How to Grow Lupins – A Guide For Growing Robust Displays
If you want to add a splash of color to your garden, learning how to grow lupins is a great start! These cottage garden favorite perennials are relatively easy to grow, and with a bit of care in their first year, you will be rewarded with year after year of colorful displays of flowers.
In this article, we’ll walk you through all the steps for growing lupines, including the best planting methods, soil conditions, watering requirements, and how to propagate the plants so you can grow even more!
The Wonderful World of Lupins
Lupines are beautiful and popular perennial species known for their vibrant and colorful flowers. They are a pea (Fabaceae) family member, which includes other popular plants such as beans, peas, and lentils. With over 200 species of lupines, they are diverse plants found in various habitats, from the mountains to the coast.
In addition to their beauty, lupines have some ecological benefits as well. They are an essential food source for bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, making them valuable to any pollinator garden.
Plus, they can help improve soil quality by fixing nitrogen in the soil, which can benefit neighboring plants and reduce the need for additional fertilization.
Is The Spelling Lupin or Lupine?
Let’s get this sorted right away; since our readers are mainly from the US, Canada, and the UK, there will be some disagreement over how to spell “lupines”.
“Lupine” and “lupin” are correct spellings of the same word.
In the United States, “lupine” is the more commonly used spelling, while in other English-speaking countries, such as the United Kingdom, “lupin” is more widely used. Ultimately, both spellings refer to the same plant, a member of the Fabaceae family known for its beautiful, colorful flowers.
Physical Characteristics of Lupines
Lupine Size and Shape: Lupins can grow up to 3-4 feet in height and 1-2 feet in width, depending on the variety. These tall plants have a bushy, upright habit.
Lupine Flowers: Lupins produce stunning spiky blooms in various colors, including pink, blue, purple, yellow, red, and white. The plants have tall flower spikes; each shaped like a pea blossom.
Lupine Foliage: The leaves of the lupin plant typically have several lobes that radiate out from a central point and are usually composed of 5-11 leaflets. The color of the leaves can vary depending on the species and variety, with some being green and others being more silvery-grey.
Lupins make a popular choice for gardeners wanting a show-stopping perennial plant that can add height, texture, and color to a garden bed.
What’s the difference between garden lupins and wild lupins?
Garden and wild lupines are two different types of lupines with some notable differences.
Garden lupines are often hybrid varieties that have been selectively bred for their larger flowers and a more comprehensive range of colors. They are typically grown in gardens as ornamental plants and are well-suited for various growing conditions. Garden lupines can be propagated from seeds or cuttings and are available at most garden centers or online nurseries.
On the other hand, wild or native lupines are native species that grow in various habitats, including meadows, prairies, and forests. They are typically smaller than garden lupines and have more limited flower colors. Wild lupines are essential to many ecosystems, providing food and habitat for various wildlife species, including butterflies, bees, and birds.
In terms of cultivation, wild lupines can be more challenging to grow in a garden setting, as they have specific soil and environmental requirements. Wild lupines are typically propagated from seed and are available through specialty nurseries specializing in native plants.
We live in Nova Scotia, where wild lupines line the ditches and roadways with big show-stopping displays. I have, quite often, jumped from the car to grab handfuls! They make BEAUTIFUL cut flower displays!
How to grow Lupins from seed
Starting lupines from seed indoors can be a fantastic way to get a head start on the growing season and ensure a healthy crop of plants for your garden. Here are the steps to follow when planting seeds:
- Start by selecting high-quality lupine seeds from a reputable seed supplier. Choose a variety that suits your growing conditions and garden design preferences.
- You will want to soak your seed pods overnight to help soften the tough seed coat.
- Fill a seed tray or small growing pots with a high-quality seed-starting mix. Moisten the mix to ensure that it is evenly damp but not soggy.
- Sow seeds on the seed-starting mixture, spacing them about 1 inch apart. Lightly press the seeds into the mix, but do not cover them with soil. Seeds germinate slowly, so be patient. It can take 14-60 days to see any germination.
- Place the seed tray or pots in a warm, bright location, such as a sunny windowsill or under grow lights. Lupine seeds need plenty of light to germinate, so provide adequate light as soon as the seeds are sown.
- Keep the seed-starting mix moist but not waterlogged by misting or watering it from the bottom. Do not allow the mixture to dry, or the seeds may not germinate.
- Once the lupine seedlings have emerged and have developed their first set of true leaves, you can fertilize them with a diluted liquid fertilizer. Be sure to follow the fertilizer instructions.
- When the weather has warmed up, and all risk of frost has passed, you can transplant the lupine seedlings into your garden. First, harden off the seedlings by gradually exposing them to outdoor conditions over a week or two.
You will want to plant lupines in a location without a lot of shade and in soil with good drainage.
Choosing a location:
When planting lupins, the first step is choosing a location with plenty of sunlight. Lupins thrive in full sun or partial shade but avoid planting them in too shady areas. Too much shade can cause lupines to become leggy and less productive. You also want to ensure that the soil in the planting location is well-draining, as lupins don’t like having “wet feet” for too long.
- Learn More: See our detailed list of perennials that love the sun!
Lupins prefer slightly acidic, sandy soil with a pH between 5.5 and 6.5. Add amendments like peat moss (sustainably sourced) or elemental sulfur to reduce the pH if your soil is alkaline. Lupins also like soil rich in organic matter, so it’s a good idea to amend the soil with compost or well-rotted manure before planting. Well-drained soil is also a must to avoid diseases like rot.
Sowing seeds or planting seedlings:
You can start lupines from seeds or seedlings purchased at a garden center. If you’re starting from seed, sow the seeds in the spring or fall directly into the garden bed. Lupin seeds must be scarified (scratched or nicked) before planting to help them germinate. If you’re planting seedlings, space them about 18 inches apart.
Watering and fertilizing:
Once your lupins are planted, keeping the soil moist but not soggy is essential. Lupins prefer regular, deep watering, especially during dry spells. You can also fertilize your lupins with a balanced fertilizer in the spring and again in midsummer. Be sure to follow the instructions on the fertilizer packaging, as over-fertilizing can cause problems.
Potential Cultural problems with Lupines
Here are a few helpful preventative tips you can use right away to help prevent problems before they even start:
Staking and pruning:
As lupins grow, they may need stakes to stop them from falling over in heavy winds or rain. You can use bamboo stakes or other support structures to prop up the plant and keep it tall. It’s also good to prune your lupins regularly to encourage bushier growth and more flowers. Prune off any dead or damaged branches and any spent flower spikes.
Dealing with potential problems:
Lupins are generally hardy plants but susceptible to certain pests and diseases. Common problems include aphids, slugs, and powdery mildew. To prevent these problems, keep your lupins healthy by providing them with plenty of sunlight, well-draining soil, and regular watering. If you notice any signs of pests or disease, you can treat them with a natural pesticide.
Caring for Lupines
Here are the steps for caring for your lupines to ensure bountiful displays year after year:
Lupins are not heavy feeders, but they will benefit from a balanced fertilizer in the spring, especially if your soil is poor. Use a slow-release granular fertilizer or a liquid fertilizer, being careful not to over-fertilize, which can lead to weak and leggy growth.
A layer of organic mulch around your lupins’ base can help retain soil moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature. Use a natural mulch such as shredded leaves, bark, or compost, and apply it to a depth of 2-3 inches.
Deadheading and pruning:
Deadheading your lupins regularly will encourage more blooms and stop the plants from going to seed too quickly. Snip off spent flower spikes at the base of the stem.
It’s also good to prune your lupins after flowering to promote bushier growth and more blooms next year. Finally, cut back the plant by about one-third of its height, careful not to cut into the woody stem.
You will also want to keep weeds down, especially in the first year.
- Learn More: See our post to understand how weeds grow and the best removal methods.
Dividing and propagating:
Lupins can become crowded over time, leading to poor growth and fewer blooms. To rejuvenate the plant, divide it every 3-4 years in the spring or fall.
Dig up the entire plant and separate it into smaller clumps, retaining some of the root system and foliage with each division.
You can also propagate lupins by taking softwood basal cuttings in the spring or by sowing seeds in the fall.
How to Grow Lupins in Containers
Potted lupine plants can add vibrant color and beauty to your patio or balcony. Here are the steps to follow to grow and care for lupine flowers in containers:
- Select a container at least 18 inches in diameter and 12 inches deep. Choose a container with drainage holes in the bottom to prevent water from accumulating and causing root rot.
- Fill the container with a high-quality, well-draining potting mix, leaving about 2 inches of space at the top.
- Sow lupine seeds on the soil, spacing them about 6 inches apart. Lightly press the seeds into the soil, but do not cover them entirely, as lupine seeds require light to germinate.
- Water the container thoroughly, moistening the soil to the bottom.
- Place the tray or pots in a sunny location that receives at least six full hours of sunlight daily.
- Keep the soil moist but not soggy wet, watering the container whenever the top inch of the soil feels dry.
- Fertilize the lupines with a balanced fertilizer every two weeks, following the instructions on the fertilizer package.
- As the lupines grow, you may need support to prevent them from falling over. You can prop up the stems with bamboo stakes or other plant supports.
- Deadhead the spent flowers regularly to encourage the plant to continue producing new flowers.
- In hot weather, provide some shade to prevent the plant from getting sunburned.
Popular cultivars of lupines:
There are many popular cultivars of lupins, each with unique characteristics and color variations. Some of the most popular cultivars include:
Russell Hybrids: These are the most common lupins known for their tall spikes of brightly colored flowers in shades of blue, pink, purple, red, white, and yellow.
Gallery Series: These lupins are more compact, grow 12-18 inches high, and are ideal for smaller gardens or container planting. They come in a wide range of colors, including bi-colors and blends.
Chandelier Series: These lupins produce large, dense spikes of flowers in shades of yellow, cream, and white, making them a striking addition to any garden.
Lupines Are Wildly Versatile Garden Plants
Different varieties of lupines have unique characteristics that make them suitable for other growing conditions.
The versatility of lupines also makes them beautiful additions to garden design; some varieties are known for their height and dramatic flower spikes, while others are more compact and ideal for container planting.
Height and size: Lupins can range from just a few inches to over four feet tall, so choosing a variety that will suit your garden’s design and growing conditions is essential.
Bloom time: Some types of lupins bloom earlier or later in the season, which can be vital to ensure a continuous display of blooms throughout the summer.
Tolerance to heat and drought: Some lupins are more tolerant of hot, dry conditions, while others prefer cooler, moister conditions.
When choosing a lupin for your garden, consider your growing conditions, design preferences, and the characteristics of different varieties. For example, consider the Russell Hybrids if you have a large garden and want a dramatic display of tall flowers.
If you have a smaller garden or want to plant in containers, consider the more compact Gallery Series. Look for specialty cultivars if you want a unique color palette or flower shape.
You can enjoy their beautiful blooms and unique characteristics for years to come by choosing the right lupin for your garden.
How to Grow Lupines to Beautify Your Landscape
In conclusion, planting lupine can be an excellent addition to any garden. These beautiful flowers are easy to grow, require little maintenance, and come in various stunning colors. They are also hardy and adaptable, making them an excellent choice for gardeners of all skill levels.