The English bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) is a perennial wildflower bulb. Thriving best in their native British Isles, they are also widespread throughout Europe and North America.
Trumpet-shaped blooms have up-turned lips, which droop atop clumps that are about 12 to 18 inches tall and three to eight inches wide. Each flower grows six petals and produces creamy, white pollen.
Vigorously carpeting any woodland area, their deep blue-violet blooms come every mid to late spring. A sign that spring is in full swing, masse plantings put on a spectacular, fragrant show for five weeks, before going dormant by early summer.
They are easy to grow and care for and multiply plentifully every year. These naturalizers are hardy in USDA Zones 4 through 9.
Be careful not to confuse the English bluebell with its more invasive cousin, the Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica) which is known to be hardy down to Zone 3. The English bluebell can be differentiated by its darker flowers and narrow, recurved foliage.
Welcome these perennial wildflowers to woodland gardens, semi-shade hedgerows and fields. For striking color contrast, pair with companions such as wild garlic, aconites, and daffodils. Establish as a groundcover beneath trees, shrubs and rosebushes, and then enjoy them as cut flowers during their peak in April or May.
|Botanical Name||Hyacinthoides non-scripta|
|Common Name||English Bluebells|
|Plant Type||Perennial wildflower bulb|
|Mature Size||12 in. tall, 3 to 8 in. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Part shade|
|Soil Type||Clay, Chalk, Loam, Sand|
|Soil pH||Slightly acidic to slightly alkaline|
|Hardiness Zones||4 - 9, USA|
|Native Area||Europe (England)|
English Bluebell Care
Plant English bluebell bulbs in late summer. Work two to four inches of organic matter into the soil. Use a trowel to loosen the soil. Remove any weeds. Dig a hole about four inches deep or twice as deep as the bulb's length. Set the bulb vertically, the pointed end facing upwards. In groups of five or more, space them three to six inches apart. Cover each bulb with soil gently. Tamp down the top of the soil.
Overall, bluebells are easy to grow. Once established, just sit back and enjoy the delightful show every spring for years to come.
English bluebells prefer partial shade and are ideal for planting beneath deciduous trees. They will tolerate full shade or full sun.
Bluebells are usually grown from bulbs, which thrive in soil that is moist, well-drained, and moderately fertile. Overall, they adapt to all soil types and slightly acidic to slightly alkaline pH levels.
Water and Fertilizer
Water bulbs well after planting. To maintain slight moisture, water whenever the top two to four inches of soil dries. When growth appears, water only lightly. Overwatering may cause bulb rot.
As buds appear, give them high-potassium plant food every two weeks. Continue light watering after flowering until the foliage dies. When watered well for the first couple of seasons, English bluebells can multiply quickly in dry soil.
Are English Bluebells Toxic?
Both English and Spanish bluebells (and likely any hybrids) are toxic. The glycosides within are toxic to humans, dogs, horses, cows, etc when ingested.
These plants contain certain compounds to defend themselves from certain animals and insect pests. Still, butterflies, bees and hoverflies feed off their nectar. Bees sometimes bite a hole in the bottom of a bell to "steal" the nectar.
While bluebells are rarely used in modern medicine, ongoing research is exploring the possibility that they could help fight cancer.
Symptoms of Poisoning
Horses are believed to be especially sensitive to bluebell poisoning. Symptoms may include diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pains, cold and moist skin, decreased temperature, and a decrease in urination
Consuming larger amounts of these plants may trigger the chemical action of the glycosides. More severe symptoms could occur such as hypotension, cardiac arrhythmias, and electrolyte imbalances.
Deadhead flowers and cut the foliage back of plants established in the ground.
Propagating English Bluebells
English bluebells are easily propagated by bulb division. Divide and transplant clumps after flowering. To propagate by seed, keep an eye out for seed pods that form where the flowers once were after the bloom period.
Sow ripe seeds in pots under a cold frame. Maintain shade and do not let the soil dry out completely. Note that it takes at least five years for a seed to develop into a bulb.
Growing English Bluebells in Containers
Hyacinthoides can also be grown in containers. Find a pot with good drainage holes. Fill with high-quality compost, organic matter, and grit.
Plant six inches deep and six inches apart. Cover with soil and water to maintain moisture. Set in full sun to part shade. If left in a container outdoors, bring inside and overwinter in a cool, dark place.
Usually, all bluebells remain free of pests and disease. They are resistant to deer, rabbits, rodents, and squirrels. Sometimes the parasitic fungus known as Uromyces muscari can cause bluebell rust. If this happens, treat with a fungicide.