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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Tuesday - September 04, 2007

From: Dumfries, VA
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Propagation, Seeds and Seeding, Wildflowers
Title: Grow bluebonnets in Virginia
Answered by: Joe Marcus

QUESTION:

I want to ATTEMPT to grow some Texas Bluebonnets in VA because I am homesick and both our kids are back in Austin. That said, the site says " it may be necessary to inoculate the soil with a rhizobium such as Nitragin-type Lupinus Special 4". Any idea where I might purchase Nitragin-type Lupinus Special 4?

ANSWER:

First we would like to thank you for bringing an error to our attention! It is in fact, NOT necessary to inoculate the soil to successfully grow bluebonnets. Rhizobium does help bluebonnets and other, mostly leguminous, plants grow in poor, nitrogen-deficient soils. Given sufficient nigtrogen fertilizer and grown in reasonably high pH soil, bluebonnets will grow and flower just fine. Also, bluebonnet seeds often come pre-inoculated from the seed seller.

Your biggest concern will be making your soil basic enough for your bluebonnets. That is, you will need to substantially raise the pH of the almost certainly acid soil there in Virginia to grow them successfully. Fortunately for you, raising the pH is as simple as thoroughly mixing limestone with the soil. Limestone will be readily available in your area at local garden centers. If the soil is clayey, adding some compost and coarse sand will also help.

Bluebonnets have extraordinarily hard seed coats. This arid-area adaptation insures that some seeds will not germinate the first fall, but lie dormant in the soil for two, three or more years. This germination strategy helps to ensure the survival of the species through the vagaries of Texas drought and flood years. For you, hard seed coats mean that you very unlikely to get 100% germination of your seeds this fall. This is a good thing. Chances are, some of your seeds will germinate and produce bluebonnet flowers for you next spring. Chances are also good that the best crop of bluebonnets from this years' sowing will be enjoyed the following year.

Normally we encourage folks to find, cultivate and appreciate the flora that is local to them wherever they may be. In fact, we do encourage you to do that, too. However, we also know how homesick we would be if we were so far from Texas. There is almost no chance of Texas bluebonnet escaping from cultivation and becoming invasive in Virginia -- the conditions are simple too foreign for that to happen. However, if you do find volunteer bluebonnet seedlings coming up in and around your garden, but outside your special bluebonnet soil, please remove them. The very last thing we want is to introduce any Texas natives to some other area's native flora!

Finally, we removed the reference to "Nitragin-type Lupinus Special 4" from our website. That was apparently a commercial product that may no longer be available.

 

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