The lisianthus — also called the Texas bluebell — is native in the southern U.S., as well as Mexico and northern South America. They grow as wildflowers in many grassland areas. The flowers come in shades of purple, pink, and white, as well as blue. In most of the U.S., people start this annual plant indoors during the winter, but in the warmest regions, seeds can be sown directly into the ground in the fall.
You can grow lisianthus from seed, but most people prefer the ease and reliability of purchasing them as bedding plants. Transplant them as soon as possible — if allowed to remain in the small pots that bedding plants are packaged in, lisianthus can quickly become root-bound. Even planted in ideal conditions, a lisianthus that has been root-bound will often remain stunted and weak. In warm climates, the plants can go into the ground in March. In colder areas, wait until the danger of frost has passed. Plant them 6 to 8 inches apart in well-drained soil.
The lisianthus prefers soil that is mildly alkaline and rich in organic matter. Mixing the soil with sand allows the plants' roots to reach deep into the ground. On the other hand, planting in heavy clay results in weak plants that struggle to bloom. After planting, applying mulch will help keep weeds from competing and protect the lisianthus' roots from excessive heat.
Lisianthus prefers full sun — the more, the better. Eight to ten hours of direct sunlight will provide this plant with the energy needed for its show-stopping blooms. Although you may need to hold off planting the lisianthus until late spring, it is hardy as far north as zone 3. It also grows as deep in the south as zone 8.
This plant is a great choice for areas that don't receive much rain. It does well if watered when planted, and then occasionally throughout the season if the weather is unusually dry. It is more likely to fall victim to overwatering than underwatering. When watering, direct the water flow towards the roots. Water splashed onto the blooms can cause them to develop unsightly spots.
The lisianthus is vulnerable to aphids, thrips, leaf miners, and whiteflies. These pests are easy to treat with an insecticide spray. If you purchase lisianthus bedding plants, they could also come home with fungus gnats. These are not a problem as adults, but beneath the soil, the larvae may be chewing away at the plant's roots. If you suspect this affliction, mix up a solution of dish soap and water and spray the soil. Repeat the process after a few days to kill all the larvae. Otherwise, be cautious about overwatering, as fungus gnats are attracted to damp soil.
A variety of diseases attack lisianthus. Fusarium is a fungus that can cause stem and root rot. The plant will wilt, turn yellow, and often die. The fungus is found in soil, and it can be brought in through infected transplants and even spread through shared gardening tools.
Botrytis is a fungus that feeds on flowers and is a problem for not only lisianthus but other plants with showy flowers, such as roses and gerberas. It is spread through the air. Once it lands on a plant, it enters the flower, destroying the bloom from the inside.
Growing the lisianthus is not for anyone unwilling to spend much time in the garden. Because it is slow-growing and its leaves stay close to the ground, weeds can have a devastating effect. Check your plants frequently, because creeping weeds like crabgrass can smother them. Mulch helps keep weed growth down, but nothing replaces visual review of the garden and plucking out any small weeds before they have a chance to spread.
If you have several of the flowers planted closely together, they can support each other as they grow. However, the blooms are very top-heavy. If you notice any of them drooping, provide stakes for support.
Lisianthus is grown from seed. Most people purchase them as bedding plants because seed propagation can be a challenge. If they are exposed to temperatures above 75 degrees, they will enter a resting stage, which can last months. Even in the best of conditions, it takes around 20 weeks for seeds to grow into transplant-ready seedlings. Count backward from your area's frost-free date to determine when to plant.
Once planted, the seeds will need 16 hours of light daily, in the form of a grow or fluorescent light. Maintain a consistent temperature between 70 and 75 degrees. Once seedlings emerge, lower the heat to 65 degrees overnight.
Water from the bottom and make sure there is air circulating around the plants to protect them from disease. Once they are about 4 inches tall, move them outside during the day. This allows them to become accustomed to outdoor conditions before planting.
The greatest benefit of lisianthus is its beauty. The showy flowers are a popular addition to cut flower arrangements. Growing your own allows you to enjoy them in both your yard and your home. If you want to bring some flowers inside, cut the stems after at least two blooms are open. As long as you keep them in water, the blooms can remain in good shape inside for two weeks.
There are many varieties of lisianthus, and deciding what to plant often comes down to size and flower type. Some varieties will tower over your head, and others grow as compact dwarfs, with many choices in between. The flowers are available in a range of colors, with single or double bloom displays. Popular cultivars include Blue Picotee, which has purple edging around white petals and matures to around 2 feet. Balboa White has double flowers on plants that mature to around 3 feet. An eye-catching compact variety is Lisa Pink, with single blossoms on a plant that matures to around 8 inches.