Carpets of bluebell flowers in woodlands are one of the most glorious sights of the British landscape and a sure sign spring is in full swing. But bluebells are also wonderful plants for gardens as they are easy to grow and provide a welcome splash of colour in April and May. They are also protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981). This means digging up the plant or bulb in the countryside is prohibited.
Around 49% of planet earth's bluebell population is in the UK, so are we are lucky to have so much of this beautiful plant available to us. In the right conditions, bluebells spread naturally and easily. They enjoy sitting in the shade, and they are good if you are looking for some ground cover.
Fun fact: bluebells are a symbol of humility, constancy and gratitude.
Most bluebells are grown from bulbs and grow well in moist but well-drained soil in partial shade. They’re well suited to growing underneath deciduous trees, which provide a bit of shade in spring and more shade in summer.
Planting bulbs in the green (spring planting): Plant your bluebells at the level that they were planted before they were lifted. You'll be able to tell by where the leaves turn white. This is likely to be a depth of about 10cm. Space them around 10cm from one another.
Planting dry bulbs (autumn planting): Plant at least twice the depth of the bulb, 15cm deep and 15cm apart. Bluebells should be planted as deeply as possible, 10cm being the minimum, and more if possible. In nature they are often found over a foot beneath the surface of the soil!
Once planted, bluebells can be more or less left to fend for themselves. They don't need much watering when growing in the ground, unless there are long dry periods that cause overly dry soil.
Optionally you can use a liquid plant food after the bluebells have flower until the foliage starts to die down. This will help build up their strength and size for when they flower the following year.
Eventually the foliage will die down naturally which is all part of their yearly cycle. Avoid mowing the grass the bluebell are on until the leaves have fully died down. It's also a good idea to remove the faded flower spikes before they set seed to prevent the plants self-seeding and spreading where they aren’t wanted. By leaving the foliage in place, the leaves will gather sunlight, create food through photosynthesis and strengthen the bulbs for the future.
Please note that bluebells in the green can take several years to establish themselves after transplanting. It is not unusual to have only leaves in the year following transplanting, even if the plants are in flower when you plant them. This is because the bulbs are re-establishing their root systems, and do not divert strength to producing flowers.
As bluebells are legally protected, it is against the law to dig them up from the wild. Bluebell bulbs can be bought from garden centres, nurseries and online suppliers. However make sure you ask your supplier to confirm the bulbs are cultivated, not wild–collected and also that they are both sourced and grown in the UK. This reduces the risk of pest or diseases being imported from abroad.
If you’re buying plants that are in flower, be sure to take a close look. The flowers of native English bluebells are a vivid violet-blue colour and the arching stem of flowers is held on one side.