Spring-blooming lupines display showy spikes of densely packed blossoms on stiff stems along with green foliage covered in fine gray hair. In their native habitats, lupines cover hillsides with vibrant displays. They do not perform well as ornamentals in home-garden settings, however. Instead of growing wild lupines in home gardens, look for hybrids that thrive as cool-summer perennials, understanding that hot summer temperatures will stop them in their tracks.
The colorful flowers of lupine strut their stuff on erect spires that can reach 4 feet tall. In some varieties the flowers are bicolor blossoms that pair a set of white petals with a second set of petals in a primary color, creating a layered effect. The foliage is also worth a second look. Small pleated leaflets grow in rings around a central point, forming a cuplike shape. The fine gray hairs cause water to bead up in the center of the leaves to create a naturally beautiful visual.
Lupine Care Must-Knows
While lupines are easy to start from seed, these short-lived perennials are difficult to over-winter when not grown in their ideal settings. Regions with cool summers—such as the West Coast, Pacific Northwest, northern United States, southern Canada, and New England—see lupines thrive. The Deep South's heat and humidity (Zones 7-9) compromise lupines' well-being; grow these flowers as annuals in this area.
For the best flower production and the sturdiest stems, plants should be grown in full sun and rich, fertile, slightly acidic, well-drained soil. In warmer climates, make sure lupines get some light afternoon shade to cool things down. You can also cool down root zones by applying mulch around the plant. Deadhead spent flowers to encourage further blooming. Lupines are susceptible to powdery mildew; good air circulation helps prevent this problem.
If you live in the right zones and have created the right environment for lupines in your garden, you may reap the benefits of self-seeding. Keep in mind, though, if the parent plants are hybrids, the seedlings will not come true and you're likely to end up with a variety of flower colors. Rooting side-shoot cuttings in late spring to early summer is more likely to be successful in terms of propagating identical new plants.
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More Varieties of Lupine
Lupine Companion Plants
Another great source of blue flowers, mountain bluet and perennial bachelor's button have the easy, casual growth habit of the wildflowers they are. This plant group also includes ornamental knapweeds, which have beautiful yellow blooms.All three types are prolific nectar producers that attract butterflies. They self-seed readily, giving you lots more plants through the years. After blooming, like a lot of wildflowers, the plants get somewhat weedy looking and benefit from a cutting back by a third to a half to keep them tidy. If they like their growing conditions, they will spread into larger clumps that need dividing every couple of years.
Named for the Greek goddess of the rainbow, iris indeed comes in a rainbow of colors and in many heights. All have the classic, impossibly intricate flowers. The flowers are constructed with three upright "standard" petals and three drooping "fall" petals, which are often different colors. The falls may be "bearded" or not. Some cultivars bloom a second time in late summer. Some species prefer alkaline soil while others prefer acidic soil.
Also known as red valerian for its rosy pink flowers, Jupiter's beard is one of the longest-blooming perennials in the garden, provided you remove spent flower heads. Deadheading not only prolongs bloom, it also prevents self seeding. In some regions, Jupiter's beard has escaped from gardens and become a nonnative wildflower.