Blue flowers are unique and add a dash of unusual beauty to your garden, but you haven’t seen a genuinely blue flower until you’ve laid eyes on stunning desert bluebells.
True to their name, these plants have bright blue flowers that sometimes bloom in large groups, producing a breathtaking landscape.
While desert bluebells have a class 4 toxicity, they’re not highly toxic. This rating means that their juice, thorns, or sap can cause skin irritation or rashes. Therefore, you must be careful and wear gloves when handling these beautiful flowers.
Desert bluebells are showy flowers that are annual plants, but despite their beauty, they aren’t too fussy about their living conditions. With this in mind, let’s explore everything you need to know about desert bluebells and how to look after them. We’ll look at their history and origin, as well as provide tips on how to grow them.
Known scientifically as Phacelia campanularia, desert bluebells are native to the desert and rocky regions in southeastern California. The word “Phacelia” originates from the Greek word “Phakelos,” meaning “cluster.” This refers to the bunches of flowers that appear on the plant.
When desert bluebells bloom in their native land, their stunning flowers seem to appear overnight after refreshing spring rains. In California’s Mohave Desert, sometimes you’ll be able to see a blanket of these inky-blue flowers.
Desert bluebells are part of the Boraginaceae family, which includes approximately 2,000 species of trees, herbs, and shrubs that appear all over the world. This plant is sometimes known by other names, such as desert bells and California bluebells.
This desert plant performs well in dry conditions and doesn’t even need a lot of space. It can grow in small areas of the garden, such as between other plants or even your pavers. This makes it ideal for growing near flowerbeds and along pathways in your garden as it’s sure to add visual appeal.
Desert bluebells grow best in U.S. hardiness Zones 9 (examples include Florida, California, and Georgia) and 10 (examples include southern Florida, southern California, and Hawaii). However, they are quite adaptable and can grow in other hardiness zones, provided you give them the correct care. Luckily, this isn’t too complicated as desert bluebells don’t require much to survive and thrive.
How and Where to Grow
Desert bluebells should be placed in sunny areas of the garden as they crave lots of suns because they originate from the desert.
If you’d prefer to grow these plants indoors, they thrive in containers. However, you might want to keep them outdoors to ensure that they get enough sunshine. Doing this will give you the additional benefit of seeing the bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies they attract to your garden.
Desert bluebells can grow to a height of 24 inches and a width of 18 inches. Their bell-shaped flowers have corollas—the part of the flower that consists of fused or separate petals—that are between 25 and 30 mm in size.
Their leaves are long and about ¾–3 inches in size, with the upper leaves of the plant being smaller in size than the lower ones. The bright blue flowers have protruding stamens that have white anthers on them, providing their appearance with a beautiful contrast.
When growing these plants, space them about eight or so inches apart from each other—they don’t fare well when overcrowded.
Make sure your desert bluebells have sandy or coarse soil that’s well-draining. Sandy soils can be defined as light, dry, and warm, while coarse soil is high in sand content.
The plant’s soil pH should be kept between 5.5 and 8, as this plant does well in slightly acidic and alkaline soils. This makes it quite versatile for a variety of gardens.
Light, Water, and Fertilization
This desert plant requires full sun conditions. Aim to give the plant more than six hours of sunshine every day. If the plant is given too much shade, it will end up with stunted growth and you’ll see fewer flowers bloom on it, which will be disappointing.
If you don’t get a lot of light in your region, you can supplement natural light with artificial growing lights. These will ensure your desert bluebells get enough light to grow and be healthy.
When it comes to watering your desert bluebells, they’re extremely tolerant of dry, drought conditions. Therefore, you don’t need to water them too much. You should only water them if there’s no rainfall in your area. When watering your plant, make sure you give it a thorough watering. This is more important than giving them a light watering, as it will help the plant to lengthen its flowering season.
Desert bluebells are low-maintenance and don’t require much care. When it comes to fertilizer, they don’t require any at all! These plants are quite self-sufficient in this regard. Avoiding fertilizer is better for the plant, as it can easily be harmed by getting too many nutrients. This will damage the plant or slow down its flowering process.
When growing desert bluebells from seeds, you should sow them late in the fall so that they’ll flower in the spring. Desert bluebells flower for one month.
Press the plant’s seeds gently into the soil surface and give them lots of light so that they’ll germinate. If you choose to plant the seeds during spring, mix them with moist sand and put them in the fridge for a month before planting them. You should also keep the soil moist until the seeds germinate.
Ideal germination temperatures are between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s therefore, best to start the plants outdoors to give them enough warmth.
When collecting seeds from the plant to sow in the garden, wait for the pods to dry on the plant and then open them to collect its seeds. Once your plants are established, they will self-propagate.
Since this plant grows to approximately 24 inches in height, it can be planted in large containers indoors. However, make sure that you place the container in an area of the home that gets bright light for many hours of the day, otherwise, it will struggle to grow. You should place your desert bluebells less than one foot away from a south-facing window so that you can increase how much light it gets.
Ensure that your desert bluebells’ pot is well-draining so that it doesn’t sit in soggy soil. You can improve the pot’s drainage by adding perlite to it. Perlite is a porous material that gets produced during the heating of volcanic silicate rock, and it works effectively to improve drainage, as well as the aeration of the soil.
When choosing the best potting soil, make sure it’s rich in organic matter. Read our guide and learn about the best potting soil to find out more about this.
If you’re keeping your desert bluebells in containers or pots, make sure you either repot them about once a year or when your plant has doubled in size, depending on which one comes first. This will ensure that the plants always have enough room to grow.
Keep an eye on your desert bluebells for any signs that they’re not getting enough sun, such as if the plant is drooping or if it’s not growing quickly. If you see the plant displaying such signs, move them into a sunnier area.
Desert bluebells tolerate hot conditions as well as frost. At the end of the growing season, pull out any dying plants so new ones can grow.
While these plants are low-maintenance, if you live in a region that’s very dry and doesn’t get any rainfall, you’ll have to water your desert bluebells a bit more so that you mimic rainfall. Aim to give the plant minimal water, such as half a cup of water per week, as the plant likes dry soil.
When planting your desert bluebells in the garden, consider planting them with companion plants to create a beautiful wildlife garden. Great companion plants include Chia, Jojoba, Brittlebrush, and Desert Sand Verbena.
When it comes to diseases, not many afflict desert bluebells. This plant is resistant to disease. However, if you give the plant too much water, this can promote diseases such as root rot.
Root rot can occur from the plant being watered so much that it starts to damage the roots, or it can be caused by a fungus that arises from too much water in the soil. Root rot can be identified in the plant by wilting and yellow leaves. The roots themselves can feel soft and mushy to the touch.
If your desert bluebells are showing signs of root rot, let the soil dry out completely and remove any damaged roots.
Desert bluebells generally don’t attract pests. However, they can sometimes be attacked by snails and slugs. These leave holes in the leaves, flowers, and stems of plants. You’re likely to notice the holes in spring when the plants are producing shoots.
To remove these pests from your garden, you should search for slugs and snails at night as this is when they’re most active. Grab a flashlight to help you see them and pick them up before putting them in a bucket. Relocate the slugs and snails to a different area of the garden or put them in your compost heap.
You can also keep snails and slugs out of your garden by installing a three-inch wide barrier—made of copper foil—on the sides of the containers or raised garden beds where you’ve planted your desert bluebells. This will keep slugs and snails at bay because they’re not capable of passing it. Their slime and stomach muscles will create an electrical charge on the copper.
If you want to grow desert bluebells in your garden, you might be worried that they’re high-maintenance because they crave desert-like conditions.
However, as long as they’re given full-sun conditions, they’re quite easy to maintain and grow. They’ll totally transform your wildflower garden with their stunning deep blue flowers.