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.
Scene from the Keukenhof Gardens in the Netherlands.
There is still time to order, receive and plant bulbs for next spring. I doubt that how your garden looks next April or May is on your mind as the leaves begin to change color and start dropping. However, if you take a few moments now there will be a reward next year.
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?
The Columbine bed at Longwood Gardens.
Columbines have 60-70 species that are perennial but short-lived. They are excellent self-seeders but deadhead if you want your purchased hybrid plant to last longer. Of course, then you give up the self-seeding character of the plant.
Now I wonder if I want to find some hybrids and see how my volunteers would fare with a few more colors.
Hollyhocks are an old fashioned cottage garden plant that provide visual height to your garden. They are considered either biannual or a short-lived perennial. They need full sun and rich, moist soil. I have my growing in a spot that receives about 6 hours of sunlight a day. My plant has now been blooming for over 6 weeks and shows no signs of quitting. Leaving the flowers to seed will help ensure plants for future years as hollyhocks are self-seeders. Another option is to cut it back to the base after blooms have faded to have it come back for 2-3 years.
I'm hoping that mine will come back next year.
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
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.
Clockwise from top left: Butterfly Weed, Bugleweed, Sneezeweed (photo credit: Photo by Sue Trull, Ottawa National Forest), Joe Pye Weed
As my series continues on plant names, this post concerns ones with “weed” in the name. I speak for all gardeners that we want to avoid weeds. However, there are four that I think you might want to allow into the garden bed. According to Webster’s dictionary a weed is defined as:
A plant that is not valued where it is growing and is usually of vigorous growth; especially one that tends to overgrow or choke out more desirable plants.
So here are some that are suitable for your garden that I recommend.
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