Lupins are a quintessential cottage garden plant. Its name originates from the Latin word “lupus” which means “wolf” or “destroyer” and refers to the old belief that Lupins exhausts nutrients and ravages land like a wolf.
Despite their name, Lupins are actually able to improve the quality of the soil by making their own nitrogen enabling them to grow in poor soils.
Lupins should ideally be planted in soil that is moist but well-drained, with a pH level that is acid, chalky or neutral.
Planting in full sun or dappled shade in the middle or back of a border is the ideal position for Lupins. Like many other tall perennials Lupins benefit from a sheltered position.
Avoid planting them in containers they will be far more successful planted in the garden. Lupins planted in pots often have weak growth which leaves them open to attack from aphids.
When purchasing Lupins try to buy younger plants as they tend to establish better than more larger and mature specimens.
Dig a planting hole in well-drained soil, add perlite if you need to improve the drainage, plant and firm in place.
Water and provide a support if planting in the summer months.
Growing Lupins From Seed
Lupins do not come true to type when grown from seed, it is very likely they will be a mixture of colours.
They can be divided in spring, but dividing them can be tricky as they have a strong central taproot.
Lupins self-seed in the garden, so lifting them with a trowel and potting them on is a great way of producing new plants.
The easiest way to propagate Lupins is by taking basal cuttings in the spring.
New spring shoots are a temptation for slugs and snails, so be on the lookout or your Lupins might get munched.
Their main enemy is the Lupin aphid, which is grey and can be spotted on plants between April and September. Cut off badly infested flower spikes and spray with chemicals.
If you deadhead Lupins once their flowers are spent you will be rewarded with another flourish of blooms.
Cut back your Lupins in the autumn right back to ground level after collecting their seeds.
Lupins are not regarded as a long-lived plant, expect to replace them every five to six years.
Lupins that are planted in the ground do not need feeding, they have nitrogen-fixing nodules on their roots which capture all the nitrogen they require from the air.
Container grown Lupins require a high potash feed of tomato food. Do not use farmyard manure as it will rot the crowns.
Lupin Facts & Tips
Lupins offer height and colour to the middle of a border in May and June.
Their flowers are borne on impressive spires and have a pea flower style.
They have soft green foliage and is coated in fine silver hairs.
Leaf-blades consist of 5 to 28 narrow, pointed leaflets.
Lupins produce blue, purple, red, yellow, white or two-coloured flowers.
Most Lupins can reach a height of 1 to 5 feet.
They are a hardy perennial that is ideal for cutting and although not scented they make a real statement in or outdoors.
Bees love them.
Survival of Karner blue butterfly in the wild depends on the blue Lupin. It lays eggs on it to overwinter. Caterpillars hatch during the spring and use the leaves as a major source of food. It grows and transforms into a pupa. Butterfly emerges from the pupa, ready to start the cycle all over again.
Lupins are often planted near the squash, cucumber and broccoli to improve the quality of the soil and facilitate the growth of these plants.
Ancient Romans and Egyptians cultivated Lupins as a source of food.
The seeds of Lupins are still popular and used as an ingredient of various sweet and savoury dishes around the world.
They are a rich source of proteins, antioxidants and dietary fibres. Seed can be consumed as a bean or it can be ground into flour. Pickled Lupin seeds are popular in the North and South America.
The seeds contain alkaloids (a group of chemicals) that can induce intoxication of people. It needs to be soaked in the water and thermally processed before consumption.
White, yellow and blue lupines are cultivated as a source of food for the cattle and poultry around the world.