CLIMB THE GENTLE STEPS OF THE SERPENTINE GARDEN here this month, and you will find, when you reach the top step, a techni-colored bed of ‘Russell Hybrid’ lupines. These came from seeds I winter-sowed back in 2010. If the plants teased me with a little bloom during their first summer, they have stunned me during their second, by sending up a sea of two-foot-tall steeples, richly-dressed in purple, pink, red, yellow or white. How I achieved success with this notoriously finicky Lupinus polyphyllus:
For a pleasant adventure with lupines, it pays to winter-sow the seeds. Unlike greenhouse-grown plants, those sown outdoors in milk-jugs grow up to be sturdy and healthy. They are also more likely to accept the local climate. They’ve certainly accepted the heat and humidity of my Northeastern (zone 5-b) garden.
Give them at least 7 hours of sun early in the day, followed by shade or filtered light in the afternoon. Here, lupine thrives in full sun from 6 AM until 1 PM. A crabapple tree, located behind the plants, protects them from the harsh, mid-afternoon glare.
Rich, well-draining soil, one inch of water per week, and a mulch covering are other essentials. Before transplanting my seedlings, I loosened the bed to a depth of 8 inches, and mixed in copious amounts of leaf mold. Leaf mold retains many times its weight in water — a real blessing for we who dwell where summers are hot and droughts are common. A two-inch layer of mulch provides further insurance against dryness. I use composted woodchips, which almost anyone can acquire for free, for mulch. Between the decomposing mulch and the leaf mold, the plants receive all the food they need.
If you want your plants to reseed themselves, don’t deadhead the last of the flowering spires. Ripened seeds will fall to the ground naturally. In spring, I simply transfer these volunteer seedlings to other areas of the garden which I think will benefit from a rainbow of color.
If you lust for Lupines, but they have disappointed you in the past, be sure to try my cultural technique. After all, I’d like you to experience a luxurious month in the Land of Oz, too! The plants are perennial in USDA zones 3-8.
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