Author: Hannah Miller

Hannah is a keen gardener who grows organic fruit and vegetables in her Surrey garden and is moving towards a more sustainable lifestyle. 

She is also the proud grower of a dahlia and herb garden.

Hannah worked for the NHS for 12 years but also has a level 3 qualification in horticulture and is currently studying for her level 4.

More About Hannah Miller

Hannah Miller

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This bluebell growing guide was published by DIY Gardening

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