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How To Grow Texas Bluebonnets

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Texas bluebonnet wildflowers require five things to grow. Alkaline soil, rhizobium bacteria, water, sunshine, and seed are the five things you need to grow Texas bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis) and have a spectacular wildflower garden next spring. 

Texas bluebonnet flowers in a backyard naturalized garden
With those five things, you can grow bluebonnets in your  backyard, in your garden, or in your open countryside fields in Texas. You may also need a sixth thing, patience. 

Now is the time to make plans to grow bluebonnets this fall. Seed companies frequently sell out of bluebonnet seeds; May is a good time to order bluebonnet seeds. This spring's plants will have gone to seed, and companies will be harvesting their crops to sell the seeds. 

H O W   T O   G R O W   

T E X A S   B L U E B O N N E T S    

in your backyard 

A L K A L I N E   S O I L 

Texas bluebonnets grow in rocky alkaline soil
Plant bluebonnet seeds in poor, rocky alkaline soil the first week of October. Texas roadsides and open fields are natural locations to plant bluebonnets. 

If your backyard has lawn grass, you will need to remove it so the seeds can make contact with bare dirt and not have to compete with grass. Lawn grass will win, and bluebonnets will not grow. If your plot has native Texas grasses, such as Little Bluestem, bluebonnets can grow alongside the native noninvasive grasses. As long as your field has bare ground between the existing native plants, the bluebonnets will have spots to grow.  

Scratch the soil with a rake before sowing the seeds so the seeds can take hold in the dirt instead of washing away on hard flat ground when watered. Tamping the dirt down after seeding will also help the seeds stay in place until they germinate.  

Texas bluebonnets require full sun to bloom spectacularly
Seeds are hard, like little rocks, and not all of the seeds may germinate the first year planted. Scarify seeds by nicking them with a knife or scraping them with sandpaper to break the hard shell of the seeds before planting. Nature breaks the seeds' shells by soaking rains and freezes. Note: I do not scarify my bluebonnet seeds, but let nature take its course. 

The plants shown are on an upper terrace in the backyard of a naturalized setting and were just beginning to bloom the first week of April. 

R H I Z O B I U M   B A C T E R I A 

Texas bluebonnet wildflowers are part of the legume family
Bluebonnets are members of the legume family and need rhizobium bacteria in the soil for nitrogen fixation which allows nitrogen in the air to be converted to a form used by plants. Evidently, rhizobium bacteria is naturally abundant in Texas soil since bluebonnets grow wild over most parts of the state. 

W A T E R 

Texas bluebonnets grow low leafy rosettes in the fall and winter before blooming in the spring
Like all plants, bluebonnets need water to germinate and to grow. If possible, time sowing your seeds when rain is forecast for that night or the next day. 

Rains need to come all during the fall and winter. If rain comes, the seeds will sprout and form leafy rosettes close to the ground in late fall and early winter. Do not be concerned about freezing weather or even snow. 

Texas bluebonnets require rain in the fall and water but do not like water logged clay soil
If you are planting a small patch near a water faucet, you can water the seeds with a sprinkler the day you plant them. If rainfall is sparse in the fall and winter, you can periodically water, every couple of weeks, the small rosettes with a sprinkler. 

However, you do not want to over water them. Bluebonnets grow in Texas naturally with sparse rain and drought conditions. They are adapted to little water. 

Here is where patience comes in. 

If you plant bluebonnets in areas that do not receive enough natural rainfall and cannot be watered either because there is not a water source, or because it is too expensive to water such a large area, your first year's bluebonnet crop may not have many plants. If you did not scarify all of the seeds, some of those seeds will lie dormant and not sprout the first or second year. The seeds will sprout another year when there is rain. 

S U N S H I N E 

Texas bluebonnet wildflowers bloom March to May in full sunshine
Bluebonnets need full sunshine to bloom. Plants may sprout under bare trees in the winter, but will not bloom well because they will not get enough sunshine after trees leaf out in the spring. 

Texas bluebonnets do not like to be crowded by invasive plants
With abundant rain and bright sunshine each plant produces several flowers beginning in mid-March to early May. The further south you are in Texas, the earlier the plants bloom. In north Texas, bluebonnets reach their blooming peak about the middle of April and continue to bloom until early May. 

Bluebonnets do not like to be crowded by spreading plants. The crown vetch vines in this patch of bluebonnets will overtake the plants and crowd out the bluebonnets if left unchecked. Remove  spreading invasive competitive plants. 

S E E D 

Wait until Texas bluebonnet wildflowers go to seed before mowing the wildflowers
Wait until the flowers go to seed before mowing the bluebonnet patch. Bluebonnets are annual plants, and reseed themselves to come back the following year. 

Texas bluebonnet wildflowers are annual and reseed themselves
Green seed pods will form up and down the flower stalk. Then the pods will yellow, dry out, and turn brown. When the pods have dried completely, they will twist and shoot the seeds several feet. 

If you collect seeds before the plants shoot them, keep the seeds in a moisture-free envelope or jar until the first week of October. Seeds can be planted as late as November, but early October is the best time. 

Wildflower seed companies sell Texas bluebonnet seeds from plants they have grown commercially. Order early because companies sell out of seeds.

While it is not illegal to pick bluebonnet plants along the Texas highways, please do not pick plants or gather seeds from the wild. Allow the plants to grow and to reseed themselves for next year's bluebonnet season. 

I am already planning to plant more bluebonnets in other areas in my countryside plot. Bluebonnet blooming season is my favorite time of the year in Texas! 

Anybody else planning to plant bluebonnets this fall? 


S O U R C E S 

How To Grow Texas Bluebonnets by Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center 

Texas Bluebonnet Seeds from Wildseed Farms near Fredericksburg, Texas