Virginia bluebells – info, planting, care and tips

Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica)
Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica)

In the short period that Virginia bluebells grows and blooms, it attracts all eyes. Here is how to plant and care for the bluebell.

Profile of Virginia bluebells:

Scientific name: Mertensia virginica

Plant family: borage family (Boraginaceae)

Other names: Virginia cowslip, lungwort oysterleaf, Roanoke bells

Sowing time: early spring or late autumn

Planting time: autumn

Flowering period: April to May

Location: partially shady

Soil quality: sandy to loamy, nutrient rich, humus rich, sensitive to lime

These information are for temperate climate!

Use in: group planting, underplanting, borders, flower garden, natural garden, forest garden,

Winter hardiness: hardy, USDA Plant Hardiness Zones: 3 (-37 °C / -35 °F)

Bee and insect friendly: Yes

Plant characteristics and classification of Virginia bluebells

Plant order, origin and occurrence of Virginia bluebells

The Virginian bluebell is a wild perennial of the borage family (Boraginaceae) that is native to parts of North America. The botanical name Mertensia virginica refers both to the German botanist Franz Karl Mertens and to the origin of the plants. At the beginning of the botanical classification by Carl von Linné, Mertensia was still assigned to the genus of lungworts (Pulmonaria).

Characteristics of Virginia bluebells


The perennial plant grows upright and in a loose cluster and it can form entire carpets by self-seeding. Early in the spring, the fresh shoots grow from underground rhizomes 20 to 40 centimeters upwards. After flowering, these above-ground parts retract, so this bluebell does not maintain a presence in the garden for very long. The whole plant has a fairly graceful


The elliptical to oval shaped leaves are entire, slightly rough and blue-green in color. In the lower part of the stems, the foliage is clearly larger than towards the flower at the shoot tip.


The flowers are up to 5 centimeters in size, with a long, narrow tube opening bell-like at the end and appear in April and May. Several flowers sit in clusters at the tips of the plants’ shoots. When still budded, the flowers are pink. When they open, they turn blue, which is due to a change in the pH of the cell sap. Virginian bluebell is very popular with bees and bumblebees as a source of pollen and nectar because of its early flowering.


From the flowers develop inconspicuous nutlets, which contain fine seeds.

Virginia bluebells – cultivation and care


The bluebell feels most at home in the alternating shade and partial shade of deciduous woody plants. However, the perennial does not like deep shade nor a full sun as a location.


Mertensia virginica prefers a constantly moist to fresh soil, but there should be no waterlogging. It should also be humus and rather acidic to at most slightly calcareous.


Virginia bluebells can be planted in the autumn. However, often you become aware of it more in the spring, when it is present, and then put it in the ground. It does best in small groups of three to five plants. Area planting is not advisable because of the early withdrawal of shoots, although Mertensia virginica is often offered as a ground cover. A distance of 30 centimeters (12 in) from neighboring plants is recommended.


Virginia bluebells are very easy to care for, except for the fact that they like to be eaten by slugs, and you should take appropriate measures against these. Only if it is very dry already in spring, the plants need to be watered. As a fertilizer, some compost in spring, before the flowering time, is enough.


In late autumn, you can dig up a plant, cut off root cuttings and put them in potting compost. You can also try dividing. However, it may be that the bluebell is so massively disturbed by this that the cuttings do not grow at all. You can also collect the seeds and sow them, preferably in February to March or from September to November. Mertensia virginica needs cold and light to germ. Therefore, you should only slightly press the seeds in the soil.

Diseases and pests

The robust perennials have one problem in particular: slugs. Protect the plants, especially the tender shoots, by early measures against slugs.


Virginian bluebell is hardy. There is no need for any measure for the frosty days.

Use in the garden

In the garden, Virginian bluebell is the perfect choice for naturalistic, mixed plantings under or at the edge of deciduous shrubs. It can be combined with species that sprout or flower later, so that the gaps left by the bluebells at an early stage are not too noticeable. Perennials and grasses such as Japanese sedge (Carex morrowii), Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla), barrenwort (Epimedium) or hostas are suitable for this purpose. Of course, other species that bloom in May, such as bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) or daffodils also fit in. Unfortunately, they also retreat soon after flowering. Therefore, these are only companions for a short time and for bring some other color to that area.

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