Garden.True.North is about gardening in Zone 3,
sharing thoughts, ideas and tips for all northern gardeners.
sharing thoughts, ideas and tips for all northern gardeners.
It is time to bring in your houseplants from their summer vacation outdoors. This includes any tender plants that you plan to overwinter inside. Many of our houseplants and tender perennials are from the tropics and get stressed when nighttime temperatures dip lower than 50°. I used to scramble the night of the first killing frost to bring these plants inside. It was stressful both for me and my plants.
I now start moving houseplants and tender perennials to shadier spots in the garden around the beginning to mid-September. This gives them time to acclimate to the lower light conditions in our homes.
I had visions of a sea of blue after my daffodil’s foliage melted away. Earlier in the growing season I lost a row of Swiss Chard. I put bird netting around that raised bed and the chard is recovering. But my Baptisia looks like a lost cause. A small rabbit has been sighted near the garden. Maybe this bunny thought Baptisia is tasty since it is a member of the pea family. So much for “tolerates rabbits” advertised with this plant.
Left to right: Baptisia australis, what remains of my plant after the bunny, and new cultivar 'Solar Flare'.
My garden fence was built to deter deer from ravishing my vegetables. The fencing is not made to turn away a small bunny and there are gaps under the gates. After being on this property for 15 seasons, this is the first rabbit. The wolves, coyotes, fox, and eagles may be credited for the lack of rabbits; that is until now.
Baptisia australis, common name False Indigo, is a native plant to the eastern U.S. In addition to being advertised as tolerant of rabbits the plant is unappealing to deer, drought resistant, and tolerate of poor soils. I thought it perfect for my garden since it likes full sun to part shade (my garden receives about 6 hours per day) and would provide some color between the spring ephemerals and the summer bulbs that grow alongside my raised beds. At 3-4 feet tall, it would stand out, just what I wanted.
Baptisia australis was named Perennial of the Year in 2010 by the Perennial Plant Association. It seems appropriate because this plant is hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9, has multi-season interest, is tough, and is low maintenance. According to the Missouri Botanical Garden Plant Finder: “Over time, plants develop slowly expanding clumps with deep and extensive root systems, and should not be disturbed once established. Plants take on more of a shrubby appearance and tend to open up after bloom. Trimming or shearing foliage after bloom helps maintain rounded plant appearance and obviates a possible need for staking, but eliminates the developing seed pods which are so attractive.”
In addition to this native, there are now new cultivars that come in yellow, pink, violet-blue, and creamy vanilla. Baptisia attracts butterflies with its flowering for 3-4 weeks in June. Both its blooms and dried seed pods can be used in floral arrangements. The common name of False Indigo refers to the use of this plant by early Americans as a substitute, albeit an inferior one, for true indigo in making blue dyes. I originally thought that the Latin "australis" was odd for a native North American plant and found out that it means "southern". It can also refer to Australia.
I’m putting up netting around the Baptisia and hoping for the best. Maybe next year I’ll get some blooms? Or maybe it's time for another trip to the garden center?
My brother Charlie on the left, my sister Linda and me on the right. We moved before my two younger brothers could be pictured by this particular shrub.
The pictures above are just two of many snapshots taken by our Mom in front of the Bridal Wreath Spirea (Spiraea prunifolia). Every time I pass one in full bloom a flood of memories race through my mind. Our Bridal Wreath was the go-to backdrop for confirmation, graduation and just plain nice-day pictures. It is helpful that this shrub blooms when these events are happening.
In looking through old family photo albums I see each generation had a favorite shrub. Lilacs and arborvitae appear to be the winners for earlier times. Before we moved to the house with the Spirea, a lilac bush figured predominately in our outdoor posed pictures.
The old-fashioned Bridal Wreath Spirea (botanical name: Spiraea prunifolia) is a non-native in the Rose family. Reliably hardy to 30 below (zone 4), it grows best in full sun but will tolerate part shade as long as it gets 4-6 hours of daily sunshine. Leave it room to grow to its mature size of 4-8 feet tall and wide and the flowers will fill its arching branches. The flowers attract butterflies and pollinators in the spring.
No need to prune this shrub, but if you must, do so right after it is done blooming so it has enough time to set flower buds for next spring. According to Melinda Myers in her Gardening in Wisconsin, removing the flower tips as the blooms fade can improve next year's bloom. Renewal pruning of this suckering shrub can be done by removing one-third of the oldest stems to the ground.
I've planted a Golden Bridalwreath Spirea (Spiraea x vanhouttei 'Levgold') in my Zone 3 garden that gets about 4 hours of sunshine daily with success. It is rated a Zone 4 plant so the test will be this spring since we had 33 below temperatures this winter. I've got my fingers crossed on this one.
Do you have a favorite backdrop for your family photos? If not, maybe this is one you will consider planting.
Oh how I wish all things would be this easy! The picture above left is a fresh flower arrangement that I put together on October 1 just before our first frost. The one on the right is what I have on my kitchen island today. What do they have in common?
Aralia cordata 'Sun King', common name is Golden Japanese Spikenard, is bright chartreuse, stands about 4 feet tall and 4 feet wide plant. It brightens up any area it might be in, one could say it dominates, or putting it nicer it is a focal plant.
I added this to the front of my vegetable garden for all these reasons. My vegetables are fenced in and are the first things visitors see when entering our property. This showy plant keeps the area from looking too utilitarian. It is placed in a challenging area, since it is right next to a black-topped drive in a 3 foot by 10-foot bed. I needed a plant that would die completely back in the winter so it does not interfere with snow piles from the drive.
It produces clusters of star-shaped flowers in late summer that add to late flower bouquets. It does well for me in an area that gets about 6 hours of sun and is advertised as doing well in full sun to full shade. In other words, it is not picky except that it does not do well if allowed to dry out. I also have had no trouble with deer nibbling on this one.
The University of Arkansas Extension named it the plant of the week in September 2015, a link to their write-up is shown below. The University of Tennessee named it the plant of the month in May 2016. Since its introduction in 2000, it has received a lot of positive press.
The downside of this plant is that it suckers, although I have not had a problem with that yet after two years. The chartreuse color may overwhelm a garden of native plants; this would seem out-of-place. It is non-native, the common name gives you a clue on that, although there are native Spikenards.
This plant has does its job for the place I had to fill. I enjoy its brightness and low maintenance requirements. In the right place, I can recommend this as a plant to try.
For more information:
University of Arkansas Extension
Missouri Botanical Garden
University of Tennessee
This year one of my gardening goals was to get the potager (a fancy term for my vegetable garden) in better shape. This garden has slowly evolved from a flower patch around a flag pole to a fenced in garden with raised beds and wide paths. In this blog pictures will tell the story.
Before & After: left - June 2008; right - July 2018
Above: June 2016
Here's what I did to clean things up:
I'm finding the garden much easier to work in, actually a joy to maintain and I can now find my vegetables without wading through the weeds.
The pictures below tell the rest of the story, hover over the picture to see each step taken over the last decade.
I looked over the deck and below saw the sun highlight several white flower spikes in an area that is intentionally left wild. Nearby I had planted one Black cohosh nearly a dozen years ago. Could it have seeded this new clump?
Native? In all probability it came from the plant in the garden bed. Black cohosh is not native here although it is to Eastern North American and as close as Iowa. I doubt that those seeds would have traveled that far to land here.
Name? I found it confusing in trying to research this plant. It’s botanical name has been reclassified from Cimicifuga racemose to Actaea racemose. Some sources recognize this new classification, others do not. What’s an amateur to do when professionals disagree on the name?
Go with the common name? Not much help there either. This plant goes by: Black cohosh, bugbane, black snakeroot, fairy candles, rattleroot, bugwort, and richweed to name a few. Are you confused? I am.
Where to plant? What first attracted me to this plant is that it can be planted in part to full shade. I have it in a spot on the woodland edge under a cedar tree. It likes medium moisture and an organically rich soil. It is very slow to establish. I have not had deer or rabbits nibble on the plant, but then I didn’t even know about this new clump. There are some reports online that deer like to eat the flower spikes.
Black Cohosh or bugbane or whatever you want to call it can be started as a plant (that’s how I got started), from bare roots, or seeds. It can take 3-4 years for the plants to start flowering. What is confusing me right now is that the volunteer plants are blooming and the one I planted hasn't even sent out a flower shoot yet for the season.
The seeds are even more finicky requiring a warm moist period followed by a cold moist period to germinate. It may take 1-2 years for the seeds to germinate.
How to use? The plant can grow 4-6 feet tall with the flower spike and a 2 to 4-foot spread. It provides a nice vertical flower for up to 3 weeks in shady spots in mid-to-late summer. This is a very low maintenance plant once it has a nice place to live and minimum clean-up in the spring.
Black cohosh was used in the 1800’s to treat a number of conditions from snakebites, inflammation, child birth pain and menstrual symptoms. As for medicinal use, be forewarned that the entire plant is poisonous if used in large doses causing nausea, dizziness, and can also cause miscarriage. The bad odor from the blooms, described as spoiled meat, is said to repel bugs if rubbed on the skin. Not sure what might be worse, the bugs or the smell of rotten meat.
According to Jack Sanders (who wrote about it in his book, The Secrets of Wildflowers), Black cohosh was the main product of the first large successful business in America owned by a woman. Lydia E. Pinkham Medical Company, founded in 1875, sold Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound to treat female complaints. In addition to Black cohosh the medicine contained about 20% alcohol which may have contributed to it being a best seller when proper ladies did not drink liquor. The compound is still marketed today without the alcohol.
I like the plant, but prefer my alcohol without the extra poisonous compounds thank you very much.
Alchemilla mollis or Lady’s Mantle requires little care, a requirement for my garden. It is a non-native from the eastern European mountains and is hardy in my zone 3 garden. Not often featured in garden books, Lady’s Mantle is also overlooked for perennial gardens.
This time of year I appreciate its froths (yes, that is the description all the books and websites give the blooms) of tiny chartreuse leaves. They are a colorful filler in the perennial beds as well as floral arrangements. They can be used as a dried flower for fall bouquets. Before blooming the velvety gray-green leaves are especially attractive after a rainfall.
Definition of “Falsy”: Okay, I’ll let you look up the definition. For this article I’m using the term to define plants that have in their common name the word “False”.
I wander around nurseries with hardly any idea about what I want, hoping that I will see something interesting to fit my garden. I’ve found some good plants this way. And I like wandering around greenhouses. However, this is not the best way to select plants because when I get home I end up walking around my garden with said plant in hand wondering where to put this new acquisition.
I have some criteria for perennials in my garden: longevity, low maintenance, hardy in my climate, resistant to diseases and pests, no winter protection needed, long blooming or attractive foliage, not invasive, and doesn’t need staking. But sometimes I just want to have fun and I throw all those important criteria out. Sometimes that fun is something that has an interesting name.
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