Plant bluebonnets now for spring blooms

Image courtesy of Take Care of Texas.

From Take Care of Texas: Each spring, beautiful displays of wildflowers can be seen across the state. The most iconic Texas wildflower is, of course, the bluebonnet. While bluebonnets are often seen along roadways, you can also create a bluebonnet patch in your very own yard!

Fall is the best time to plant wildflowers that are native to Texas. Bluebonnet seeds can be planted between Sept. 1 and Dec. 15, but you will see the best results if they are planted no later than mid-November. Planting in the fall allows the seeds time to germinate and grow throughout the winter months, developing a heavy root system and a sturdy plant that is ready to produce spring flowers.

It is important to be aware that not all of the seedlings may germinate successfully in the first year or two. This can be frustrating for gardeners who want a full bluebonnet display in the first year after planting. Bluebonnets produce large, hard-coated seeds that are adapted to survive drought conditions. Over time this coating will wear down from abrasion and decay, but it may take a few years. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center offers a few tips to help increase bluebonnet germination rate.

How Much Do I Plant?

The recommended seeding rate is 10 to 12 pounds of seeds per acre. At this rate, one ounce of seeds will cover approximately 200 square feet. This means that you will distribute about five seeds per square foot.

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Using this seeding method, you can expect to reach the maximum display two to three years after planting.

If your area is small or you would like a good display quickly, a seeding rate of 8 to 10 seeds per square foot is recommended. At this rate, one ounce of seeds will cover about 135 square feet.

Keep in mind that these seeding rates are determined on a single species basis. Modify the seeding rate if you plan to plant other species along with your bluebonnets.

Planting the Seeds

When selecting an area for planting, note that bluebonnets require full sun exposure. Many species of Texas native plants can handle shade, but this is not one of them.

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Texas bluebonnets are adapted to rocky, alkaline soils and they even thrive in heavily disturbed poor soils. While soil preparation is not necessary, the real key to success is good seed-soil contact. The soil helps retain moisture around the seeds, which is necessary for germination to occur. If you will be sowing seed in turf areas, it is important to scalp the grass as low as possible with a mower and rake up any thatch that could prevent the seed from contacting the soil.

Small areas, like your yard, can be sown by hand or with a mechanical hand device. After distributing the seeds, press them firmly into the ground with your hands or by walking over the area.

Maintaining the Seeds

After the seeding process is complete, cover the seeds with less than one-quarter inch of soil. This protective layer of soil will keep the seeds from being eaten by birds or baked by the sun. Water the soil thoroughly and continue to lightly water the area every three days for about three weeks, if rain is not present. While bluebonnets do require moisture to germinate and grow, they do not thrive in saturated soil.

Fertilizing is not recommended as it will produce more leaves but not more blooms. However, if the seedlings do not appear to be growing vigorously, they may need Rhizobium, or you may want to fertilize lightly in early spring.

Also, the plants should not be mowed until they have formed mature seedpods. This allows the plants to reseed for the next year. Typically, bluebonnet seeds mature six to eight weeks after flowering. Pods are mature when they turn yellow or brown and begin to dry.

When Will I See Bluebonnets?

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Typically, bluebonnets begin to bloom around March 15 for the southern part of the state. In more northern areas, flowers may not show before May 1. The flowering period for bluebonnets is about one month.

Although bluebonnets can be tricky, once your patch is established, the bluebonnets should reseed and reappear each spring.

Interested in other species of Texas wildflowers? The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center offers instructions on planting a wildflower meadow and information on native plant gardening in Texas.

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