How to Grow Mertensia Plants

Guide to Growing Bluebells, Chiming Bells, Oysterleaf, Virginia Cowslip, Languid Ladies, and Northern Shorewort.

Mertensia are hardy perennials that range from 20 to 90 cm (8 to 36 inches) in height.

They have blueish green leaves and purplish bell shaped flowers that bloom from the end of spring until the start of summer.

These woodland plants can be grown in mass or smaller species are ideal for use in rock gardens.

Some common names for Mertensia include Chiming bells, Virginia Bluebells, Mountain Bluebell, Oysterleaf and Languid ladies.

Mertensia virginica
Mertensia virginica (Virginia Bluebells) photograph by wackybadger.

Mertensia oblongifolia (Oblong-leaf bluebells) picture by Matt Lavin.

Mertensia Growing and Care Guide

  • Common Names: Bluebell, Chiming Bells, Mountain Bluebell, Oysterleaf, Virginia Cowslip, Virginia Bluebells, Languid Ladies, Northern Shorewort.
  • Life Cycle: Hardy perennial.
  • Height: 8 to 36 inches (20 to 90 cm).
  • Native: Northern America, Europe, and Asia.
  • Growing Region: Zones 3 to 9.

  • Flowers: Late spring through to early summer.
  • Flower Details: Purple, pink. Small. Clustered. Trumpets.
  • Foliage: Blue-green. Clump-forming.

  • Plant Outside: Cover seed. Summer using fresh seed. Germination time: one to two months. Nursery purchased plants can be transplanted outdoors in spring or autumn. Spacing 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 cm).
  • Sow Inside: No.

  • Requirements and care: Full or partial shade. Woodland type soil. Soil pH close to 7.0. Rich soil, moist soil. Regular watering in the spring; occasional watering when blooming; do not water when dormant. Mulch. Once established do not disturb. Propagate: by self-seeding or by dividing once flowering has finished.
  • Family: Boraginaceae.
  • Closely Related Species: Borage and Forget-me-not.
  • Miscellaneous: May take more than three years for seed grown plants to flower.

How to Grow Virginia Bluebells

It is best to grow Virginia bluebells and other Mertensia outdoors from seed. They should be sown from freshly available seed in the summer.

The seed should be sown into flats and placed in a fully shaded area of the garden beneath glass.

Germination should take about two months. Allow the young Virginia bluebell seedlings to grow for about a year. Then transplant into the garden, in either autumn or summer.

They should be spaced at about 25 cm (10 inches) apart and grown in shady or partially shaded areas.

It is best to grow them in a woodland type soil that is very fertile, moist and a pH close to 7 (neutral pH). It will take at least three years for the Mertensia plants to bloom.

Caring for Mertensia Plants in your Garden

As Virginia bluebells are woodland plants it is best to keep the roots cool by mulching.

Mertensia plants should be watered regularly during the spring to keep the soil moist.

Once the plants are in bloom water occasionally.

Following the end of the growing season, Mertensia will undergo senescence and decay completely, during this process they do not require watering.

If you require more Mertensia plants then they can be propagated by dividing the plants following flowering, but before the plants begin to undergo senescence.

Common Questions

How many members does the Mertensia genus contain?

The Mertensia genus consists of about 50 species, notable among them are the Virginia bluebells.

Do Mertensia members make a good garden or landscaping plant?

Yes, many species of Mertensia, such as Virginia bluebells, are highly prized for their beautiful spring blooms and make great additions to woodland or shade gardens.

Which Mertensia species are most frequently grown by gardeners?

Mertensia virginica or Virginia Bluebells, is the most frequently grown species due to its lovely blue flowers in spring.

Are Mertensia plants fragrant?

While Mertensia plants have attractive flowers, they're not typically noted for fragrance.

What is the perfect location to grow Mertensia?

Mertensia species prefer partial shade and rich, moist, well-drained soil. They're perfect for a woodland garden or shaded border.

Is Mertensia invasive in the USA, if so in which states?

Currently, Mertensia species are not listed as invasive in the USA. They're native to North America and parts of Asia.

How do I remove Mertensia plants from my garden?

To remove Mertensia, you should pull out the entire plant, including the roots, to prevent it from regrowing.


Mertensia is a genus in the Boraginaceae family, including species like Virginia bluebells. The genus is recognized for its beautiful bell-shaped flowers that create a sea of color in the garden.

For optimal growth, plant Mertensia in a location with partial to full shade and rich, well-drained soil. They thrive when planted in early spring. Regular watering is necessary, especially in dry conditions, but they are generally low-maintenance plants.

I hope that you enjoyed this guide on how to grow Mertensia plants. You may also enjoy the following Gardener's HQ growing guides: How to grow Golden Drop, Lotus plant, and Echium plants.