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Wednesday - September 13, 2006

From: Austin , TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Wildflowers
Title: More on bluebonnets
Answered by: Dick Davis


I have a small field (about 1/2 acre) where I would like to grow bluebonnets and perhaps some other wildflowers for added color. Do bluebonnets need to be fertilized? Should I water them? How can I maintain the field of bluebonnets so that they come back every year?


Lupinus texensis
It is generally best to not apply fertilizer when planting bluebonnets. Bluebonnets can extract their own nitrogen from the atmosphere, and when you put fertilizers into the soil, they don't seem to like it. Maybe it changes the microflora in the soil so they don't like it as much, maybe it just confuses them. It also encourages weed growth. Your special bluebonnet areas should be sort of set aside for bluebonnets, rather than trying to produce floral displays throughout the year. It is best to concentrate just on bluebonnets and short statured warm season grasses, like buffalo grass and some of the gramas. You can mix in some early bloomers like huisache daisy and/or Indian paintbrush for color contrast, but after all this early season color is gone, just let it be grass. You can still have lots of other space devoted to Indian blankets, coreopsis, Engelmann's daisy, etc., for later season color.

Don't overwater them. At the Wildflower Center we water them maybe an inch/month while it is still warm, then just leave them alone after it gets cool, unless it is an extremely dry winter (like the 2005-2006 winter) They may need slightly more to help them get established in very rocky or sandy soils, but after they get established, they will have very deep roots to tide them through.

Bluebonnets like tortured, overgrazed spots, so it would be good to open up the soil surface some, by really "gronching" the area before planting. They don't like it turfy. They love burned areas, but it is often more practical to just really abuse the area with a weedeater. Bluebonnet displays often grow better over a period of several years of establishment in one spot, but that spot often is not overly attractive during other seasons. After several seasons of bluebonnets on a given spot, they will have had ample opportunity to establish beneficial soil bacteria and build up the seed bank in the soil for future generations. One problem of trying to maintain bluebonnets in a small area is that the seeds shoot out of the pods to surprising distances, so it may be necessary to harvest the seed pods when they first turn dry and brown, to replant the seeds in your chosen spot.

The biggest problem for bluebonnets and many other wildflowers often is cool season exotic grasses, like Japanese brome, rescue grass, or the ryes. Keep an eye out for new grass seedlings coming up in the bluebonnet areas during the winter or very early spring. Since Fall and Winter are the crucial time for germination and establishment of most of our Texas wildflowers, eliminating or reducing competition from these cool season grasses can be very important for establishing and maintaining wildflower displays.


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