Lupins are traditional, timeless classics that have been a firm favourite among British gardeners for over a century.
These striking, stately plants, characterised by their towering spires, come in every imaginable colour – as well as a range of sizes – making them a real statement in any garden.
So if you are keen to introduce this voluptuous and versatile plant into your garden, this article will tell you everything you need to grow, care for, and protect your very own lavish Lupins.
This guide will cover:
- What Lupins are.
- The different types of Lupin.
- How to introduce Lupins into your garden.
- Tips for Lupin care.
- Methods of propagation.
- Common problems to keep an eye out for.
After reading you’ll have the knowledge you need to keep this fantastic, beautiful, and well-loved plant into your garden.
What are Lupins?
The name means “wolf” in Latin, because in times gone by it was believed that Lupins “wolfed” minerals and nutrients from the soil. As an origin story, we think that’s quite adorable.
And happily, it’s since been discovered that this myth bears no truth. In fact, Lupins aid soil by boosting nitrogen levels, and as a result they’re commonly referred to as “green manure” by gardeners.
The hardy, boastful Lupinus – the Latin name for the plant – is a member of the pea family, although you’d be forgiven for not guessing that when you look at the flower. It’s prolific, too: there are over 600 species worldwide, some of which grow to a whopping five feet tall.
Types of Lupins
The Royal Horticultural Society website lists 392 results for “Lupinus” in its ‘Find a Plant’ database. That’s a lot of Lupins.
And with so many varieties and hybrids to choose from, the prospect of picking the perfect Lupin for your garden can feel a little overwhelming. With this in mind, we’ve picked out a few of our favourites to get you started.
Most varieties of Lupin are perennial, although this is not universally the case. The growing tips in this guide refer to the perennial member of the Lupin family.
The “Towering Inferno” Lupin
The name really says it all! This variety grows up to 90cm tall, and boasts vigorous, flaming orange bells, making it a bold statement in any garden. Flowering in summer and with gorgeous mid-bright green leaves, this plant is sure to make your garden pop.
The “Polar Princess” Lupin
While this might sound more like a character from a Disney film than a garden plant, this variety is worth getting to know. This radiant Lupin bears pure white, delicately scented flowers that bring a royal flourish to any flower bed. Blooming late into summer this variety epitomises country cottage living.
The “Salmon Star” Lupin
Ideal for flower beds, garden borders, patio pots, and even containers, this variety blooms earlier in the season than some other varieties, from May to July. The pink-orange flowers are also very attractive to butterflies, bumblebees, and other pollinators: Another way they can bring life – quite literally – into your garden.
The “Manhattan Lights” Lupin
Another early-season variety, this showy Lupin is adorned by sweetly scented purple and yellow flowers. Gracing the garden from late spring to early summer, it’s gorgeous, decadent colours will be the envy of all your neighbours.
The “Dwarf Fairy Pink” Annual Lupin
With its short stature, this annual Lupin is perfect for garden borders. A soft pink, free-flowering variety that blooms all the way from early June to late August. It has lovely green, bushy foliage and in the evenings its delightful, sweet-pea scent will linger in the air.
Yes, you read that right!
Whilst the vast majority of Lupins are purely decorative, there are a few types that are in fact edible. Certain varieties of sweet Lupins are high in nutritional value and can be used in salads, stews, or ground into Lupin houmous.
If you feel like combining your culinary and gardening prowess, we strongly advise that you make absolutely sure the varieties you are growing are the right ones – this is especially important as all other varieties of Lupins are toxic to humans.
Introducing Lupins into your garden
Now you’ve seen just how varied and beautiful Lupins can be, you’re probably keen to get them going in your garden.
This plant really is a vital ingredient for the quintessential British garden, so thankfully they are fairly easy to grow. These hardy plants are also inexpensive and wonderfully reliable.
Here’s how to bring plant them out.
Choosing the right soil
Lupins do not grow well in clay or chalky soil. They much prefer soil that is neutral to slightly acidic. Moist, well-drained soil is recommended as the optimum, but they will tolerate most garden conditions. Water-logged soil, however, is unsuitable and will most likely lead to rot.
Where to plant
Lupins are sun worshipers, but they also enjoy cool soil. Positioning newly planted flowers where they will receive full sun in the morning and shade in the afternoon will give them the best of both worlds, and help them to survive the summer heat. Don’t plant in full shade: They won’t thrive.
This plant likes a bit of space to thrive and lends itself well to being grown in a garden border more than a narrow flower bed.
We don’t recommend planting Lupins in containers where possible, because this leads to less strong growth and can leave them more susceptible to aphids (more on these fellas later).
Growing Lupins from seeds
Lupins do not come true to seed, so if you plant seeds from a packet your lupins are likely to grow in a range of colours. We advise soaking the seed the night before planting to encourage germination.
For the best chance of survival, sow in a seed tray from February to September, and keep this in a greenhouse or on a windowsill. Keep here until they have four leaves, then plant out into the garden.
Once planted, water them once then leave them to find water on their own. They prefer rooms kept just below room temperature (15-2o degrees) and, when conditions are correct, will sprout about two weeks from planting.
Growing Lupins from cuttings
Lupins grown from cuttings will be the same as their parent plants, so if you want a particular variety this is the only way to go. If you’re taking a cutting, aim for a basal cutting (shoots of around 10cm growing near the base) taken in March or April.
This plant puts out a strong system of roots, so for the best prospects, it’s worth planting them out while they’re as young as possible. They’re quite hardy and can withstand growing outside right away.
When to plant
Although there is some leeway with when to plant (we mentioned February to September for sowing earlier), Lupins stand to do best when sown in early March, hardened off in late April and planted out in early May. If you are harvesting seeds, this should be done in late summer, around early August.
Before sowing, seeds can be soaked for 24 hours in a small amount of water. Though this isn’t necessary, it can help them to start growing more quickly.
This plant has a longer recovery time than some others, so we advise against chopping back too hard after flowering.
It is important to deadhead a well-flowering Lupin, however, as growing lots of seeds will drain energy and vitality from the parent plant.
Lupins are diligent food-finders and don’t need any special feed. In fact, adding high-nitrogen plant feed can make them grow too much, and increase the risk of attracting the aphids we mentioned earlier.
In winter, Lupin care is just a case of doing… nothing! They will die back, then new shoots will appear in spring with no intervention required.
This really is a hardy and self-sufficient plant – perhaps one of the reasons it’s become such a staple in British gardens.
Most Lupins have a life cycle of six to ten years, depending on growing conditions. So the time may very well come when you need to propagate your existing plants to ensure their continued presence in your garden. Thankfully, this type of plant can grow successfully from cuttings and, if you have a delicate hand, division.
Taking cuttings from Lupins
This is easy – just use a sharp blade to cut a stem from a mature plant, and make sure it has part of the original stem attached.
Once you’ve got the cutting, strip all the leaves except the topmost pair.
Then plant the cutting next to a bamboo skewer (or similar structure) to give it support while growing. Ideally you want this to extend a few centimetres above the top of the cutting so that it continues giving support as the Lupin grows.
Drape some plastic over the skewer, and keep it in place around the side of the pot with an elastic band to keep the heat and moisture in – this is important for budding cuttings. Take this off for about half an hour each day to allow ventilation and fresh air, then pop it back on.
Plant out when ready, ideally somewhere sunny. Lupins can be sensitive, so give it space and try to be as gentle as possible.
Division is a bit harder, and is not necessarily recommended unless you are a very experienced gardener. Because of the structure of their roots, Lupins are prone to being damaged by division.
Instead, we recommend growing a new plant from seed or cutting is advised for the best likelihood of a healthy plant.
Protecting Lupins from pests and diseases
Lupins are fairly hardy, but there are a few things to keep your eyes peeled for.
Slugs and snails
The perpetual bane of any gardener’s life, Lupins are not spared from the incessant attention of these garden pests.
A humane way to keep slugs and snails away is to create a garlic spray, and coat the leaves of your Lupin. This involves boiling up a couple of cloves of garlic into a solution, then mixing this with water. Not too complicated, and a much less violent preventative than poison!
Young plants are especially prone to getting munched, so remain especially vigilant for the first couple of years.
Giant Lupin aphids
Another hungry pest, aphids are keen to get their teeth into your Lupins. Once a colony takes hold of a plant they can cause it to wilt, they can be hard to dislodge. Gently rubbing leaves to remove them – or spraying with a stream of water that’s not too powerful – can do the trick, as can a variety of pesticides.
Personally we recommend the former.
This is what you’re looking for: Small, white aphids that swarm the stem of the plant.
While slugs and aphids are creatures, anthracnose is a fungal disease that can wreak havoc with your Lupins. It is not usually fatal but can cause a lot of damage from dieback.
Dead, brown areas, slimy orange spores, and coiled leaves are telltale symptoms of anthracnose. Removing and destroying damaged leaves, and planting your Lupins so that air can flow freely around them are two ways of controlling and preventing this condition.
This creatively named condition gives Lupins – you guessed it – brown spots. It’s caused by spores in the soil your plant is growing in, so moving the plant is the best way to prevent further damage.
Once you’ve moved it, avoid planting any other Lupins in that spot for a few years – this will give the spores a chance to die off.
And there you have it…
Lupins have been popular in British gardens for generations, and with good reason. They’re hardy, versatile, varied, and, almost universally, beautiful. They’re easy to look after, resistant to weather, and although threatened by a few diseases and pests, many plants will live to maturity with little issue.
This guide covers everything you need to introduce Lupins into your garden. We hope it was useful, and that they bring a splash of rustic colour for you and everyone who visits to enjoy.