How to grow lupines

lupines in gravel
Lupines like acidic soil and good drainage, so heavy clay soil just won’t do. These are happily growing in hard-packed gravel.

Lupines are a perennial I always notice and admire, but I’ve had no luck growing them in my own garden. They grow abundantly on the east coast and in other places (some may say too abundantly), but they do have a few “special requests.” I decided to ask a friend of mine who has grown lupines from seed for years in her Ontario garden for a few tips.

1) Lupines like acidic soil. Sphagnum peat moss, conifer needles, oak leaves, coffee grounds and ground sulphur will lower the pH of soil to some degree and help make it more acidic. However, I know gardeners in Ontario who have had great success growing lupines without ever purposefully lowering the pH of their soil (though they do add compost, which probably helps).

2) Lupines don’t like to be transplanted or have their roots disturbed. When growing  from seed, try biodegradable pots, like the ones made from peat, that can be planted with the seedlings inside, or try a tactic that my friend uses. She sows her lupine seeds in big, six- to eight-inch (15- to 20-cm) deep trays. When they’re ready to transplant, she scoops under the seedling to avoid disturbing the soil and plants them quickly in a hole that has been thoroughly soaked and has sand and/or gravel in the bottom. Which leads me to the next important tip….

lupines going to seed
When lupines finish blooming, their seed pods turn green. Later in the year, the pods eventually turn brown and dry, and the seed can be harvested. The seed pods give you a clue that lupines are part of the legume (or pea) family.

3) Lupines need good drainage. Try planting them on a high site so water drains away and doesn’t sit around their roots, or add gravel to the bottom of the planting hole. They won’t survive in heavy clay soil that retains water, but they can grow in hard-packed gravel. When starting seed, some people use sand as their growing medium, or you can try a thick layer of vermiculite in the bottom of the pots or trays.

4) Lupines send out a long taproot, anchoring itself to where it’s planted. When a seed is started in a pot, the first thing it will do after sprouting is send a taproot out the drainage hole and form a knot, which you can’t disturb without potentially killing the plant. You can try starting seeds in deep trays with no drainage holes and lots of vermiculite and gravel to improve drainage around the roots, or try cutting the container off from the taproot before planting.

5) Tip #4 means that growing lupines in containers can be tricky. However, I like to tell myself that you can grow just about anything in a pot if you overwinter it properly, and after seeing it done successfully in the past, I placed my lupine in a deep pot this year, with lots of drainage.

6) Lupines will self-seed, and you can divide them in the spring, but not in the fall. If you wish to save the seeds to sow at another time, wait for the green seed pods to turn brown and dry out. You can then pick the pods and save the seeds within. If you wait too long, though, the pods will explode and release the seeds themselves.




  1. olivera davidoff says

    One important point that your article did not include, if you are trying to start growing this colourful perennial from seed, Lupines have tough outer coatings. This makes them take awhile to sprout. Before planting scratch the seed lightly with a pin or your fingernail. You can also soak the seeds in hot water for an hour or two before planting. This will make the seed quicker to germinate.

    Gardeners can ready their trowels midsummer and harvest new seeds and begin the process all over again, possibly in a new bed or location in the garden. The Lupine is easy to grow and surprisingly it is an inexpensive way of extending your collection.

  2. Kat Fox says

    Thanks Olivera, you’re absolutely right that you should soak or nick lupine seeds before planting. Soaking them in tepid water overnight before planting has been suggested to me as a good option, as well. There are quite a few seeds that benefit from soaking before planting, in order to speed up the germination process. -Kat

    • Stephen Bolcso says

      Is is still possible to plant lupines now (end of June) or should it wait till the fall or next spring?

      • Kat Fox says

        Hi Stephen. It’s generally best to plant in the spring and fall because of the cooler temperatures and increased rainfall, but if you’re going to move a plant in the heat of summer try to pick an overcast day, and make sure to monitor soil moisture. (This is the case for drought-tolerant plants, too.) It takes a year for most plants to get established. Another thing to consider with lupines is their taproots, which can really anchor them in the ground. You’ll probably have the best luck transplanting young lupines. -Kat

  3. Luana Boulanger says

    I dig up and transplant mature lupines all the time and most of the time they survive and flourish. I live north of Montreal in Zone 3b. There were no lupines on or near my property so I dug some up from the wild about 15 km away and now I have hundreds of them (luckily I have a lot of space). Right now I am trying to create an all white lupine bed and the only problem I have (a big problem!) is the muskrat or beaver who has eaten almost the whole bed!

    • Kat Fox says

      Luana, an all-white lupine bed sounds beautiful! I hope that muskrat or beaver doesn’t ruin all your fun. Lupines must be tasty. -Kat

  4. H K says

    Hi Kat – I have just returned from Iceland where Lupines are everywhere. They help to break down the lava and deposit organic material so other plants can grow. A friend in Iceland has offered to send me some seeds from her garden. She says they are Alaskan Lupines. Is it ok to plant them here? I live in Northern Ontario.

  5. Hope says

    I grow many lupins of many colours. However, they are on a hill, good drainage, and I am on limestone in Prince Edward County. They are beautiful.


  6. Pete Molignano says

    I find germination of lupines very easy. I place seeds in a cup of room temperature water for about 24 hours, then plant them in 3″ seed starter cells with coir (coconut shell) as the medium.
    Coir is great to grow seedlings because it retains water better than peat moss and is very spongy. I just planted in July NY 46 seeds in coir and 5 days later I have 36 sprouted.
    I saved all my seeds this year and have about 2,000. I want to germinate about 500 this week and if they winter outdoors under mulch to keep warm maybe I will be successful transplanting them next Spring into 5″ pots to sell at Nurseries. I need to know if planting them now in the ground will create a much deeper tap root than in a seedling pot, then transplanting from ground to large pot could be risky. Any thoughts on this out there?

    • Beckie Fox says

      Hello, Jolie: Yes, a light sanding, nicking or soaking of the seed will hasten germination. Lupins have a tough seed coat, and this scarification helps.

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