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Although the native English bluebell and the larger Spanish bluebell are often grown in gardens, they can multiply and become a nuisance, requiring control. Spanish bluebells can also hybridise with the native form so are best controlled in gardens close to woodlands where the English bluebell is growing.
Spanish bluebells can become a weed problem. Credit: RHS/Advisory.
While many gardeners welcome the native bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) in their gardens, it can become a nuisance. The larger Spanish bluebell (H. hispanica) is also pretty, but can become a problem too, not just because of its spreading habit, but also due to its ability to hybridise with the native English form. The hybrid forms could potentially oust the natives and we advise against growing Spanish bluebells in rural gardens.
Flowers of native bluebells are narrowly bell-shaped, with straight-sided petals, deeply curled back at the tips. The majority of flowers droop from one side of the stem. The anthers are creamy-white and the leaves narrow, usually between 0.7-1.5cm wide (about ¼-¾in), although occasionally up to 2cm (¾in).
The bell-shaped flowers of Spanish bluebells and the hybrids between this and the English (known as H. × massartiana) open more widely than on English bluebells, with the petal tips just flaring outwards or curling back only slightly. Some flowers may droop from one side, but most are arranged all around the stem and held more erect. The anthers of Spanish and hybrid bluebells are usually pale to dark blue, and the leaves are wider, up to 3-3.5cm (about 1¼in) across.
Bluebells can spread rapidly. They seed freely and often hybridize when grown together.
The bulbs can also persist in garden compost heaps.
Plants that out-compete other more desirable plants or simply invade half the garden are classed as weeds and require control.
It is best to dig out bluebells while they are in leaf, as the bulbs are almost impossible to find when the plants are dormant:
Caution: do not dispose of bulbs by adding them to the garden compost heap and never discard unwanted bulbs in the countryside. Consign them to a black plastic sack and leave for a year before composting.
Bluebells are strongly resistant to weedkillers and it appears that no garden weedkiller will kill them or even check their growth.
Bluebells are not generally considered to produce runners, although it is sometimes stated on websites and in books (e.g. Grey’s Hardy Bulbs notes that the bulbs are "more or less stoloniferous"). However, if you dig up some bulbs in autumn/winter you may see some bulbs with small offsets, which are unlikely to be actual stolons or runners. It may be that, on occasions, stolons are produced if the bulb is planted too deep or is encouraged to grow under particular conditions.
If you find any evidence of runners/stolons, please do add comments about your observations to this page.
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