Thursday, May 24, 2012

a little blue flax goes a long way

Blue flax (Linum lewisii) has a place in our garden.  Mixed in with a variety of other plants in our front yard prairie it plays a nice supporting role (in the photo above you can see the blue flowers in the background).  However, it does get a bad name since it can be aggressive, and a lot of people think of it as weedy and unwanted.  All too often around here a "native plant garden" is a patch of blue flax and maybe a big basin sage (Artemisia tridentata).   Indeed, if left unchecked, it would probably dominate our yard, but with some simple care, I like it in the garden.  It is an easy (perhaps too easy) plant to grow, it is not palatable to deer, extremely drought tolerant,  and the electric blue flowers appear all spring and summer after a rain.

So, because of the potential to dominate I implemented a strict Four-Point Blue Flax Management Plan at our house.

  1. Out with the old
    • The young plants seem the most at home and the right scale for the garden, so annually, I remove the old plants, or those older than about two years.  In the wild, the ones I've seen around here are all pretty small, too.
  2. Grow it with grass
    • Blue flax looks really good mixed in with taller grasses, like bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata).  It is the right scale and the color really stands out.  
  3. Keep it out of ground covers
    • Although it looks good with tall grasses, blue flax will tend to look weedy around small stature plants, and ground covers like rosy pussytoes (Antennaria rosea).  
  4. Don't let it dominate the view
    • Finally, if it is near anything more interesting which is probably anything except bluebunch wheatgrass, I pull it out.  

Fortunately my friend Kathy from my favorite wildflower nursery, Blackfoot Native Plants, in Potomac, Montana, eagerly takes the ones I pull (to sell at her nursery).  Below is a bucket of freshly managed blue flax ready for pick-up.

So, a little flax goes a long way, and in our yard, it often goes 20 miles to Potomac.


  1. I might add - it's a great plant to deadhead for a second round of those electric blue blooms.

  2. I couldn't agree more. I used to kind of hate this plant but then I noticed that if I cut it down during the summer after it finished blooming that the foliage came back and looked rather nice. And I do like the nice blue blossoms.

  3. I love my blue flax and it usually blooms before anything else in my garden. One of the prettiest sights I've seen on the road is the abundant blue flax in the ditches between the highway down I15 thru Idaho.