What would Texas be like without bluebonnets? Not nearly so lovely in the spring. Each April, thousands upon thousands of acres of the Lone Star State burst forth with loyal bluebonnets to proclaim spring. Bluebonnets are our state flower, of course, and their simplistic beauty returns year after year, from border to border, to greet 12 million Texans and scores of visitors alike.

If you are one of many Texans — native or transplanted — who love bluebonnets, perhaps you would enjoy adding them to your landscape or garden. If so, now is the time to plant for next spring’s bloom.

Seed must be sown in September if blossoms are wanted next spring. Later sowings are almost useless. Late summer planting is essential because bluebonnets are actually winter annuals. They germinate in late summer and exist as a small rosette of leaves throughout the winter while developing a good root system. They then grow rapidly during the spring rainy season to produce sheets of blue flowers. Unfortunately, many seeds are wasted each year due to improper planting.

Just tossing the seed into a grassy area along the road or in a corner of the yard does little else than provide expensive food for birds.

Poor germination is also a problem. Poor germination usually occurs unless something is done to soften the hard seed coat to allow moisture to penetrate. The often-recommended practice of puncturing each seed with a needle or ice pick will work, but is rather time consuming as well as hard on hands if large quantities are being prepared. It can also damage the embryo. Scratching the seed coat between two layers of sandpaper that has been glued to two boards also will work. The seed also may be roughed by rubbing a brick over them on a concrete or hard surface.

The most often recommended method of softening the seed coat, however, is soaking the seed in warm water for a couple of days, changing the water daily. Changing the water is necessary to prevent oxygen depletion and “souring” of the seed. Excellent success also has been achieved by placing the seed in a cement mixer with coarse sand, tumble for 15 minutes and plant immediately.

For small amounts, a rock hound’s tumbler would be excellent. When you’re ready to plant, broadcast the seed on tilled soil, cover with 1/4 to 1/2 inch of soil, and firm the soil and water. Keep the soil moist until the tiny bluebonnet seedlings appear. Germination of the seed usually takes from a week to ten days.

Once established, bluebonnets seed themselves year after year, provided the seed has been allowed to mature, grass or weeds haven’t become too thick and there has been sufficient rain in July and August to soften the seed coat. If an extended drought should occur in late summer, it would be advisable to water your bluebonnet stand several times to assure good germination.

Once established, bluebonnets prefer to be left alone. Fertilization should be avoided, as bluebonnets are weak competitors to lush stands of grass. Because of the excellent spring rains, bluebonnet seed supplies should be abundant. Small packets of seed can be purchased at local nurseries and garden centers; larger quantities are available from seed dealers.

Fall Bulb Seminar

The Gregg County Master Gardeners Association will host a Fall Bulb Seminar at 6 p.m. Sept. 13 in the Gregg County Extension Office here in Longview.

For those who will be participating, please plan to park in the back-parking lot and enter the building through west end rear doors.

Lisa Egner, Gregg County master gardener, will be discussing “Fall Bulbs for Spring Blooming and Other Perennials in the Landscape.” Lisa also owns Texas Heritage Gardens in Linden.

For information about this program, call the Gregg County Extension office at (903) 236-8429 or visit gregg.agrilife.org and click on the “events” tab.

— Randy Reeves is a Texas A&M AgriLife extension agent for Gregg County. Join him on his horticultural blog at www.news-journal.com