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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