How to Grow Bluebells

Bluebells make a lovely blue carpet, especially in a woodland setting, and are a quintessentially British woodland flower. In fact, about half the bluebells in the world grow in the UK and they are a very popular plant. Bluebells are a perennial bulb which means they come back year after year. After flowering let the foliage die back naturally.

 In the right conditions, Bluebells grow themselves, but be warned they can be invasive. Bluebells can take a little while to get established, but once established, they can out-compete other plants and take over. In good growing conditions, Bluebells are vigorous and become hard to eradicate, so take care where you plant them.  If you consider the sorts of places where Bluebells are admired and look at their best, it is in a wild, or semi wild setting with lots of room such as a woodland.

Most gardens are not large enough to accommodate a woodland area. An alternative to Bluebells, and which is less invasive, is the spring flowering bulb Camassia. Although flowering a little later, late April onwards, it is far better behaved and more suited to smaller spaces.

From the conservation perspective, it is important to buy and plant only English Bluebells. There is an impostor, illustrated below, which is the Spanish bluebell. This variety is very invasive as it is more vigorous than the English variety, and the natural movement of pollen by bees will cross pollinate with the English variety to contaminate the strain. This threatens the purity and longevity of the English bluebell, which is a more delicate, attractive flower. By checking you buy and plant only English bluebells, you ensure our native species cannot be out competed by the Spanish variety. 

Buy English Bluebells from Crocus

Information about other types of Spring Bulbs.                   

How and Where to Plant Bluebells

Bluebells are a woodland plant, which means the ideal growing conditions are those which they would enjoy in a woodland. Bluebells grow and flower well in part sun and part shade conditions, in soil which is moist and which does not dry out during the summer.  

Bluebells can be planted in the spring as ready plants, or more economically as bulbs in the Autumn. If planting Bluebells "in the green"  which is as garden ready plants, plant at a depth so the soil is at the same level. This means all the white parts of the stem are buried underground.

If planting in the autumn as bulbs, plant the bulb around 10cms deep, pointed end uppermost This will be about 3 times the depth of the bulb and it is important to water well after planting. (How to plant spring bulbs.) A mulch, ideally of leaf mould, will help retain moisture.

Bluebells look nice planted under trees and appreciate the shade from the tree. Only plant Bluebells where there is a good sized area which they can colonise without spoiling the garden and becoming a pest plant. If Bluebells are taking over, the only way to eradicate them is to dig them out, weedkillers are not found to be very effective.  Dig out when the Bluebells are in bloom, so you can dig down and locate the bulb. It is also best not to compost the bulbs.

How to tell English Bluebells from Spanish Bluebells

English Bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta

planting spring bulbs replace soil plug

Spanish Bluebell Hyacinthoides hispanica

Spanish Bluebell

Although at first glance English and Spanish Bluebells look similar, a simple check will make it easy to tell them apart. There are a few characteristics to be checked to ensure you a planting the real deal. 

English Bluebells 

Delicate drooping flower head 

Faint Perfume

Narrow flowers which curl back

Tiny white flower inside the bell

Spanish Bluebells

Upright Flowers and stems

No Scent

Flowers more of a conical shape

Blue Pollen

Bluebells in woodland setting
green wheelbarrow easy to grow

Green wheelbarrow Bluebells are easy to grow, possibly too easy as they can be invasive. Note: All parts of the bluebell plant contain toxic glycocides that are poisonous to humans, dogs, horses and cattle and can cause stomach upset. 

Last updated 11.01.2024