Planting Lupine Flowers – How To Grow Lupines

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By: Becca Badgett, Co-author of How to Grow an EMERGENCY Garden

Lupines (Lupinus spp.) are attractive and spiky, reaching 1 to 4 feet (30-120 cm.) in height and adding color and texture to the back of a flower bed. Lupine flowers may be annual and last only for a season, or perennial, returning for a few years in the same spot in which they were planted. The lupine plant grows from a long taproot and does not like to be moved.

Lupines grow wild in some areas of the United States, where they are hosts for the larvae of endangered species of butterflies. Wildflowers of the lupine plant generally come in in hues of blues and white, although domesticated lupines offer flowers in blues, yellows, pinks and purples. Tall, spiky racemes produce lupine flowers similar to those of the sweet pea plant.

How to Grow Lupines

Growing lupines is as simple as planting seeds or cuttings into a sunny area with well-drained soil. If planting lupine from seed, scratch the seed surface or soak seeds overnight in lukewarm water to allow the seed coat to be easily penetrated. Seeds of the lupine plant may also be chilled for a week in the refrigerator prior to planting.

This may also be accomplished by planting lupine seeds in the fall and letting Mother Nature do the chilling through the winter. Direct sowing of lupine seeds in autumn is perhaps the easiest method. Lupines produce seed which will re-produce more flowers the following year if not removed from the growing lupine.

Average soil is best for growing lupines. Utilize this trait and plant lupines in areas of the landscape that have not been composted or amended in other ways.

Getting More Lupine Flowers

To encourage blooms, fertilize lupines with a plant food that is high in phosphorus. Nitrogen rich fertilizer may encourage growth of the foliage and do little to promote flowering. Deadhead spent blooms for returning lupine flowers.

The lupine plant fixes nitrogen in the soil and is a great addition to your vegetable garden or any area where nitrogen loving plants will be grown. A member of the pea family, lupines are beneficial in many ways.

Now that you know how to grow lupines, add this tall, showy bloom to an area where lupine flowers will be visible and act as background for other full-sun blooms. A flowering ground cover planted beneath the lupine plant helps keep roots cool and will benefit from the nitrogen in the soil, creating a showy display in the landscape.

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How to Grow Lupine

Not only is the gardener rewarded with outstanding color from spires of densely-packed flowers in a multitude of hues, but the grayish-green palmate foliage also graces the garden with fabulous texture and shape.

Some of our favorite wildflowers across the United States are lupines, from the Texas bluebonnet (L. texensis), to the eye-popping displays of violet-blue Arroyo (L.succulentus) and L. polyphyllus running up the Northern Pacific Coast. Perennial lupine, the classic old-favorite is still wildly popular, as are the impressive Russell hybrids (bred from Perennial lupines during the 20th century) which come in shades of red, white, cream, orange, pink, purple as well as in bi-colored variations.

Wherever you grow them, however you grow them, you’ll find yourself wanting to reach out and feel the texture of the densely bunched oh-so-touchable flowers – but you’ll certainly have to wave away a host of pollinators first!

How to Grow Lupine Flowers (Lupinus)

Lupine is anything but subtle. It is a vibrant plant decorated with tall, showy flower spires that come in a dizzying array of shades. Lupine appears in various hues of purple, pink, red, white, and yellow lighting up garden beds all over the world in the springtime with its narrow towers of dense flowers. The leaves of the lupine plant look similar to palm tree leaves, each sporting seven to ten leaf segments.

The Lupinus genus is made up of hundreds of ornamental species which are highly regarded by wildflower enthusiasts. Wildflower tours and festivals all across the country center around the blooming of native lupine varieties. The lupine cultivars that are grown in the garden, on the other hand, are typically hybrid crosses of the native species that bloom in the wild, bred by horticulturalists to improve flower colors and vigor.

The most famous lupine hybrids commonly grown by modern gardeners, are the Russell Hybrids, which were created in the 1930’s by an avid gardener, horticulturist, and plant breeder named George Russell. Mr. Russell gathered and used only the seeds of the best lupine plants that he created by using cross-pollination. Mr. Russell’s hybrids are amongst the most beautiful lupine available. Each plant sends up tall flower shutes that are decorated with large swatches of bright, vibrant colors. Mr. Russell left gardeners with a hybrid variety for every color in the rainbow, and his cultivars are to this day, amongst the most beautiful lupine varieties in existence.

Lupines are very easy to grow. All they need is a suitable growing spot that contains a slightly acidic, nutrient-rich, well-draining soil and full sunlight exposure. Other than that, the only thing that they need is an occasional deadheading to encourage additional flowering. Taller varieties, like the Russell hybrids, should be provided with a garden stake so that they have help staying vertical. Lupines will suffer in hot, humid conditions, and should be brought indoors during the midsummer if possible, to get away from the powerful summer sun.

Lupines were not always beloved. Lupines were named after the latin word meaning wolf, because people believed that they greedily used up all of the nutrients from the soils they grow in. In fact, they couldn’t have been farther off, as the lupine plant is from the same plant family as peas, and like peas, the lupine plant is known for fixing nitrogen levels in the soil that surrounds them.

Varieties of Lupine

Arctic Lupine – The arctic lupine cultivar is native to the arctic regions of northwest North America, from Canada to Alaska, producing flowers that range from purple to blue. The arctic lupine is well-suited and well-adapted to northern climates and low-nitrogen soils

Arroyo Lupine – The arroyo lupine is also known as the succulent lupine, and the hollow leaf annual lupine, and is primarily found throughout the state of California. Considered the largest native annual lupine variety, the arroyo lupine is commonly grown in garden borders and in container gardens. The arroyo lupine’s purple-blue flowers make it one of the most popular cultivars. One significant drawback of the arroyo lupine is its tendency to be highly toxic and poisonous. If you have dogs, or other curious pets, don’t allow them private access to these lovely ornamental plants, as they could become severely ill if they were to eat any of the plant’s leaves, stems, seeds, or roots.

Blue Pod Lupine – The blue pod lupine is the dominant parent species that was used to create the Russell Hybrids. The blue pod lupine is considered the tallest and most beautiful natural perennial cultivar available to gardeners.

Large Leaved Lupine – The blue and purple flowers of the large leaved lupine are native to the northwestern United States. This variety is grown for its ornamental value, and for its ability to naturally improve poor quality soils.

Riverbank Lupine – The riverbank lupine has the most uses and benefits among the lupine flower species. Grown for its ornamental value, to improve soil quality and nitrogen levels in depleted soils, for erosion control, and for its robust and refreshing fragrance.

Russell Lupine Mix – This is not technically a variety of lupines, but a seed mix that contains a random mix of the various Russell Lupine hybrids. Plant lots of Russell Lupines together for the upcoming season. Plant them in groups or spread out throughout the garden for tall (three foot) blooms and a random mix of bright, vibrant colors that show off the true range of colors that are available when growing lupines.

Texas Bluebonnet – The state flower for the lone star state is the Bluebonnet. In the state of Texas, it is against the law to pick them or mow over them, but it is perfectly acceptable to plant bluebonnets all over the state. One place bluebonnets are absent from, however, is Texan flower gardens. For some reason, the deep-blue flower spikes that grow in the wild all over the state (most prolifically in the hill country) are not a common sight in Texas flower beds.

Growing Conditions for Lupine

Lupine shrubs thrive in full sun locations. The ornamental plants can survive in partial shade, but will produce far less blossoms in shady locations than they would in full sun. Lupines grown in deep shade locations will not produce flowers at all, but will focus entirely on growing foliage instead. If your lupines are getting too much shade, try cutting back surrounding shrubs and trees which are casting their shadows on the sun-thirsty plants.

If the temperatures get too high, or they receive too much sun, especially in the first few weeks of summer, Lupines can occasionally fail to flower at all. This is not to suggest that lupine plants don’t like the sun. They just enjoy a cool day of light sunshine over the sweltering, heavy summer sunshine.

How to Plant Lupine

Lupine plants and seeds are fairly easy to find, and they are available to gardeners as annuals, or perennials, and can produce both annual and perennial crops. Potted lupine plants are usually perennials that come back each spring, living and blooming for many years, instead of dying away after just one growing season.

If you purchased a young lupine plant, or plants at a nursery, or ordered one online, plant it as soon as you are able in your garden beds. Before planting, amend the soil for your flower garden with lots of organic matter to boost nutrient levels and improve moisture retention, as well as some sand to improve drainage. Don’t let your mulch layer, or any other type of organic material sit against the crown of your lupines, as it will cause crown rotting. After planting, water new plants thoroughly to help ease the transition into their new homes.

If you are to be planting lupine seeds, they can be planted out in the garden anytime in the first few weeds of spring. For better results, wait until the late spring to plant, so that the seeds will overwinter and bloom in the next spring. Prior to planting, soak seeds for 24-48 hours to help soften up the seed coat for easier germination.

If you don’t have time to soak the seeds, give them a good head start by roughly abrasing them between two sheets of sandpaper. Sprinkle seeds and top with about one-eighth inch of soil. Press the soil down gently to remove air pockets and insure seed to soil contact. Water well just after planting and continue to water lightly until you see sprouts. Germination should take around 10 days.

Care for Lupine

Lupines need regular watering and proper drainage. Provide one inch of water per week in dry conditions. Mulch to improve moisture retention and keep the soil cool in hot climate areas. No fertilizer is necessary for lupines, and excess fertilizer can actually keep the plants from blooming, causing them to focus solely on leaf growth instead. If you have high alkaline soils, however, you can use an acidifying feed to lower the pH [].

Deadhead spent flowers to encourage additional blooms and to keep unwanted volunteers from moving in and taking over. Deadheading will also keep lupines from developing seed heads, which will force the plant to focus more on root and leaf development, making the plant denser and more vigorous.

How to Propagate Lupine Flowers

Lupines can be propagated from seed, cuttings, or divisions. If you are growing your lupines from seeds, you will need to help germination along by stratifying the seeds. One way to stratify seeds is by using a seven-day cold treatment, putting your seeds on slightly damp paper towels and storing them in a ziploc bag in the fridge for seven days. A 24-hour warm water soak is another way to help soften the seed coats. Treated seed can be directly sown into soil anytime during the spring or summer up until the first of August. If you are planning to skip seed stratification, plant untreated seeds into the soil between September and November.

If you are growing lupine from seed, expect blooms in the first year. Deadhead spent blooms to extend the plant’s blooming time. Feed plants once per month with a balanced organic fertilizer to keep plants healthy and to get the biggest blooms out of your lupines.

To grow from cuttings, cut a stem all the way down to the trunk and set it in moist, well-drained sand, or some other well-draining medium suitable for propagation. Keep cuttings covered during this time, only exposing them to air for a few minutes per day. Once roots develop, move cuttings into large pots that can be moved outdoors in their pots so as not to disturb the taproots. Do not transplant without the pots, as the lupine’s long taproots are especially fragile and essential to plant health.

Lupines should be divided every three years to keep plants healthy, moving divisions into separate pots, or directly planting them into their new garden locations just after division.

Garden Pests and Diseases of Lupine

Lupine flowers are a bit sensitive to struggles with garden pests and plant diseases. Review the list in this section of symptoms and remedies that gardeners of lupine should be familiar with so you’re ready to face whatever comes your way.

Aphids: Tiny aphid insects hang out on the underside of leaves, where they feed on the moisture inside foliage. You can tell when a plant is battling aphids because the bugs are visible on the backs of leaves, and the foliage of affected plants is wrinkled, curled, or distorted in shape. To fight back against aphids, you can try knocking them off the plant with a jet of high-pressure water, which is effective because they’re so small. You can also make a homemade spray to treat plants with out of one liter of warm water, four or five drops of dish soap, and a tablespoon of neem oil. Be vigilant for signs of aphids, as they can spread cucumber mosaic virus, a fatal disease.

Brown Spot Fungus: If you see brown patches on lupine foliage, the culprit may be brown spot fungus. Pull any affected plants out of the garden and discard them carefully. As with any diseased or infested plant material, do not use in compost.

Powdery Mildew: When rain is heavy, powdery mildew can be a problem in the garden. The first sign of powdery mildew tends to be white areas on foliage that look like talcum powder. Use clean, sterilized gardening shears to snip off any signs of powdery mildew on lupine foliage. As long as you don’t remove more than two thirds of the leaves, they will grow back.

Growing lupine is a joy for beginning gardeners and seasoned gardeners alike. The eye-catching blooms of this versatile ornamental are second to none. Now you are equipped with everything you need to know to grow lupines successfully, it’s time to put that knowledge to work.

Transplants, both homegrown and purchased, flower earlier than seeds sown directly in garden beds. All varieties grow in well-drained beds that receive about six hours of daily sunlight, although they can tolerate light afternoon shade. Smaller lupine varieties require 12-inch spacing between each plant, while the bushier types need up to 24 inches between plants. Overcrowding can result in mildew or fungal problems. Plant transplants outside at the same depth they were growing at in their seedling pots.

The plants grow best when provided with consistent soil moisture. Most lupines need about 1 inch of water weekly, from irrigation or rain. The top 6 inches of soil should remain moist. Mulching the bed can help retain moisture. The plants grow best in cooler weather and overly hot weather can cause wilting, plant stress, or increased disease and fungal issues. Perennial lupines benefit from light spring fertilization or an annual application of compost to replenish the nutrients in the soil.

Jenny Harrington has been a freelance writer since 2006. Her published articles have appeared in various print and online publications. Previously, she owned her own business, selling handmade items online, wholesale and at crafts fairs. Harrington's specialties include small business information, crafting, decorating and gardening.

How to Grow: Lupines

Sun Requirements
Full to part sun, but flowering is reduced in part shade

Bloom Period and Seasonal Color
Lupines bloom in early to mid summer

Mature Height x Spread
1 to 4 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide depending on the selection

Lupines are striking annual and perennial flowers that are widely adapted. Wildflower versions can be found in the South (called blue bonnets) or along roadsides in the mountain of the North and West. These legumes are often found growing in the wild in clumps and when in bloom can turn the ground into a carpet of color.

Lupines are hardy in USDA zones 3 to 7. Lupines come in a variety of flower spike colors depending on the species and variety. There are lupines with white, pink, yellow, blue, purple and red colored flowers. Hybrid series feature a selection of colors.

While lupines look great naturalized in a meadow, orchard or field, they also are good flower and cut garden plants. The perennial versions have a taproot, so are long lasting, drought tolerant and hardy. Annuals and perennials will self-sow, and spread over time.

When, Where and How to Plant
Plant lupine seeds or plants in spring or summer on a sunny site with loose soil. Lupines don’t grow well in clay soils. Loosen the soil before planting. They also like a slightly acidic soil so add sulfur, based on a soil test, to lower the pH before planting.

Lupines can be annual or perennial depending on the selection. Annuals will bloom the first year after seeding. If growing from seed, soak the lupine seed in warm water over night before sowing to enhance the germination. Plant in loosen, compost amended, soil spacing the seeds 12 inches apart. Once germinated, thin the seedlings to 2 to 3 feet apart. Nursery grown plants tend to be perennials. Plant these plants in spring or summer at the 2 to 3 foot spacing. Group plants together for a better visual effect.

Lupines love cool soil and temperatures. If grown in the South, look for locations in the garden with afternoon shade to help the plants survive the summer heat and mulch.

Growing Tips
Lupines can be low growing wildflowers or tall stately perennials. If growing the taller selections in a windy location, support these with stakes and twine, or Velcro plant ties, to support them from falling over. The winds can not only break a flower stalk, but also cause it to bend.

Lightly mulch lupines in hot climates to keep the soil cool and moist. Perennial lupines are drought tolerant so once established rarely need extra watering. Fertilize in spring with a layer of compost. Since these legumes have a taproot that fixes nitrogen, they need little additional fertilizer and help plants around them grow by breaking up heavy soils.

Deadhead spent flowers immediately after blooming and side shoots may form that will flower again later in summer. Cut back the whole plant to the ground in fall after the foliage starts to yellow.

To encourage self-sowing, leave some of the flowers to set seed. Lupines don’t divide well, and spread mostly by seed.

Plant Care
Lupine flowers can have damage from aphid insects. Their feeding can deform flower stalks and cause it to bend. Spray the lupines with insecticidal soap to kill aphids. Also, you can just wash aphids off the plants with a strong spray of water from a hose. They won’t climb back up on the plant.

Lupines can also get powdery mildew disease and the plant can become unsightly. Cutting it back in summer isn’t advised since the plant needs to have leaves to rejuvenate the roots for next year’s flowering. Control powdery mildew by spacing plants further apart to encourage air circulation, cleaning up plants well in fall and spraying Bacillus subtilis or Serenade on plants at the first sign of the fungal disease.

Companion Planting and Design
Lupines are great plants grown en mass on a bank, field, meadow or orchard. The species types naturalize well. You can also grow them in the garden with other flowers such as tulips, daffodils, California poppy, Oriental poppy, peonies, baptisia, yarrow, mountain bluette, and perennial geraniums.

The ‘Russell Hybrid Series’ is probably the most widely known selection of lupines for the garden. The series features varieties in a range of colors such as yellow, red, blue, white, bi-color and purple. Plants grow 2 to 3 feet tall and are long lived. ‘Tutti Frutti Series’ features also a range of varieties and flower colors. This hybrid is a good cut flower and is a reliable perennial.

Texas blue bonnets are popular, perennial wildflowers in the South. The Arroyo and Golden lupines are self-sowing annual wildflowers in the West. ‘Pixie Delight’ is a dwarf annual type that only grows 12 to 18 inches tall.

How to Grow Lupine Flowers

This article was co-authored by Lauren Kurtz. Lauren Kurtz is a Naturalist and Horticultural Specialist. Lauren has worked for Aurora, Colorado managing the Water-Wise Garden at Aurora Municipal Center for the Water Conservation Department. She earned a BA in Environmental and Sustainability Studies from Western Michigan University in 2014.

There are 24 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

This article has been viewed 9,915 times.

Lupine flowers (also known as Lupinus) are pretty flowers that come as annuals or perennials. There are more than 200 species of plants in this genus. Perennial lupines flower during their first or second year of growth and will produce blooms from late spring to summer each year. Lupine flowers grow in spiky clusters between 8 and 24 inches (20 to 62 cm) tall and attract bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies to your garden. Annual lupine flowers are grown in a similar way to other lupine flowers. Make sure that you choose a variety that is native to your local area and climate.


Now, you can try the beautiful lupin plant in your garden. It answers all the FAQs for lupin plants:

  • How to plant and grow Lupines
  • How to Grow Lupins from Seeds
  • Lupine caring tips
  • How to grow Lupins from cuttings?
  • Propagating lupins from seed
  • How to Deadhead Lupins?
  • How to grow Lupins in Pots?
  • Are Lupins easy to grow?
  • Do Lupins come back every year?
  • Lupin plant problems
  • How to plant Lupin roots?
  • How to plant Lupin bulbs?
  • Lupine companion plants
  • Do Lupines spread?
  • Why have my Lupins died?
  • Lupin brown spot treatment
  • Lupine Leaves Curling up
  • Why are my Lupin flowers small?
  • Lupin flowers dropping off
  • Bugs that attack Lupins
  • How do you revive Lupins

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