Flowering en masse, the English bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scripta, makes a spectacular display in its natural woodland setting, carpeting the floor before the tree leaves have fully unfurled. It's thought that 25-49 per cent of the world's bluebell population is found in the British Isles, making it a nationally important plant. A small bulbous perennial, the English bluebell flowers in April and May, and spreads easily in the right conditions. Bluebells will grow happily in a shady garden, and they make good spring ground cover.


In recent years, the English bluebell has hybridised with the larger Spanish bluebell, Hyacinthoides hispanica, which was introduced to Britain as a garden plant in the 17th century. This has posed problems for the native bluebell, which could eventually die out due to hybridisation. The Spanish bluebell is larger and has a much more vigorous growth habit than the native variety. Hybrids (which are fertile and therefore able to reproduce themselves) are the most commonly grown bluebell in British gardens. They look similar to the native bluebell but don't have the beautiful 'drooping' quality that English bluebells have. Also, their petals are lighter in colour (sometimes pink) and their leaves are thicker. Hybrids are also able to hybridise with the native bluebell.

While Spanish and hybrid bluebells are not on the UK Government's list of invasive plants, the charity Plantlife recommends that you don't grow them if you live near a native bluebell colony, for example, a woodland. This prevents any accidental hybridisation and therefore protects the native British bluebell.

How to grow bluebells

Grow bluebells in moist but free-draining soil in partial shade. They're particularly suited to growing beneath deciduous trees, which provide dappled shade in spring and deeper shade in summer. You'll get the best results from planting bluebells in the green, but it's also possible to grow bluebells from seed. if they're growing in grass, avoid mowing until after the leaves have fully died down. Mulch in autumn with a thick layer of leaf mould to mimic the habitat found on the woodland floor.

Find out more about growing bluebells, below.

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Where to grow bluebells

Where to grow bluebells
Woodlands form the best habitat for growing bluebells

Bluebells thrive in moist, free-draining soil, ideally with plenty of leaf litter. Partial shade is best but they will also tolerate some sun.

How to plant bluebells

The easiest and most reliable method is to plant bluebells 'in the green' in late spring, after they have finished flowering. Plant in naturalistic drifts, 10cm deep and approximately 10cm apart. It’s possible to grow bluebells from seed.

Bluebells look wonderful growing in drifts in woodland. Find out how to create this effect in your own garden – Monty Don explains what conditions bluebells need, how deeply to plant the bulbs, and how to create a natural-looking colony in grass:

How to care for bluebells

Where bulbs are planted in grass, don’t cut the grass until after the leaves have died back.

How to propagate bluebells

You can plant dry bluebell bulbs in autumn, but you're more likely to have success by planting the bulbs 'in the green', in late spring. Divide and replant the clumps after flowering and before the leaves die back. Bear in mind that it's illegal to dig up clumps of bluebells in the wild, and this method applies to bluebells growing in gardens only.

You can also save seed from bluebells and sow them immediately in pots of compost. Bluebell seeds can take several months to germinate and need a period of cold weather to get them going. However, this method means you could end up with hybrids. It's much better to buy bluebell seed from a reputable supplier for the best results.

Growing bluebells: problem solving

Hybrid bluebells
Hybrid bluebells

Bluebells are generally pest- and disease-free. The main problem is hybridisation. Also, Spanish and hybrid bluebells are very difficult to remove once they have established. If you want to remove bluebells you will likely have to make several attempts.

Find out how to identify Spanish bluebells and how to get rid of them, in our Quick Tips video with David Hurrion:


Bluebell varieties

  • Hyacinthoides non-scripta – our native bluebell has dark-blue, nodding flowers, with curled-back petals and a delicate fragrance. The pollen is white, and the foliage is narrow and recurved.
  • Hyacinthoides hispanica – the Spanish bluebell is larger than the native English bluebell. The flowers are more open, have blue pollen and no scent.
  • Hyacinthoides x massartiana – this is the hybrid mix of British and Spanish bluebells. It is similar to the native English bluebell, but has characteristics of both parent varieties.

Frequently asked questions

What do I do when my bluebell flowers go over?

Avoid mowing the grass while bluebell foliage is dying down to ensure good flowers next year. Leave the foliage until it has died back, but remove faded flower spikes if you don’t want bluebells to spread. All parts of bluebell plants are toxic and the sap can irritate skin, so it is best to wear gloves when handling.

What is the most effective way of getting rid of Spanish bluebells?

Spanish bluebells are difficult to get rid of once established. Dig up and dispose of the deep-rooted bulbs in council garden waste collections, not on the compost heap. To get them all out, you may need to dig up the bulbs for several years in a row. Don’t use weedkiller on bluebells as it isn’t effective, and can damage other plants and animals.