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Virginia Bluebells

Mertensia virginiana

Add woodland beauty to your garden with Virginia bluebells. A spring ephemeral native to eastern North America, Virginia bluebells are perennials with blue, bell-shape flowers that open above bright green foliage in midspring. Flowering for about three weeks, Virginia bluebells, also called eastern bluebells and Virginia cowslip, bloom at the same time as most flowering bulbs. Pair Virginia bluebells with bright yellow daffodils for a classic spring color combination that is sure to kick off the gardening season with gusto.

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Light:

Part Sun, Sun

Type:

Height:

1 to 3 feet

Width:

Up to 2 feet

Flower Color:

Seasonal Features:

Problem Solvers:

Special Features:

Zones:

3-8

Propagation

Planning a Garden with Virginia Bluebells

Grow Virginia bluebells alongside tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and other petite spring bulbs. Bluebells' soft, herbaceous foliage is a great texture complement to the rigid and straplike foliage of many bulbs. Virginia bluebells self-seed. Expect them to pop up between clumps of spring bulbs, creating a casual cottage garden style over time.

At the beginning of summer, Virginia bluebells recede into the soil. Their foliage slowly dies back and an empty space extends where the cheerful purple blossoms once stood. Plan for bluebells' early retirement, and your garden color show will hardly miss a beat. Plant Virginia bluebells with other shade-loving perennials such as hosta, astilbe, bugbane, Solomon's seal, and ferns. These perennials are just beginning to poke out of the ground when bluebells are ringing in spring. After bluebells fade, hosta, astilbe, and other shade-lovers take over the show, unfurling bold leaves and colorful flowers.

See more flowering perennials from spring to fall here.

Virginia Bluebells Care Must-Knows

Virginia bluebells grow best in part shade and moist soil. Their native habitat is moist woodland areas. When planted in moist, shaded locations, they will readily self-seed, forming a river of nodding blue flowers for three weeks or so each spring. Some gardeners find Virginia bluebells to self-seed so prolifically that they almost become invasive.

Plant 10 to 18 inches apart in fall or after the last frost in spring. Enrich the soil with well-decomposed compost prior to planting. Cover the soil around plants with a 2-inch-thick layer of shredded mulch or compost, and water plants regularly during the first year after planting.

Special note: This North American native is considered threatened in its native range. Never dig up Virginia bluebells from the wild and transplant them to your landscape. By removing plants from a native area, you are contributing to its habitat destruction. Instead, purchase transplants at a reputable garden center, or dig and divide a Virginia bluebell planting from a friend's cultivated landscape.

Try these made-for-shade groundcovers in your landscaping.

Plant Virginia Bluebells With:

Perennial geranium
One of the longest bloomers in the garden, hardy geranium bears little flowers for months at a time. It produces jewel-tone, saucer-shape flowers and mounds of handsome, lobed foliage. It needs full sun, but otherwise it is a tough and reliable plant, thriving in a wide assortment of soils. Many of the best are hybrids. Perennial geraniums may form large colonies.
Bergenia
The glossy green leaves of bergenia look outstanding all year long. In fall they take on a magnificent reddish-bronze hue. The thick, leathery foliage squeaks when rubbed between your fingers, giving this plant the other common name of pigsqueak.The pink, rose, or white blooms that appear on sturdy stalks in spring are just a bonus compared to the usefulness of the foliage. Not surprisingly, this is often used as groundcover. In cold regions, the semievergreen leaves are often damaged by spring frosts and can take much of the spring to recover.
Phlox
Phlox are one of those bounteous summer flowers any large sunny flowerbed or border shouldn't be without. There are several different kinds of phlox. Garden and meadow phlox produce large panicles of fragrant flowers in a wide assortment of colors. They also add height, heft, and charm to a border. Low-growing wild Sweet William, moss pinks, and creeping phlox are effective as ground covers, at the front of the border, and as rock and wild garden plants, especially in light shade. These native gems have been hybridized extensively especially to toughen the foliage against mildew problems; many recent selections are mildew-resistant. Phlox need amply moist soil for best overall health.
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