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Vermont Garden Journal: Baptisia


Fri 5/10/13 5:55 pm & Sun 5/12/13 9:35 am  The blue wild indigo sounds like a great name for a movie or book, but really it's just the name for a fabulous spring blooming perennial.

Baptisia is native to the Midwest and East Coast. Another common name for it is false wild indigo because is was used as a dye substitute for the tropical indigo plant.

Baptisia a tough plant that hasn't gotten much attention from breeders, until recently. While most gardeners know Baptisia as that shrubby, blue-flowered perennial that blooms early, then is done for the season, with new varieties and proper use in a design, baptisia can fill many roles in the perennial flower garden.

In spite of its common name, blue isn't the only color of baptisia. Yellow flowering varieties, such as 'Carolina Moon' and 'Lemon Meringue', offer 3' tall plants with 18 inch tall spikes of golden flowers.  'Purple Smoke' grows 4 feet tall and has dark green foliage and dark purple flower spikes. The new Decandance series from Proven Winners offers many baptisia varieties in a range of colors. One of my favorites is 'Cherries Jubilee' for its bicolor maroon and yellow flowers on 3 foot tall plants.

All these baptisia are hardy to zones 4 and can grow well in full to part sun. Although they only bloom in spring, the shrubby, pea-like foliage stays green all summer providing a perfect backdrop to other, lower growing and later blooming perennials. Baptisia is a legume with a thick taproot, so it's drought tolerant, fixes nitrogen, and breaks up clay soils. Bees love the flowers, but deer don't like baptisia, so that's one less perennial you'll have to protect.

Now for this week's tip, treat mom to something special for the garden this Mother's Day with a self watering balcony container. These new containers simply fit over a railing with no need for brackets and screws. Then, take her to buy some plants and go out to lunch!

Next week on The Vermont Garden Journal I'll be talking about some killer varieties of kale. Until then, I'll be seeing you in the garden.

Growing Baptisia

Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.
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