Each region is rated on a scale of 1-5. Obviously, with limited time one can only cover so much of any given area, and all opinions regarding bloom quality are subjective. The ratings are assigned as follows:
- 1 - Bad
- 2 - Could have been better
- 3 - Good
- 4 - Great
- 5 - Best I've ever seen
As expected, the 2023 bluebonnet season in the Big Bend was another bust, although, I would say I saw more blooms this year than I did in 2022. Roadside bluebonnets made up the vast majority of the blooms that I saw, with the best stretch being between Presidio to Redford on FM 170 (River Road). TX 118 north of Study Butte also had a few short stretches of bluebonnets. Washes between Castolon and Santa Elena Canyon contained a few blooms, but otherwise they were few and far between.
Rating: 1 - Maybe better than the previous two years but still a bad year.
On March 18th I drove through parts of Guadalupe, Wilson, and Gonzales Counties and for the most part my preseason predictions were correct. While this was a pretty good year for wildflowers other than bluebonnets, it was another below average year for bluebonnets. I found one dense field of bluebonnets in Wilson County, but it was away from the road and inaccessible. Other fields in Wilson County that have had bluebonnets in years past were sparse at best with poorly developed blooms. Guadalupe County had some nice mixes of wildflowers concentrated mostly south and east of Seguin, but again, I was not able to find any really nice fields of bluebonnets. They were mostly in the same condition as the ones I saw in Wilson County. Same thing in the parts of Gonzales County that I drove. I did not drive Atascosa County, however, someone whose opinion I trust did and confirmed what I had suspected: it was devoid of wildflowers. By far the best displays of bluebonnets I saw on this day were located along SH130 from Lockhart to North Austin. The flowers were very dense for extended stretches of this road. I did not return again after March 18th.
Rating: 2 - This is a rating for bluebonnets only, not wildflowers in general. No dense, well-developed displays of bluebonnets were located, and reports from other regions corroborated what I saw. The large majority of fields were sparsely populated, if at all. It was better than 2020 and 2022, but not as good as 2021.
Texas Hill Country
I spent three days driving in the Hill Country this year. As I had thought, it was the best of the three regions that I forecasted. I drove through parts of Llano, Mason, San Saba, Burnet, Blanco, Gillespie, and Lampasas Counties. The best of those areas in my opinion were the southeastern quarter of Llano County and Gillespie and Blanco Counties where they join it in that quadrant. I had expected northern Llano and southern San Saba Counties to be better than they ended up being. Mason County was about like I thought it would be, which is to say, there were bluebonnets to be found but not a large amount and not very many of them were properly developed. Northern Llano and southern San Saba Counties simply didn't have the volume of bluebonnets that I expected to see. The best parts of Llano County contained full fields of blooms, though most were inaccessible on private land, as well as quite a few nice roadside displays. Overall it was not as good a year as I would have liked it to be, but definitely the best year since 2019. There were fairly abundant displays of white prickly poppies across much of the entire region, however, my ratings don't take into account other wildlfowers.
Rating 2.5 - I struggled between 2.5 and 3, but there weren't enough bluebonnets in good shape across the entire region to justify it. If I were rating just the best of what I saw I would have given it a 3. Overall the best year since 2019 but not as good as one would hope for.
Though not an area I have ever spent time driving in, after three straight years of poor bluebonnet seasons and news of very nice displays happening in the Fayetteville-Industry-Brenham area, I decided I would head that way and see what I could find. I was not disappointed. I have no frame of reference for this region of Texas as far as what to expect in terms of bluebonnet displays but my impression is that it was a very good year. The best of what I saw lied in the area between Fayetteville and Industry as well as the area between Industry and Bleiblerville. In addition to the wonderful displays of wildflowers, that region is just beautiful all by itself, and I truly enjoyed getting to know it a little bit. I spent an afternoon plus another full day there, and I could have spent more time exploring, but I wanted to make sure that I had time to cover the entire Hill Country. My impression of this region has always been that it is quite densely populated and that has been my justification for never getting out there during bluebonnet season, as I prefer more nature and less people. However, it's not really any different from the areas I drive in South Texas and it's a prettier part of the state in my opinion, so I think I will be adding it to my regular routes each year, or at least being more flexible about where I go. I should have gone last year as well, since based on social media reports it was better than anything I had saw, but you live and learn.
Rating 3.5 - I think I could have given it a 4, but again, I have no frame of reference for what its best is and I chose to be a little conservative on this rating.
In addition to the areas mentioned above, I also spent two evenings at a field in Bastrop County, which was the best display I saw anywhere in the state this year. The approximately 50-acre field was about 80 percent covered in bluebonnets and sprinkled with Texas paintbrush as well.
Overall, this was the best year for bluebonnets since 2019. The very first weekend that I headed out for South Texas my truck broke down and left me stranded north of Luling (for the second year in a row), so I lost two full days of exploring which I wish I could get back. If I had I would likely have spent the extra days in Austin, Fayette, and Washington Counties and gotten to know them a little better.
Looking back at the rainfall maps I noted that the only appreciable rainfall last fall during seed germination occurred in November. In previous years, when the majority of fall rain has come in September it hasn't yielded very much in terms of blooms, so the most important months for rain between September and March appear to be October and November.
The good news is that after three years La Niña has finally ended and we are currently sitting at ENSO neutral. If the forecasted shift to El Niño happens in the fall a great bluebonnet season could be in store for 2024.