Virginia Bluebells and zone 5/6?

paul_(z5 MI)May 8, 2014

Or more properly known as Mertensia virginica?

Wondering if anyone can give me the low down on it? (Ease of care, speed of growth, does it tend to become a "thug", persistence of foliage into the summer ...) Thinking of trying it if I can find seeds cheap.

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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

I grow it in the shade/woodland garden beds under a red oak. I like it for the spring bloom in blue. It does seed and spread from the roots but it's been in this area for at least 10 years and has not spread to other areas. It does go dormant after it blooms so it needs to be paired with things that cover its absence :-) Here, it grows with a big blue hosta, large Solomon's Seal, and white corydalis groundcover. When the bluebells go dormant, you really don't notice! I was looking through my pictures trying to find one showing the bluebells - but I can't find one! In this picture, they are under/behind the big hosta and Solomon's Seal behind the white corydalis, as the path emerges along the lawn. At least you can see that there isn't much need to worry about them going dormant if they have good companions....

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 11:27AM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

This started out as one plant. It spreads around, but is nice enough when present that I tend to let it be. Currently, there are a couple of them in the lawn on the other side of the driveway, and one in the crack between the driveway and the garage. Foliage fades quite quickly after bloom.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 12:15PM
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Hardy and long lived here.

Have not found them seed in our garden, but have spread them around by breaking up a root tuber.

Like the fact that they're ephemeral, since they're gone by the time our summer and fall perennials are up and blooming.

Picture was rejected (file too large).

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 4:08PM
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Sorry I don't have a picture of the whole plant but here's a close-up. I haven't had spreading or self-seeding issues. This one is growing quite close to astilbe, toad lily & hosta in my full shade bed. It disappears after blooming but comes back reliably every year & requires zero maintenance.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 6:12PM
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aachenelf z5 Mpls

You simply can not go wrong with this plant. One of the true gems of spring.

Mine do seed around a lot, but only in places they really like. There the seedling are thick as hair, but are also very fragile and easily eliminated if you want to do that.


    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 9:55PM
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terrene(5b MA)

Mine are in full bloom right now. These are gorgeous spring ephemerals! I love the pink-blue coloration of the flowers. I've got a half dozen or so plants now. I originally received one in a swap, the rest were winter-sown. They were not abundant germinators for me, but I got a couple sprouts each year. Requires some patience as they take at least 3 years to bloom from seed.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2014 at 1:55AM
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Tennessee wholesale (931-473-7811) you can order 100 for $40.
I have had them for years and they do reseed about and are gone by summer>>>you can also cut foliage back and it does NOT effect their next year's bloom
Hard to transplant...VERY deep roots

This post was edited by shadeyplace on Fri, May 9, 14 at 7:57

    Bookmark   May 9, 2014 at 7:55AM
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Ispahan Zone6a Chicago

Mertensia virginica is also a particular favorite of mine. It is an elegant, no-fuss spring ephemeral that is one of the highlights of spring. I have not found it to be invasive at all; most multiplication is due to continued growth of the woody tubers below ground which makes for clumps that slowly get larger. If anything, I wish it would spread around more!

Do be aware that the leaves and stems are fairly brittle and might not hold up well to areas heavily trafficked by children or dogs. Otherwise it is practically perfect in every way!

    Bookmark   May 9, 2014 at 9:26AM
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paul_(z5 MI)

Hmm, looks like I will have to keep my eyes open for them then.

Kevin, if you get a surplus of seeds, you'll know where to send some them!

    Bookmark   May 9, 2014 at 9:34AM
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Ispahan Zone6a Chicago


If you can, I strongly recommend obtaining some tubers to get a start of this plant. Mertensia virginica seeds rapidly lose viability if they are dried and stored. They need to be sown immediately once ripe. Even seeds from companies that specialize in native seeds will have minimal or no viability in my experience.

If you shop around, you can get some great deals on tubers. Arrowhead Alpines in Michigan is a good source for bare root, bulk tubers and the price includes shipping and handling. It is too late to order them bare root for spring, but you can order for fall delivery. Otherwise, I have seen Heritage Flower Farms in Wisconsin list them as small potted plants on their specials page, three for around $10, not including shipping and handling. Both sources are excellent, and I have used and highly recommend both.

One source to avoid is Bluff View Nursery. They sell the tubers very cheaply but seem to be highly unreliable per online reviews.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2014 at 10:01AM
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Campanula UK Z8

Mmmm, I sowed seeds of these last autumn - out of a dozen, around 4 germinated and are just beginning to diminish, still in 9cm pots in my greenhouse. I am thinking I will bite the bullet and buy a plant, saving my own seeds because I want to build up a colony to flower with English bluebells. Should I transplant the little seedlings this autumn? I am amazed that they are so little known in the UK (I will have to buy mail order from a specialist nursery)

    Bookmark   May 9, 2014 at 5:18PM
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terrene(5b MA)

Camp I transplanted the seedlings in late spring when they were wee ones, before they went dormant and disappeared because then I would have to hold the pot over the winter. I marked the spots with plant tags so I would know where the babies were planted. There are a couple small plants out there now that were sown from last year, the leaves are only a few inches tall so it's a slow grower.

Here's a bloom from 2012 -

    Bookmark   May 9, 2014 at 6:23PM
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aachenelf z5 Mpls

campanula - The seeds on my plants are ripe by late spring - early summer when the foliage is dying back, so I would assume that is the time they should be sown. Nothing germinates until the following spring.

I've transplanted seedlings in the spring when they develop their first set of true leaves and most have lived. I would say maybe 3 years to flowering??


    Bookmark   May 9, 2014 at 7:25PM
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paul_(z5 MI)

Thanks for the advice, Ispahan! I'll have to check them out.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2014 at 8:45PM
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Campanula UK Z8

Rightyo - I will get the tiny plants in the ground - always the safest option (rather than being left to my tender mercies over pots). One last thing - because I am still establishing rides and clearings, most planting has been around the edges or usually, near the bases of the trees - how are mertensia in dry(ish) soil between tree rots. Wood anemones have established well so there is some moisture?

    Bookmark   May 10, 2014 at 5:53AM
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aachenelf z5 Mpls

I'm not sure about that. I've never tried planting them amongst tree roots, but from everything I've read they need deepish, rich, moist ,woodland type soil. My concern (depending on what kind of trees you're talking about) is they might offer too much completion for moisture.

My woodland area doesn't receive any supplemental water during summer, but the soil is very organic and there aren't any surface tree roots. The favorite place for seedling to germinate is always amongst the rotting logs and branches.


    Bookmark   May 10, 2014 at 9:54AM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

FWIW, Mine are planted at the base of oak trees. They grow and multiply, but slowly. I'm not sure I would call them "flourishing", but having never planted them elsewhere, or, for that matter, having never even seen them in anyone else's garden, I don't know how to compare mine to others planted in different situations.

Just this year I noticed about half a dozen new plants, a bit farther away from the originals, and they too have seeded - and are growing - under other oak trees. I do believe oaks are easier to plant under than other trees, so I don't know if that should be taken into account.


    Bookmark   May 10, 2014 at 10:27AM
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terrene(5b MA)

Mine are planted under a Linden tree (Tilia americana) which do not have particularly aggressive roots. They are on a slope so it is fairly dry (I have well-drained sandy loam). There are other woodland plants in the area. They seem to be doing okay.

Here's a couple pics I took today. These are fairly mature plants started from seed, 2nd or maybe 3rd year blooming, which means they are probably 5 years old -

Here's a couple 2nd year youngsters -

    Bookmark   May 10, 2014 at 7:43PM
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