Whether you know them as False Campanula, Ladybells, or even by their Latin name of Adenophora, these lovely flowering plants make a charming addition to any garden. Elegant, dainty, and exceptionally easy to grow, Ladybells come in a variety of species, all of which boast their own unique attractions. Although the plant is low maintenance, applying a few little hints and tips of the trade can help ensure the healthiest and most attractive display. Here’s everything you need to know about how to care for Ladybells, from planting to propagating.
What are Ladybells?
Ladybells is the common name for Adenophora, a family of plants in the family Campanulaceae. There are over 60 species in the genus, most of which hail from eastern Asia. A small number are also native to Europe. The plants, which are classified as a perennial flowering herb, are characterized by thick, fleshy roots, an erect stem, and delicate, bell-shaped pendulous flowers. In most species, the blooms are blue, although white blooming varieties are also available. The most common species include Lilyleaf Ladybells and purple Ladybells, both of which grow to around 18-24 inches, and common Ladybells, which can grow up to 36 inches. Hardier varieties can be grown in USDA zones 3 through 7, while less robust varieties fare better in zones 7 to 9. Despite the vast number of species in the family, the vast majority are easy to care for and low maintenance, making them a great option for both expert gardeners and newbies alike.
How to Care for a Ladybell Plant
Ladybells aren’t picky plants as a rule, but like all plants, they have certain preferences when it comes to light, planting conditions, and ongoing care. To get the most out of your Ladybell plant, these are the general rules to remember.
Choose the Right Species
Ladybells come in over 60 different varieties, some of which tolerate certain conditions better than others. When you choose your Ladybell, be sure to pick a plant that’s suitable for your climate. The two most widely available species – common Ladybells, which are characterized by dark blue, hanging flowers, alternate leaves, and an impressive two- three-foot stature, and Lilyleaf Ladybells, which are easily recognized by their pale blue or white hanging flowers, are both hardy enough to suit USDA growing zones 3 through 7.
Some plants thrive just as well in containers as in the ground. Ladybells aren’t that kind of plant. If you want an easy-to-contain plant to brighten up your terrace or patio, you’ll need to look elsewhere. When it comes to planting, gardenershq.com recommends sowing the plants on the soil surface, with a spacing of 1 to 2 feet between each. Sowing is best done before the last frost in early spring or in early autumn. If you are starting the plants off indoors, start the seeds around 8-10 weeks before you intend to move them outdoors to allow them sufficient time to germinate. Once planted, Ladybells don’t like to be moved.
Pick a Sunny Spot
When it comes to light, Ladybells like plenty. To ensure your plant thrives, plant them in a spot that receives partial to full sun, particularly in the morning. Keep an eye on them during particularly sunny summer days – if they start to flag in the afternoon heat, a drop of water should set them right.
Get the Soil Right
Ladybells don’t particularly care whether they’re planted in acidic soil, alkaline soil, or anything in between, which makes them a great choice of plant for numerous conditions. The one thing to bear in mind is that while they aren’t concerned with pH levels, they can get a little picky about drainage. Ideally, they like a moist soil but not a soggy one, making good drainage a must. As The Spruce notes, they also tend to fare better in soils rich in organic material. If you aren’t getting the kind of blooms you were expecting, avoid using mulches that contain dyes or herbicides and add some nutrient-rich compost instead.
Don’t Drown Them
Ladybells enjoy moist soils with a consistent level of moisture throughout the year. What they don’t like is soggy feet, so avoid overwatering them. The occasional watering coupled with what they get from rainfall should be enough most of the time, but keep a careful eye on them during droughts to ensure they don’t dry out.
Keep Them Well Fed
Strictly speaking, applying fertilizer to Ladybells is optional, but considering how much they enjoy a rich soil, it’s wise to treat them to a dry, time-release fertilizer during their growing season in the spring. If you live in a region that experiences cold winters, a layer of organic mulch applied in autumn won’t go amiss either.
Deadhead to Stop the Spread
Most species of Ladybells aren’t invasive, but they can be aggressive. As gardeningknowhow.com recommends, the best way to keep their seeds from spreading around the garden is with regular deadheading. Do this before the plant goes to seed after blooming. Even if you love Ladybells enough not to care if they take over your entire garden, deadheading is still recommended as a way to encourage better blooms. It’s also recommended to cut the plants near the base in either fall or spring. Although the roots are too slow-growing for it to present much of a problem, be aware that the plant may also start to spread by sending out runners.
Watch Out for Slugs
Despite their elegant, delicate appearance, Ladybells are surprisingly robust plants with excellent resistance to disease. Unfortunately, they aren’t quite so resistant to slugs, so keep an eye out for any critters that try to make a meal of them.
How to Propagate Ladybells
As Ladybells don’t like to be transposed due to their fleshy roots, dividing root clumps as a means of propagation is best avoided. Thankfully, propagating them from seed or cuttings is a fairly straightforward and easy process, with cold stratification recommended in particular. Fall and spring are best for propagating from seed, while stem cuttings are best taken from mature, well-established plants in late spring.