Have you ever seen drifts of beautiful lupines growing along highways and roadways in late spring? Here in Nova Scotia we are blessed with a beautiful show of late spring lupines, growing wild in ditches and meadows, decorating our landscapes with a wildflower palette of soft pinks, purples, and yellows.
Have you ever wanted to have some of these pretty flowers growing in your own garden? I will share a few tips on growing lupines and reasons we love them!
About Lupine Flowers
Lupine, or lupin (lupines polyphyllus) is considered a wildflower here in Nova Scotia, escaped from cultivation, and taken up home on roadsides and meadows.
It remains a popular perennial flower in our gardens as well, and looks wonderful in mass plantings or dispersed with other cottage garden flowers.
There are also annual varieties of Lupine.
Lupines grow approximately 36 – 60 inches tall, and produce striking pastel coloured spike like blooms in shades of pink, purple, blue and yellow.
Lupin foliage is whorl-like in structure. Raindrops sitting on lupine leaves will bead and glisten like sparkling pearls.
Tips For Growing Lupines
Let’s look at some tips for growing lupines in the garden.
Tip #1. How To Grow Lupine Flowers
Lupines are very easy to grow from seed!
They can also be grown from cuttings.
Lupines grow in zones 4-9.
The flowers prefer a moist cool climate, but can be grown in warmer climates during their cooler seasons.
Grow in full sun to part shade
Grow in groups of five or more plants for best visual impact, or intersperse with other cottage type plantings in your garden bed.
Bloom Time and Duration:
Spring to summer.
Bloom time is late spring for us here in Nova Scotia.
May not bloom until the second year if planting from seed.
Plants will bloom for several weeks, and may bloom longer if you deadhead spent blooms.
Lupines are nitrogen fixers, meaning they are good for the soil!
Lupines have a special relationship with nitrogen fixing bacteria in the soil, which transform nitrogen from the atmosphere to something more useable, as part of the nitrogen cycle.
Since lupines are nitrogen fixers, they can survive in the poorest of soils.
Lupines prefer average to dry soil types.
They do not require fertilization, however will put on their best display in fertile soil with lots of organic matter.
Lupines like acidic soil.
Lupines thrive in the soil of roadways and ditches, which is common for non-native plants and weeds.
Make sure your garden has good drainage, because lupines do not like wet feet.
Lupines have a long taproot, which allows the root to find water in periods of drought. Due to this taproot however, they may not transplant well if attempting to move from one location to another.
Planting For Pollinators:
Bees absolutely love lupines.
Watch the bees dance when collecting pollen from the lupine flower!
Bumblebees have evolved to trigger the anther (male part) of the lupine flower to “pop out” when the bee lands on it.
The anther then picks up pollen off the bee, fertilizing the flower.
Lupines are susceptible to fungal disease and viruses, which can spread through splashing of raindrops from one plant to another.
As well lupine can be prone to develop aphid infestations, which can then transport infected sap between plants.
Good air circulation is needed around plants to help with these issues.
You can also cut back the plant to remove infected areas and it will benefit from the pruning.
Tip #2. Growing Lupine From Seed
Lupine seeds benefit from a period of cold stratification.
We bought wild lupine seeds from Annapolis Seeds this year. They recommended that the seeds have a period of cold stratification of at least 1-2 weeks in moist paper towel.
We chose moist vermiculite in a baggie, which worked just as well.
The seeds started to germinate in the fridge after several weeks.
Scarification is the process of cracking the hard shell of a seed.
This technique can be helpful to germinate lupine seeds.
Not all seeds need scarification, however seeds with hard coats such as lupines may benefit from this technique.
You can scarify the seed coat in a number of ways.
You can crack the seed coat by making a nick in the hard outer coat with a knife or a pair of clippers.
Be careful to only nick the shell of the seed and not the soft inside parts.
Another option is to rub the coat with something coarse, like a file or a piece of sandpaper
Soaking Lupine Seeds:
Some people soak their lupine seeds for 24 hours prior to planting.
This allows for rehydration of the seeds, and helps with germination.
Scarification prior to soaking is helpful.
If you are cold moist chilling in the fridge, you do not need to soak. Cold moist chilling does the same thing as soaking. It provides rehydration, as well as the cold chill effect, which simulates winter.
Starting Lupine Seeds Indoors:
After stratification, the lupine seeds are ready to be planted.
We start our seeds indoors in trays, in a soilless mix.
After planting, they go onto the heat mat, until 60 percent of the seedlings have sprouted.
Then the seedlings are placed under grow lights until ready to be hardened off.
How Deep Do you Plant The Lupine Seed?
Lupine seeds are planted 1/8 “ deep, and are covered with a light layer of soil or vermiculite.
Tip #3: Using Lupines As Cut Flowers
Lupines make the perfect cut flower.
The spike-like flower adds a wonderful visual interest to any bouquet.
They can be used in mixed arrangements, or stand alone in a bouquet all by themselves.
As a cut flower, sometimes the unopened blooms may wither. A trick to rehydrate is to place the stems in cool water immediately after cutting.
Misting with cool water can also be helpful.
Tip #4: Be Cautious With Lupines: They Could Be Poisonous.
Are Lupines Poisonous?
Due to a high alkaloid content, some lupines can be poisonous if ingested, and it is important to prevent children and pets from eating them.
There are hundreds of species of lupine.Some are toxic, and some are not.
There are many varieties which can be toxic to animals and poisonous to humans when when ingested.
Seeds, pods, and leaves of lupine can contain toxins, and special care should be taken with children and animals to prevent ingestion.
Toxicity factors can also be related to the stage of flowering , depending on the variety of lupine.
Tip #5: Lupines Are Deer Resistant
Yes lupines are deer resistant!
Lupines are deer resistant, especially when mature.
When the seedlings are young and tender they may still be prone to deer damage, however will be less delectable when they are a large and mature plant.
Tip #6: You Can Grow Lupines In Containers
Can Lupines grow in containers? Absolutely!
Lupines can be grown in containers, with special considerations.
The long tap root , as well as a tendency to grow into a large top heavy plant, will indicate the need for a large and heavy pot with good drainage. However it can be done.
In our zone 5, plants grown in pots generally do not survive our cold winters. I do grow some plants in pots in the summer, however always transplant into the ground for winter survival.
Since lupines do not transplant well due to their tap roots, we will not be growing our lupines in containers.
Tip #7: Be Aware Of How Lupines Spread
To contain them in your garden, be aware of how lupines may spread.
How Do Lupines Spread?
Lupines are easily spread by seed production. Seeds are mature towards end of July or mid August.
Since these flowers are cool hardy annuals, the seeds do well with winter stratification and should germinate the following spring.
Seeds are released in a projectile fashion allowing the plants to distribute further from the mother plant, and increase the growing area.
Lupine seeds tend to “explode” out of the ripe pods.
If you are hoping to collect seeds for planting, make sure you collect before they have exploded and lost the opportunity!
This happened to me last fall…all seeds had been released prior to collection.
Tip #8: Deadhead Lupines
Lupines produce their first flush of flowers in June and July.
If you deadhead the old flowers after this first flush, your lupine plants may rebloom, although the second flush of flowers will be smaller than the first.
Individual flowers start to die back from the base of the bloom first. Deadhead the blooms after two thirds of the flower head has died back.
Deadheading the old flowers gives a clean look to the plants, and encourages fresh growth of leaves, and possibility of more blooms.
Tip #9: Cutting Back The Foliage
Do you cut back lupines in the autumn?
There is no need to cut the lupine plant back in the autumn, although some do. You can cut back the plant as part of your fall clean up.
Otherwise you can just leave it until spring.
The plant will die back naturally and become dormant through the winter. It will then re-emerge in spring with new shoots. At this point you can clean up the old foliage from the previous year to allow for good air circulation around the plant.
Lupines can last for many years in the garden, and due to their ability to reseed themselves, we are hoping to have many years with this beautiful flower.
Hope that you found these tips on growing lupines helpful. Please leave a comment below to share your thoughts.