The colorful spires of wild lupine, Lupinus perennis, enliven gardens, fields and roadsides. For many, blooming lupines signal the official start of summer.

Lupines have become so popular that craft shops and variety stores alike offer lupine seeds for sale. And some plant centers sell potted plants, another easy way to get lupines started.

Besides our wild lupine, the familiar blue kind of roadsides and fields, gardeners can choose a hybrid variety called Russell lupine. These come in a variety of colors, including white, blue, red, yellow and pink. Of the two, stands of wild lupine are longer-lived.

Lupine can tolerate cold down to Zone 3, making it a perfect fit for Maine. However, lupine doesn't tolerate high heat, which again, is not a problem in our Maine climate.

Lupine culture

Not everyone who tries to grow lupine is successful. Starting from seed requires soaking in warm water overnight and then plunging them in a cold moist stratification for four to six weeks. Even then, the outcome is not guaranteed.

Transplanting lupine is a bit easier, as long as it is done under cool, overcast conditions, something that Maine had in abundance this spring. If you are going to transplant or set out potted plants, choose the more colorful Russell lupine, since the wild variety only comes in shades of blue.

Wild lupine gives people problems as well, especially when starting from seed. But it needn’t be that way. Getting wild lupine started on your property is as simple as walking about and strewing ripe seed. Here’s what to do.

Wait until the flowers have faded and the plant has set seeds in seedpods. Then go to a thick stand of wild lupine and with permission, if on private property, pick as many seedpods as you can. You can also just strip the pods of seeds in the field, and that’s probably the simplest way of all.

Take more seeds than you think you will need, because it is numbers that count here. Sure, a few seeds scattered here and there may come to fruition, but probably not. So with a big bag full of seeds, walk around where you would like lupine to grow and scatter your seed. That’s all there is to it. Next year you should see seedlings here and there and the second year these will bloom. After that, your lupine will take care of itself.

In fact, after lupine becomes firmly established, it often acts like a weed, cropping up in the most unexpected places, including on lawns.

Lupine placement

Russell lupine, a hybrid, deserves a place in the perennial border. It doesn't spread as rampantly as wild lupine, so don’t worry about it taking over your bed. Russell hybrids come in varieties that range in height from 24 to 36 inches, making it a candidate for the middle of the border. Also site Russell hybrids around flowering shrubs as accents.

Wild lupine is a totally different story. If you have a meadow, scatter seeds there to transform it into a wildflower meadow. Or plant them along wood edges where they get at least a half-day of sun. And if you have road frontage, a swath of blooming wild lupine makes a pleasing sight.

Lupine uses

Lupine makes an attractive cut-flower arrangement. It’s best to use it in a standalone display. If using Russell hybrids, don’t cut the main flower spire, since that can weaken the plant. Instead, just take side shoots, perhaps one from each plant.

In the case of wild lupine, it doesn’t make much difference if you cut the entire plant, since these self-seed so readily. And a vase filled with wild lupine makes a fine sight, indeed.

Some wild lupine, notably those growing on Mt. Desert Island, have become controversial, since they spread so rapidly and thickly, thereby shading out other plants. But as far as being officially invasive, only one lupine has earned that title from the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, and that is western lupine, Lupinus polyphyllus.

This lupine is native to the west, but has become naturalized in the east. The plant has denser flower spires than wild lupine and comes in more colors, making it a desirable plant, or it would be if it weren’t on the invasive plant species list.

So stick to wild lupine and Russell hybrids and you’ll be fine. Lupine stands as a must-have addition to any garden or property. And as per the wild type, once established, you’ll never need to deal with them again.