purple lupin flower field under blue sky

Growing Lupins

Starting lupins from seed to add to our Northern Ontario island garden. All about the island, starting lupin seeds, and growing lupins.

Spring Fever

I’ve got a little bit of spring fever. OK ALOT of spring fever. This year I have been doing some seed starting – and my trays of seeds have been taking over the window sills! Generally I start things like tomatoes and peppers inside to get ready for my May plantings of vegetables. This year there will also be wildflowers!

Last summer we stayed at our Northern Island cottage for most of the summer. It is covered with rocks, pine trees, pine needles and blueberries. I am determined to add flowers and greenery to our piece of paradise.

Crazy Garden Lady

The neighbours have explained to me that my efforts will be futile – as everything – dirt – plants will just blow off the island or get washed off by snow, waves and rain. The neighbours haven’t realized yet just what level of crazy garden lady they are dealing with.

I will have dirt and flowers – eventually……

Last year we focused just on cleaning things up – cleaning up chopped down and fallen pine trees and brush. We used ashes from the brush to augment the acid pine needle soil, and experimented with composting. This year we will do just as much of the same – but hopefully we will have just a little more sunshine and clearings to plant in.

Perennial Divisions

Last summer, a plethora of perennials – divisions from our Southern Ontario garden – were planted here and there. When the ice melts, we are looking forward to seeing which plants have survived! Hostas, veronica, rudbeckia, iris, siberian iris, sage – and many other things – were planted – so we shall see what grows!

Wild Lupins Bloom in June

Every year when we drive north on Highway 400 and Highway 11 from Southern Ontario to “near” Northern Ontario – to access our cottage country destination, I am amazed by the fields of wild lupins blooming in June. Wild lupins, with their tall spiky blue and purple flowers stand out beautifully amongst the roadside greenery.

If Lupins grow so easily in the wild, I wonder – won’t they grow on our rock?

Highway Lupins
Highway Lupins – Blurry because the car is moving!!

Whenever I see them, I say to myself – “Self, get some Lupin seeds to plant” – and this spring, I actually did!

Everything you need to know about Lupins

Lupins are a type of flowering plant that belongs to the legume family. They are commonly found in North America and Europe, and their flowers bloom in shades of purple, pink, yellow, and white. (Garden centre varieties even come in red!) These flowers are fragrant and attract a wide variety of pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. For my island garden project – I am going for a wildflower, pollinator kind of look!

There are about 200 species of Lupins – which are members of the legume family – like the peanut. They are native to North and South America, but there are also some species in Africa and the Mediterranean.

Lupin legumes were farmed as a food source in the Mediterannean and in South America for thousands of years. When used for food – lupin seeds are generally rinsed, soaked or boiled to reduce bitterness prior to cooking. They can contain some toxic components and people who are allergic to peanuts (among others) can also be allergic to lupin legumes.

I just love the shades of blue, purple and pink growing roadside and have no plans on harvesting them!

Lupin Spiked Flower
Lupin Spiked Flower – Photo by monicore on Pexels.com

Lupins are usually perennials, but can also be annuals spreading from seed. (more details to follow) The flowers appear on spikes. Blue Lupins appearing throughout Texas are known as Bluebonnets, and other native North American species include Quaker Bonnets and Old Maid Bonnets.


Lupin or Lupine?

Is it lupin or lupine – and doesn’t that mean wolf?

Lupinus is the name of the genus. It is commonly called Lupin in Europe and Australia, while it is called Lupine in the United States. (Let me know if you disagree!) The word in either spelling is pronounced Loopin – so perhaps some of us like to go with the phonetic spelling!

Lupins or lupines are so pretty – so spell it however you like!

Lupine comes from lupus, Latin for “wolf”, and its related adjective lupinus, “wolfish”. Lupine groups have a highly organized social structure, with leaders and followers clearly distinguished; dogs, since they’re descended from wolves, often show these lupine patterns when living in groups………Lupine is also a noun, the name of a well-known garden flower, which was once thought to drain, or “wolf”, the soil of its nutrients.


Lupin Growing Conditions

Lupins prefer to grow in well-drained soil that is slightly acidic. They require full sun and regular watering. If you live in a hot climate, you may need to provide them with some shade in the afternoon to prevent them from wilting. My island garden is quite shady, but there are some spots of sunlight- so I am hopeful. The soil that I have is acidic – and since lupins grow wild in the neighbourhood – I think I will be successful!

Planting Lupins

The best time to plant wild lupins is in the spring after the last frost. You can sow the seeds directly into the ground, or you can start them indoors and transplant them later. When planting, make sure to space them about 1-2 feet apart.

When to Plant Lupins in Ontario

I will be planting my seedlings outdoors in Mid May – and I will be direct seeding another package or two directly in the ground at the same time!

Lupin seeds may be direct sown in the garden in fall or early spring for spring growing. The plants will likely not bloom in the first year.

Seed Starting Lupins

I started a package of Russell Hybrid Lupin seeds indoors in Jiffy Peat trays. These plants sprouted within 5 days in the damp peat pots! I didn’t have to do any cold storage or scarification of the seeds. Easy-peasy!

Some of the directions for planting Lupins that I found on line recommended scarification (nicking the seeds) and cold storage (refrigeration) prior to planting – but in the jiffy pots with the clear greenhouse style lids – I had no need to do this!

Jiffy seed starting pots
Jiffy seed starting pots

Transplanting Lupin Seedlings

I have started planting them into small pots with potting soil – now that the second set of leaves have grown. The Cotyledons are the first leaves produced by plants. These first two leaves are the “seed leaves” which are actually part of the seed. The next set of leaves to appear are the true leaves – and have a much different shape! On the lupin seedlings – these have a palm type of shape to them – with 5-10 leaves growing together in a circular fashion. My little seedlings have 5 and 6 leaves on each stem so far!

Lupin seedling
Lupin seedling

My rule of thumb is to leave the lupins in the seed starting trays until the third set of true leafs appear – or as long as possible – but when they start pushing the clear lid off – it’s definitely time.

I found that some of the lupins suffered after transplanting – and one of the true leaf sets died off – so having another two sets emerge helped the seedling to survive.

Lupins develop long tap roots – so when I plant them, I make sure I have a good potting soil and don’t wait too long – We don’t want to let the root get out of control!

Lupin roots
Lupin tap root – about 4 inches long already!

Those roots are growing quickly – so I hope that they will hold on until I get them transplanted in the ground in early May. (when we are able to access the island – we have to wait for the ice to melt to boat in!)

Lupin roots
Lupin seedling roots

As lupins develop tall spiky flowers – they will benefit from a bit of shelter – so when I plant them I will endeavor to place them towards the back of the flower bed.

Are Lupins Perennials or Annuals?

Well – this is a tricky question! Lupins are perennials, but they typically grow in the wild from seeds spreading naturally. I hope that my lupins will self seed and create more little lupins eventually. More is better isn’t it?

A field of wild lupins through the car window!

Lupin plants grown in the garden centres – might be labelled as perennials – but these vibrant plants tend to be annuals or tender perennials. The garden centre grown plants – which may be more vibrant and colourful – actually may be short lived in a home garden! These plants are typically grown from cuttings or clones – and so they will be whatever colour they are cut from – while the seed grown plants will be whatever colour nature chooses!

The Russell Hybrid seeds that I have purchased are hardy from zone 4-9 – so I will keep my fingers crossed that the island is really zone 4 – but in the middle of a windswept lake things might be a tad chillier! I hope the plants thrive – and spread – and self seed in any colour at all!

The Russell Hybrid lupin was developed by British gardener George Russell back in the early 20th century. The plants will be relatively short lived perennials – BUT – these plants from seed are supposed to become the longest lived plants!

Lupin Maintenance

Lupins require minimal maintenance. Water them regularly, and remove any weeds that may compete with them for nutrients. Deadheading the flowers will also encourage more blooms – possibly into August if we are lucky.

Lupins are generally not prone to pest or disease problems. However, they may be susceptible to root rot if the soil is too wet. The appearance of any yellowing leaves or stunted growth may be a sign of a fungal infection.

Field of wild lupins
Roadside Lupins in bloom
Blue lupins
Photo by Irina Iriser on Pexels.com

Lupins are a wonderful addition to any garden. They are easy to grow, require minimal maintenance, and attract a wide variety of pollinators. I hope that my pack of lupin seeds turns into a sea of colourful flowers for years to come. Happy Spring!

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31 thoughts on “Growing Lupins

  1. This is beautiful. I didn’t want to click link to have to go to your website, because last post, I could not add a comment on your website, but I can easily add it here. THANKS for sharing the photo.

    1. Thank you. I’m not sure what happens to wordpress comments sometimes, so I’m sorry if it gave you trouble. I have my settings so that people don’t have to sign in or put in their email address – but it seems a bit fussy! Thank you for visiting!

  2. I started them once. Planted them and they didn’t bloom. I pulled them out. My gardening daughter asked why and I told her. She shakes her head “mom they don’t bloom the first year”. UGH

    1. Ha Ha! Good to know Bernie! I’m sticking with them though – no blooms yet – but they are rooting so I’m part way there.

    1. So far they are working out. The seed starting was easy, and I lost a few while transplanting – but it looks like most of them will grow!

  3. I love lupines and grew some for a while in Cornwall, but the cost of keeping them alive was a massive, ongoing slaughter of slugs and snails, which love them. A couple of years ago, I gave up and let the plants gradually die off. I miss them, but I don’t miss the bloodshed.

  4. Your post on growing lupins is an informative and practical guide for gardening enthusiasts. Lupins are such beautiful and vibrant flowers, and your instructions provide valuable insights into their cultivation. Thanks for sharing these tips on how to grow these lovely plants successfully! 🌼🌱🌞

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