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Scratchy Wool Sweaters For Bugs, And A 'Decadent' Plant

Blue flowers in a green bush
The baptisia australis, or "false indigo" is an easy-to-care-for plant.

Looking for an easy-care plant that shows off colorful flowers, beautiful foliage and even seed pods? Look no further than baptisia australis, or false indigo. This perennial checks off all those boxes and more!

Baptisia will soon be in bloom and showing off its traditional indigo flowers. This is a native plant with a big, strong root system (in other words, once you plant it, plan for it to stay for a good, long time!)

Baptisia looks like a shrub, growing 2-4 feet tall, but it is a perennial that dies back to the ground in winter. Deer don't like it, but the pollinators love it.

Different baptisia varieties, like the Decadence series, boast flowers that come in shades of deep maroon or yellow tinged with pink.  This series of flowers has names like "Blueberry Sundae," "Cherries Jubilee" and "Pink Truffles."

Once grown, the baptisia seed pods can be harvested and dried, and were originally used as baby rattles!

Q: Would it help if I bleached my tomato cages and sticks before planting my tomatoes? Every year I get terrible blight. I've tried everything from red plastic to mulch to growing in pots in store-bought soil. How long does blight live on non-living objects? — Liz, in Middlesex

Blight lives in the soil in spore form, and most of the blights we get on tomatoes in our area are the "early blight" kind.

The first round of defense is to create a good mulch layer barrier between soil and plant. To do this, lay down hay, straw, chopped leaves or untreated grass clippings. Also, picking off the bottom leaves, once they begin yellowing, is a good way to help, too.

Using a preventive spray that contains baking soda can help keep blight at bay, but again, it won't help if the blight has already appeared.

This year, Charlie is trying "living ground covers," by planting smaller crops like lettuces and other greens in-between and underneath the tomato plants. Perhaps by creating a whole ecosytem underneath the tomato plants, the blight will stay at bay!

Q: Regarding using waste wool to repel insects in the garden: Does anyone know any further details? How thick a layer is needed? Has anyone tried it? As an older, higher-risk gardener, I am stuck at home experimenting. I have purchased the wool and washed it. Thank you. — Karen, via email

While visiting England, Charlie noticed usage of sheep's wool around the hosta plants at the Royal Horticultural Gardens. When he inquired about it, the horticulturist told him that sheep's wool is a great deterrent tor slugs and snails.

These mollusks avoid the plants because of the wool. It seems they don't enjoy the scratchy surface and tannins. So, maybe other critters will also stay away from wool used around plants.

Plus, sheep's wool retains moisture so you might conserve water, too. Try it! It might work to keep bugs away, and there is no harm, as the wool is a natural substance that will biodegrade into the soil.

a grey line

All Things Gardening is powered by you, the listener! Send your gardening questions and conundrums and Charlie may answer them in upcoming episodes. You can also leave a voicemail with your gardening question by calling VPR at (802) 655-9451.

Hear All Things Gardening during Weekend Edition Sunday with VPR host Mary Engisch, Sunday mornings at 9:35.

Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered.
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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