How To Grow And Care For Virginia Bluebells

Virginia bluebells are native wildflowers that bloom in the spring and become dormant in the summer.

Virginia Bluebell

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Spring ephemerals, Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) bloom a carpet of lavender or light blue, pendulous, trumpet-shaped flowers above green foliage. Often found under deciduous trees in the woods, these native perennials emerge as early as March, bloom for 3 weeks, and become dormant in the summer.

These native wildflowers are moisture loving plants that grow about 1 to 2 feet tall. They self-seed readily so they are often found as colonies under deciduous trees in woodland areas, stream banks, and river flood plains.   

In March, dark purple, spoon-shaped foliage emerges, but it turns light green when mature. The plant quickly grows and blooms in April. The flower is five fused petals forming an inch-long trumpet shape. Clusters of 5-20 appear in pendulous clusters above the green foliage. The blooming period is short, only about 3 weeks, but intense as the plants form a carpet of blue flowers. Up close, the buds are pink, opening up to blue or lavender color with a two-tone effect. The sweetly-scented flowers attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds but are not used as cut flowers. The plants are deer and rabbit resistant. In May, the leaves die back and by June the plant is gone, dormant, until next year. Other plants such as ferns, hostas, or annuals need to be planted to fill in the gaps. 

Plant Attributes

Common Name  Virginia bluebells, eastern bluebells, Roanoke bells, and Virginia cowslip
Botanical Name  Mertensia virginica
Family  Boraginaceae
Plant Type  Herbaceous Perennial
Mature Size  24 in. tall, 24 in. wide
Sun Exposure  Shade
 Soil Type  Moist but well-drained soil
 Soil pH  Moist but well drained
Bloom Time   Spring
Flower Color  Blue, Purple, Pink
Hardiness Zones  USDA Zones 3-9
Native Area  North America

Virginia Bluebells Care

This perennial needs moist but well-drained soil, high in organic matter. It is a shade plant typically found in the woodlands. It blends well with other spring blooming bulbs. When it dies back in the summer, the vacant spots should either be covered with foliage of other woodland type plants or with annuals. There is no need to fertilize Virginia bluebells. They self-seed but are not invasive. However, they develop colonies and are best used in natural designs. Typically, Virginia bluebells are sold as bare root, dormant plants, i.e., not in containers in the garden center. However, one can purchase seed packets. 


Because this plant grows and blooms before deciduous trees leaf out, they are found in areas with weak sunlight so they are considered shade plants.  


Virginia bluebells need moist, well-drained soil, high in organic matter. 


This plant needs moisture, typical of spring woodland area. 

Temperature And Humidity

This wildflower needs humid, cool spring temperatures. 


If grown in an area that is high in organic matter, Virginia bluebells do not need to be fertilized.

Types Of Virginia Bluebells

This wildflower is native. There are no other types. Rarely, white flowers may appear in the colony due to a genetic mutation, but these types cannot be purchased commercially. 


There is no need to prune or deadhead these plants.

Propagating Virginia Bluebells

One can dig and divide Virginia bluebells as they begin the process of becoming dormant in May or June before they completely disappear. With a gardening fork, gently dig around the perimeter of the plant, lift the plant and brush off the soil. Look for the roots which are really rhizomes or underground stems. Pull or cut apart so that there is still at least one node (where the foliage would emerge from). Replant and water. 

How To Grow Virginia Bluebells From Seed

If you have the plants already, harvest the fresh seed from the plants and broadcast where you want them. New plants will emerge the following spring but it will take a few years to have flowers. 

If you harvest and store that seed to sow later, you have to stratify the seeds. Give them a cold, moist period in order to germinate. Mix with moist sand and store in a bag in the fridge for 6 weeks. Then pot up in flats indoors about 6 weeks before the average last frost. Cover lightly with the potting mix, water, and place in a brightly lit warm place or under lights. After frost, plant outside. 

The other option is to winter sow. This is a process where you sow seeds in moist soil in plastic jugs in January, leaving the jugs outside in the winter. The winter weather will provide the stratification. In the late spring, open the jugs and transplant the plants. 


The plants will be dormant in the winter, so nothing needs to be done to overwinter them. 

Common Pests & Plant Disease

Virginia bluebells are not susceptible to pests or diseases, except for slugs. Sprinkle diatomaceous earth to stop the slugs. If the soil is not well drained, it is possible that the roots will rot. 

How To Get Virginia Bluebells To Bloom

These plants are reliable bloomers so nothing extra needs to be done to get them to bloom. There is no need to deadhead. These plants will only bloom for a few weeks, they cannot be made to bloom longer and into the summer. 

Common Problems With Virginia Bluebells

As native wildflowers, these plants are generally trouble free and easy to grow. However, one has to understand their lifecycle and native conditions. Here are a few common questions: 

My plant seems to be dying. Why is the foliage is turning brown?

The plant will naturally die back in May and June and become dormant in the summer. Do not fear, it should remerge in March. 

Why didn't my seed germinate? 

The seeds are a challenge because they need to be stratified, they need the cool, moist period in order to germinate. Mix with moist sand and store in a bag in the fridge for 6 weeks. Then pot up in flats indoors about 6 weeks before the average last frost. Cover lightly with the potting mix, water, and place in a brightly lit warm place or under lights. After frost, plant outside. If starting seeds continues to be challenging, purchase the dormant bare roots from a nursery to plant in the garden in the spring. 

My plants were doing well, so why didn't they come back this year? 

If plants were doing well one year and did not come back the next year it could be because something has changed. For example, the soil is not draining well and there is so much moisture, the roots rotted. Try re-establishing a colony in another well-drained location.  

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