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Virginia bluebells will ring in the new season

Virginia bluebells are shown getting ready to bloom in a Jamestown garden. (John Zvirovski / The Sun)

Virginia bluebells. There is something about a plant with an Eastern name that makes you want to have it in your garden. I think it comes from the idea that a little piece of Virginia can be a part of your garden in some way.

Although called Virginia bluebells, this name is derived from the fact that this is the state where they were first discovered. They are also very common throughout most of the Midwest.

The Virginia bluebell is one of spring's early bloomers and is commonly used for native woodland habitat settings. They emerge from the ground almost as early as the daffodils. With little warning, purple- tinged or green leaves push through the earth and begin to rapidly grow into a mounded form. Their leaves change to a nice olive to lime green shade on single stems. These leaves will develop up to 7 inches long by 3 inches wide.

Clusters of pink or purple tinged buds begin to form at the ends of the stems and slowly grow into larger bunches. Eventually these pink buds open up to the most delicate tubular, bell-shaded flowers in the color of sky blue. There are so many plants that claim to have a blue flower, but this is literally one of those that truly produce that shade. Their bloom period is usually for two to three weeks depending on the temperatures. Certain bluebell plants produce white flowers, but this is much more rare, especially in their native habitats, and are highly sought for the serious gardener.

The dainty blue flowers hang down from 18- to 24-inch stems and are about an inch long by a half-inch across. Each bud cluster can produce from 10 to 30 individual flowers. Since the flower tubes are deep, the usual bumble or honeybee has a difficult time pollinating the blooms, however the long-tongued types of bees are much more successful. The butterfly, with its long tongue to collect nectar, is very friendly for pollination, as are the hummingbirds.

Like so many gardens, finding plants for those shaded areas seems to be a difficult task. It seems to be even more difficult to find something for the shade that produces a nice colored bloom. The Virginia bluebells love to grow in shady or woodland type settings. They prefer a rich soil high in organic matter with good drainage. Bluebells will not tolerate consistent wet conditions. This could cause stem rot and their ultimate demise.

Their early emergence in spring also allows for early blooms in the garden that can accent other spring flowers that bloom during the same period. They look especially nice alongside yellow or white daffodils or surrounded by numerous snowdrops or scilla plants.

Like the spring flowers, Virginia bluebells will die back into the ground when finished blooming. Usually by the Memorial Day weekend or a few weeks later, these plants begin their decline back into dormancy, leaving plenty of space for other perennials or annuals to take over their spots. It seems they almost disappear as quickly as they emerged. Placement between plants such as hostas, astilbe or ferns, are ideal for this plant as these plants will easily cover the spaces they leave behind.

The plant itself creates a deep taproot and slowly spreads to create a small colony of plants. When larger colonies have been created, these plants can be divided in early spring to move to other areas or to give away. Keep in mind these plants do not require dividing as they mature as they are very good at self-sustaining their colonies and do not enjoy being disturbed. Propagation through fresh seed is the best process for creating new seedlings in the garden. Many bluebells will self-seed in the proper conditions, so keep your eye out for new young plants in the month of May for added surprises.

I look forward to each spring in anticipation for the first blooms of the Virginia bluebells as there is something very rewarding to see these delicate flowers of sky blue. If you are showing an interest in this plant for your own garden, go to your local nurseries early in the season, as they are among the plants that disappear most quickly.

If you are looking for something that blooms early and are easy to grow with a delicate feature, this would be the plant for you! Virginia bluebells will happily ring in the new growing season within your garden.