Bluebells are one of our most iconic species. If you stumble upon that familiar, yet magical, blue carpet of flowers, it may be also be a sign that you are in a precious ancient woodland.

Ancient woodland dates back at least 400 years, is one of our most species-rich habitats and nowadays only covers about 2% of the UK’s land area. Protecting ancient woodland from the variety of threats it faces, from development to replanting with conifers, is one of our top priorities.

Six reasons to grow native bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) in your garden

  1. Bluebells are one of the UK’s most loved wildflowers.
  2. They're easy to grow so you can recreate that amazing woodland bluebell carpet experience in miniature.
  3. You'll get a welcome splash of colour in April and May.
  4. Nectar-seeking insects like bees will love the early food source.
  5. It's a good plant for those tricky shady spots in the garden.
  6. They are quick to spread.

How to grow bluebells in your garden

It’s quicker to start with bulbs since seeds can take 4-5 years to reach flowering size. You can buy bulbs either in spring ‘in the green’ (during active growth) when it is believed they are more likely to establish successfully, or as dry bulbs at other times of the year.

Where to source your bluebells

Bluebells are legally protected and it is against the law to dig them up from the wild. Make sure you ask your garden centre, nursery or online supplier to confirm the bulbs are cultivated, not wild–collected and also that they are both sourced and grown in the UK. This reduces the risk of pest or diseases being imported from abroad.

If you’re buying plants that are in flower take a close look. The flowers of native bluebells are a vivid violet-blue colour and the arching stem of flowers is held on one side. See our identification tips for more help on what they look like.

Where to grow bluebells

If we take a cue from their natural habitat it will be no surprise to learn that bluebells thrive in partial shade, under deciduous trees or shrubs and need moist but well-drained soil. I personally think they are at their most stunning when planted under silver birch trees, creating a ‘woodland in miniature’.

Enriching soil with leaf mould, manure or garden compost is often beneficial. Bluebells also thrive when planted in grass, provided those areas are not mown until the leaves have fully died back each year.

Planting and care

  • Plant ‘in the green’ bulbs at the same depth they were in the ground before (look for the junction where the foliage turns from white to green). Plant dry bulbs at least 10cm deep and space 10cm apart; ensure the pointed growing tip is facing upwards.
  • For a more natural effect, plant small clumps of bluebells together with irregular spacing between clumps. You could also throw the bulbs across the planting area and plant them where they land.
  • Water bulbs well after planting.
  • Growth and flowering may not be brilliant the following year, while the plants re-establish. Be patient!
  • After leafing and flowering each year, don’t cut the foliage off – the leaves use sunlight to make food which strengthens the plant for the following year.
  • If you want to help your bluebells spread, lift and divide bulbs after flowering. If your bluebells thrive, spreading will also happen naturally via bulb division and seed.
  • Dense clumps of bluebells may eventually out-compete more delicate spring plants or spread to the ‘wrong’ place in your garden. Removing heads after flowering will help prevent spreading and unwanted bulbs can be dug up during the growing season when they are more easily found.
Lush ancient woodland in Wales

Trees woods and wildlife

Ancient woodland

Home to myth and legend, where folk tales began. It fuelled our ancestors and still houses thousands. Ancient woodland has grown and adapted with wildlife, yet there’s just 2.4% land area left.

Find out more about ancient woodland

Learn more about bluebells and other wild plants