|FOR RELEASE CONTACT – Suzy Wallace 361 790-0124
Aug 18, 2008 or Ernie Edmundson 361 790-0103
By Suzy Wallace, Master Gardener, Aransas/San Patricio Master Gardeners
The Bluebonnet, adopted as the "State Flower of Texas", is a hardy winter annual, native to Texas. This is the most commonly seen variety of wild flower along roadsides and in uncultivated pastures throughout the state. Bluebonnets will thrive in any soil as long as it is well drained. If you are plagued with a sticky clay soil, try building raised (6 inches or more) planting beds and amending the soil with 3-4 inches of organic matter such as compost, tree leaves or mulch. Amending soil is also necessary in sandy soil conditions. Don't keep the soil too wet; just keep it slightly moist until the plants are established. Remember that once plants become established (two or three weeks after planting), they are drought tolerant and one of Texas' toughest natives. Late summer to fall is the time to plant Bluebonnets and other wildflowers here.
Research shows that the following five species of bluebonnets are all the official state flowers of Texas: Lupinus texensis, Lupinus subcarnosus, Lupinus Havardii, Lupinus concinnus and Lupinus plattensis
Of the five official state flowers of Texas, the Lupinus texensis is said to be the easiest for gardeners to grow and remains the favorite of Texans, tourists, photographers, and artists.
Planting time for Bluebonnets is important. Many people wait until they see bluebonnet plants blooming in the spring to begin planting. It’s too late to plant transplants in the spring. Now - late summer and fall is the optimum time to plant Bluebonnet seeds or transplants and other cold hardy fall annuals so that they will bloom profusely in the following spring. Plant Bluebonnet seeds here on the coast any time from late August and into mid December if temperatures remain mild but seeds should preferably be planted no later than Thanksgiving. Nursery started transplants should be in the ground no later than Valentine’s Day. Planting early is far better than later. The sooner they are planted (beginning in late August), the larger the plants will grow in the spring and subsequently more bloom will occur.
This concept is a hard item to sell to most people who are convinced that customarily "April showers bring May flowers"; and therefore, they don't consider planting until April. Nature, on the other hand, doesn't need convincing that fall is the best and proper time for planting these winter annuals. A number of spring-blooming wildflowers germinate in the fall, their tops remaining small and inconspicuous while developing a massive root system throughout the winter. They then provide us with a riot of color during March, April and May. The bluebonnet is one of these.
For gardeners who prefer planting with seeds, Texas bluebonnet seeds, Lupinus texensis, that have been chemically treated (scarified) are available through most seed catalogs and garden centers. Seed for the Sandyland Bluebonnet, Lupinus subcarnosus, native in sandy soil on the coast is not available to buy. Scarified Texas bluebonnet seeds have significantly higher germination rates than untreated seeds. Bluebonnets have hard coated seeds similar to those of sweet peas; they can be very slow to sprout. If you have seeds that have not been chemically treated (scarified) you can help the germination process along by either soaking them in hot water or simply scratching the hard coat of each seed before planting.
When actually planting bluebonnet seeds, forget the idea of just throwing or scattering the seed in the grass! Many bluebonnet seeds have been wasted as birds feed after using this scattering technique. The seed must be lightly covered or raked into the soil. In naturalized fields of bluebonnets, seed is gradually covered by washing soil and defoliation of weeds and grass, but the seeds must be covered before they can actually germinate. The germination of non-scarified seed is sometimes less than 20%. Scarified seeds have a much higher rate of germination (80% versus 20%) and will usually germinate faster (in 10-12 days) producing a more vital seedling. After the seedlings have a good start, they need to be thinned so that they are no less than 8-10 inches apart to provide room for them to spread properly. To avoid possible problems with seed germination, some gardeners may use transplants instead.
For those gardeners who prefer planting nursery seedlings rather than seeds, that may be a rewarding way to remove the guesswork of seeds. Transplants, being older, tougher plants, are easier to handle and establish than plants grown from seeds. Be certain not to cover the crown of your plants as this will cause them to rot and die. Since bluebonnets require a minimum of 8-10 hours of direct sunlight for optimum growth, planting them in a sunny location is of utmost importance. They are quite drought tolerant once established and should be planted in well drained soil. A good rule of thumb to use is to wait until the top inch of the soil around your plants is dry before watering. Remember, the Bluebonnet is a Texas native plant and as such they require less water.
When setting nursery stock seedlings, plant them about 12 to 24 inches apart dependent upon how much interplanting you plan to do. This will give them ample room to spread and develop. They are excellent companion plants when interspersed with some of your favorite annuals or perennials. If your garden space is limited, try planting bluebonnets in containers such as large clay pots, wooden barrels, or planter boxes. Again, make sure to place your containers in a sunny location, using a potting mix and containers that provide good drainage. Pill bugs may attack young plants. Be on the look out for them.
As plant growth progresses through fall and into winter, if there is a freeze, the foliage may look a little red. This is normal. The top of the plant may not appear to be doing much over the fall and winter but underground, a large root system is forming. Don’t fertilize bluebonnets.
It was once believed that bluebonnets depleted the soil of nutrients; however, this proved to be erroneous as they actually help enhance nitrogen deprived soils. Bluebonnets (being in the legume family) have a nodulated root system. They have the ability to provide vital sources of nitrogen to soils lacking sufficient nitrogen for healthy plant growth.
Many would-be, patriotic planters of bluebonnets are discouraged with the idea of a non-blooming winter bluebonnet plant from September until April if they prefer blooming beauty in their flower beds all year. This problem can be solved by interplanting with other fall annuals which serve as companion plants to provide interim beauty. The recommended companion plants for bluebonnets are pansies, dusty miller, dianthus, spring-flowering bulbs, ornamental cabbage or kale and Drummond red phlox. Most of these flowering plants will be overgrown by the bluebonnets in March as they begin to expand. At that time, remnants of the interim annuals can be removed, thus allowing the bluebonnets to take center stage.
Bluebonnets also make a great companion plant for summer blooming perennials such as lantana, mealy cup sage, autumn sage or Michalmas daisy. These and similar plants can be cut to the ground after the first frost and interplanted with bluebonnet seedlings or transplants.
As the bluebonnets in smaller flowerbeds fade in late spring, you can simply opt to remove the spent plants, as warm season perennials begin to emerge. With high yield, scarified seeds so readily available, there is no need to wait for seed to set and mature. You can easily start more from fresh scarified seed the following fall. So, in small areas and beds, there is really no need to look at a drying plant for a couple of months - waiting for seeds that will only have an average of 20% germination rate in the best of times. In larger areas that you are managing in a more naturalistic way, leave the seed to mature on the plants and self-seed.
The Texas AgriLife Extension Service - Aransas County Office can be reached by phone at 361 790-0103 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. AgriLife Extension education programs serve people of all ages, regardless of socioeconomic level, race, color, sex, religion, handicap or national origin.