How to Grow and Care for Harebells

Harebells (Campanula rotundifolia) plant


Hans Huber / Getty Images

In This Article

The humble, delicate harebell (Campanula rotundifolia) tolerates sandy, poor soil conditions that would cause many other flower varieties to wither. In fact, the harebell is tougher than it looks and often thrives despite inhospitable growing conditions.

This perennial has small, rounded leaves and clusters of slender stems, each holding multiple blue flowers with a distinct downward bell-shape. These one-inch long flowers end in five points. Their rounded, basal leaves wither early in the season, leaving the slender stems with their slimmer foliage and famous bell-shaped flowers.

Though dainty in appearance, these plants grow in a wide range of less than favorable conditions including rocky mountain slopes, the edges of beaches, and open meadows. Their attractive bell-shaped flowers also attract hummingbirds and butterflies.  

Botanical Name Campanula rotundifolia
Common Name Harebells, Bluebells, Bluebell of Scotland, Witches’ Thimble
Plant Type Perennial
Mature Size 12 to 18 inches tall; 12 inches wide
Sun Exposure Full sun to partial shade
Soil Type Well-draining, sandy
Soil pH Neutral
Bloom Time Summer to fall
Flower Color Blue
Hardiness Zones USDA 3 to 6
Native Area Eurasia and North America

How to Grow Harebells

Caring for these cheery flowers is easy and does not require much work. Only the occasional deadheading is needed to help encourage more blooming. Because they thrive in poor, well-draining soil conditions, the harebell does not require large amounts of water or fertilizer. Place them in a sunny area, perhaps in a rock garden, and water deeply but infrequently. 

The harebell spreads through rhizomes and is also self-seeding. When given an environment to its liking, these plants can spread and create a beautiful colony of blue flowers. They are deer-resistant and do not face many common pests or diseases.  

Light

The harebell does best when its planted in full sun to partial shade. When choosing where to locate a harebell, keep in mind its natural habitats and try your best to mimic those conditions. Remember that the harebell thrives in places such as meadows, rocky mountain slopes, open woodlands, or on the edge of beaches.

Soil

Well-draining soil is crucially important for the harebell. Consistently moist soil can lead to root rot. Unlike many colorful perennials, the harebell thrives in dry, poor, sandy soil. They make wonderful additions to rock gardens.  

Water

These wildflowers like deep, infrequent waters that come from natural rainfall. However, newly established plants benefit from frequent watering. Once they are established, however, the harebell prefers dry conditions, meaning you should only need to water them in times of drought. If you must water, be sure not to drown them or shower them too quickly.  

Temperature and Humidity

Though delicate in looks, the harebell is winter hardy and prefers cool or moderate summers, which means that they do well in northern climates. Extreme heat is harsh on these cold-hardy plants, and they don't do well in areas with very hot, humid summers.  

Fertilizer

Because these plants thrive in sandy, poor soil, they don't need fertilizer to grow strong and healthy. However, adding a light does of fertilizer or compost to the soil in the spring will give these plants a nutrient boost and encourage growth.  

Propagating Harebells

Propagating harebells is best done from basal leaf cuttings, cuttings made at the base of a plant shoot.

  1. Wait until spring when the first shoots of your harebell are sprouting. 
  2. Using a sharp knife, cut a shoot at the point where it emerges from its root system. Sometimes roots will be attached to these cuttings, and the roots will help the cutting become strong and grow quickly. 
  3. Trim away the lower leaves, then place the cutting in a container filled with damp growing medium
  4. Keep the growing medium moist for the harebell to take root and become a healthy plant.

How to Grow Harebells from Seed

You can grow harebells by sowing seeds outdoors or indoors. 

Sowing outdoors

In the late fall, select an area in your garden in which to sow the seeds. Scatter the harebell seeds on top of the soil. Do not cover the seeds with soil because these seeds require light to germinate. In spring, your seeds will begin to sprout when it is warm enough to do so. 

Sowing indoors 

Before sowing seeds, you must put them through a period of cold stratification to mimic winter conditions and indicate to the seed that it is time to start growing.

  1. Place the harebell seed in a plastic bag containing a bit of damp sand.
  2. Place the bag in the refrigerator for four weeks. 
  3. After four weeks have passed, remove the seeds from the plastic bag and scatter them on top of a moist growing medium. Do not cover the seeds with soil; they require light to germinate.
  4.  Place your seeds in bright light or under grow lights.
  5. When the seedlings are two inches tall and the threat of frost is gone, plant them in your garden.