Home flower gardeners are growing lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus) from seed for its breathtaking array of colors. Striking plants have stiff, erect flower spikes — 1 to 4 feet tall — that emerge from horizontal foliage. Flowers are similar to those of peas or sweet peas and grow in large, densely packed racemes of deep blue, purple, yellow, pink or white.
A short-lived perennial, lupine is found from California to British Columbia. Plants do not require a lot of care. Give them a sunny spot, ample water and well-drained soil and you’ll be hearing oohs and aahs for seasons to come. Lupines make a terrific addition to borders, xeric (water conserving) gardens, or scattered throughout native landscapes.
Depending on the variety and your zone, lupine flowers will bloom from early spring through the first weeks of July. As a result, we recommend planting them with some late blooming, summertime favorites — zinnia, rudbeckia, daisies — to keep the color going well into fall. Plants are deer-resistant and their flowers attract many important pollinators like bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.
Fun fact: Similar to peas, lupine are nitrogen-fixing and can improve your soil’s fertility over time.
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Quick Guide: Planting, Growing & Caring for Lupine
- Purple color is most common, but blue, yellow, pink and white varieties are also available
- Prefers cooler regions with average soil
- Plant in full sun to light shade; loosen soil for long taproot to grow
- Plant chilled seed in spring, otherwise fall planting is preferred for seed and plants
- Transplanting is not recommended
- Blooms early to mid summer
Sunlight: Full sun to light shade
Maturity: Days to bloom varies depending on fall or spring planting; blooms July-August
Height: 1 to 4 feet, depending on variety
Spacing: 12 inches
Easy to grow, lupine thrives in cool, moist locations. It prefers full sun to light shade and average soils, but will tolerate sandy, dry soil. Plants develop long taproots, so loosen the soil to a depth of 12-20 inches using a rototiller or garden fork. They will not grow in clay.
How to Plant
Lupine can be grown from seeds, cuttings or divisions. If growing from seed, germination is greatly increased by a 7-day cold treatment (see our article on Seed Stratification). Place seeds and slightly damp paper towels in a Ziploc bag and store in the refrigerator. Another method would be to soak them in warm water for a 24-hour period. Treated seeds can be directly sown into a seedbed in spring or summer until August 1st. The best time to plant untreated lupine seeds outdoors is between September-November.
Plants grown from seed will bloom their first year. Pinch off spent flowers to prolong the blooming period. Apply an organic fertilizer once per month to promote healthy plants and large blooms.
Tip: For dramatic results, mass lupines in borders or scatter them throughout the cottage garden. Visit our Flower Gardening 101 article for more information.
To grow from cuttings, take a stem down to the trunk, including a bit of its “footprint” connection to the trunk. Set in moist, very well-drained, gritty sand or other propagation medium. Keep covered during the propagation period except for several minutes each day to air and and allow the plant to adjust.
Start cuttings in larger pots that can be transplanted into the outdoors, pot and all, so as not to disturb the roots.
Do NOT transplant as the long tap root is delicate, and if damaged, the plant will fail.
Insect & Disease Problems
Lupine does not have many pest problems associated with it. Occasionally, plants will become infested with aphids. If found, take the following common sense, least-toxic approach to pest control:
- Pinch or prune off heavily infested leaves or other plant parts.
- Commercially available beneficial insects, like ladybugs, are important natural predators of the pest.
- Apply organic Diatomaceous Earth (DE) for lasting protection. Containing NO toxic poisons, DE works by scoring an insect’s outer layer as it crawls over the fine powder.
- A short-lived natural pesticide, Safer® Soap works fast on heavy infestations.
- Do not over fertilize – aphids like plants with high nitrogen levels and soft new growth.
Seed Saving Instructions
Ripe seed pods naturally explode. When the pods begin to turn yellow and the seeds “rattle” inside, they are ripe. Place in a screen box where they can burst freely and simply pick up the seed. Read more about saving seeds here.
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