When I lived in Missouri, Dutch hyacinths were a staple of my spring garden. But when I moved to Texas, I quickly learned that having to pre-chill bulbs for six to 10 weeks was really more trouble than it was worth. Luckily, the first fall I was in Tyler, I went to the Smith County Master Gardener Fall Conference and Bulb Sale and heard Greg Grant talk about Spanish bluebells. I knew I had found a good substitute for my old favorite.
Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) are members of the Asperagaceae family (fomerly the Lily family) and are a group of 11 species of bulbous plants that are native to the Iberian peninsula. They are unfussy, able to thrive in just about any kind of light and soil and seem to thrive on neglect. They are great naturalizers, with baby bulbs developing on the sides of the mother bulb. They also produce seeds, so if left alone they spread into large drifts of bloom every spring. They are great plants for difficult garden sites. In fact, they are so hardy that in hospitable, temperate climates like the UK, they have become invasive, driving out native species of bluebells. Luckily, we don’t have to worry about that in East Texas.
Plant the bulbs in the fall in well-drained soil (they do not like wet feet) in groups of 25 bulbs per 3-foot square area for the best effect. In the spring (late March to early April), the bulbs will grow a clump of two to six strap-shaped leaves and a rigid flower stem 12 to 18 inches tall that produce 12 to 15 bell-shaped lavender/blue flowers. Some cultivars also produce pink and white flowers, but the lavender/blue is the most common. The blooms make excellent cut flowers, and they can also be planted in containers with other spring bulbs, or cool season annuals like pansies.
After the blooms fade, do not cut back the foliage. Like daffodils and other spring-flowering bulbs, the foliage produces food for the bulb so it will perform well in the following year. Once the foliage yellows and fades, it may be removed.
Spanish bluebells provide springtime color to the woodland garden, the front of the perennial border or a wild/naturalized area. The Smith County Master Gardeners will be selling these bulbs at their Bulbs & More plant sale at Harvey Convention Center on Oct. 12. Visit https://txmg.org/smith/coming-events for more information on this free event, which is open to the public.
The Smith County Master Gardener program is a volunteer organization in connection with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.