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England: Dainty English flower thrives in mediocre soil
English bluebells grow well in a variety of soils. - photo by Russel England

Question: Do English bluebells require any special growing conditions?

Answer: English bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), as the common name implies, are native to the British Isles and nearby areas of northwestern Europe.

Similar species include the larger Spanish bluebell (H. hispanica) from the Iberian Peninsula and the Italian bluebell (H. Italica) from the central Mediterranean region.

You may see English bluebells referred to as common bluebells or wood hyacinths, and they do indeed resemble hyacinths but are taller, with narrower leaves and more open flower clusters. Until recently, they have also been considered in the Scilla and Endymion genera, so you may still see these botanical names in common use.

The "non-scripta" species name for this plant was apparently meant to distinguish it from the classical hyacinth described in Greek mythology. I see nothing nondescript about these flowers, causing me to wonder if maybe a Greek botanist was the first to describe the English bluebell.

English bluebells do not require any special growing conditions. They thrive in a variety of soil conditions, and are said to actually prefer a heavy soil.

In their native land, English bluebells form dense carpets in woodlands, forest clearings and open ground. They prefer partial shade but also seem to do well in full sun.

Bluebells grow from bulbs that gradually produce more bulbs in the same manner as daffodils. Unlike most daffodils, however, bluebells produce viable seeds that greatly increase the rate at which they multiply.

Plant bluebells three to four inches deep in well-drained soil. Let them form clumps for two or three years before dividing them. Use them in borders or scatter them among other perennials in out-of-the-way places. Their ability to rapidly multiply makes them a good choice for naturalizing.

Some references claim that the Spanish bluebell is better suited to the South because the English bluebell prefers colder winters and mild summers. Based on my own experience, both species do well in our area and the English variety spreads more quickly. When these two species are grown close to each other there is a tendency to hybridize, producing plants with intermediate characteristics.

Incidentally, the national flower of Scotland, the Scottish bluebell (Campanula rotundifolia), is unrelated to the English variety. The Scottish version is also known as harebell.

Q: How can I control wild garlic in my yard?

A: Both the wild onion and wild garlic are difficult to control without herbicides. The clumps can be pulled by hand but many stems will break off, leaving the bulbs in the ground to sprout again. Even if you dig the clumps out, you will likely miss many underground bulbs.

The wild onion is a North American native, but wild garlic was introduced from Europe. Both plants have a very strong flavor, but are edible.

Wild garlic is the more invasive of the two and more likely to be a weed problem in gardens and lawns. These plants produce tiny, hard-to-see flowers at the end of a specialized leaf called a scape. The flowers produce tiny seeds or miniature bulbs that develop into new plants. Over time dense clumps of plants develop.

There are several herbicides that work well on wild garlic and onion. Non-selective herbicides such as glyphosate (Roundup) are good choices where you can keep the herbicide off non-target plants. For lawns, sprays containing 2,4-D (Weed-be-gone) or imazaquin (Image) are effective.

Russ England is a Master Gardener trained and certified in horticulture and related areas through by the Georgia Cooperative Extension. E-mail him your questions.