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Virginia bluebells: here and gone

Virginia bluebells enhance the spring scene then totally disappear without a bit of cleanup. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Virginia bluebells enhance the spring scene then totally disappear without a bit of cleanup. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

This post was published here originally April 25, 2009.

At the heart of the season are spring ephemerals, plants that are here for a few weeks and then they are gone. One of my favorites is Virginia bluebell (Mertensia virginica), a native plant in the Eastern United States, which is in bloom now into May.

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A Greener Welcome on Fox 59

False blue indigo 2010 Perennial Plant of the Year

False indigo’s long-lasting blue spikes and easy to grow nature earns the native plant the 2010 Perennial Plant of the Year. Photo courtesy wildflower.org

False indigo’s long-lasting blue spikes and easy to grow nature earns the native plant the 2010 Perennial Plant of the Year. Photo courtesy wildflower.org

False blue indigo, a striking native plant, has been named the 2010 Perennial Plant of the Year by the Perennial Plant Association.

This garden worthy plant has tall spikes of deep blue, lupine like flowers in late spring and early summer.

Baptisia grows wild in the Eastern United States and was used by Native Americans as a blue dye, which gives false indigo its common name. Natural indigo (Indigofera) comes primarily from Asia and other tropical regions.

Baptisia’s oval, blue-green leaves provide the perfect backdrop for later blooming perennials, such as coneflower (Echinacea), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia) and aster (Symphyotrichum). Its large charcoal-colored, pea like seed pods also add interest to the summer garden or they can be cut for indoor everlasting arrangements.

In the last few years, plant breeders have introduced several new baptisia hybrids, many of which are widely available in garden centers as well as online or mail order retailers.

Although it tolerates light shade, baptisia does best in full sun and average soil. It gets 3- to 4-feet tall and wide, so plant in the back or the middle of the border. Cutting the flowers for bouquets encourages secondary branching and more blooms. Cut back to the ground in fall or early spring.

Baptisia can be grown from seed or as young transplants. Once established, baptisia forms an extensive root system, which makes it very difficult to move.

'Twilite' baptisia is one of the new Prairieblues series from Chicagoland Grows. Photo courtesy www.chicagolandgrows.org

'Twilite' baptisia is one of the new Prairieblues series from Chicagoland Grows. Photo courtesy www.chicagolandgrows.org

The Prairieblues series developed by the Chicago Botanic Garden and Chicagoland Grows does well throughout most of North America. These include:

  • ‘Twilite’ has burgundy flowers with lemon yellow highlights.
  • ‘Starlite’ has pale blue flowers with a white base.
  • ‘Solar Flare’ has yellow flowers that turn orange as they age.
  • ‘Midnite’ has deep blue-violet flowers.

Two introduced by the North Carolina Botanical Garden are also quite nice:

  • North Carolina Botanical Garden introduced 'Carolina Moonlight,' a yellow flowering baptisia. Photo courtesy North Carolina Botanical Garden

    North Carolina Botanical Garden introduced 'Carolina Moonlight,' a yellow flowering baptisia. Photo courtesy North Carolina Botanical Garden

    ‘Carolina  Moonlight’ has creamy yellow flowers.

  • ‘Purple Smoke’ has smoky lavender flowers.

Garden as if life depended on it

Waxwings are hard wired to dine on berries from native plants. (C) Gimmestock.com

Waxwings are hard wired to dine on berries from native plants. (C) Gimmestock.com

When we hear about sustainable landscapes, just what does that mean? Besides reducing or eliminating the use of pesticides, sustainable landscaping includes appropriate plant selections and placement.

The idea, of course, is to pick plants that will do well in your particular site, such as a sunny or shady spot, or soil that is wet, dry, heavy clay or sand.

And we want a diversity of plants, especially those that play a critical role in our local ecology. These are the native plants that provide food and shelter for birds, butterflies, mammals, amphibians and insects.

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Blue stars shine in Hoosier landscape, too

Sometimes the best plant recommendations come from our neighbors.

Amsonia tabernaemontana

Amsonia tabernaemontana

 

In the Midwest, Missouri has its Plants of Merit and Nebraska has GreatPlants, which highlight the best plants for gardeners in those states. Almost all of their recommendations would do well in Indiana gardens, too.

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Tips to green up your life

Native combo — Cedar waxwings dine on black chokeberry fruit in winter. © Fotolia

Native combo — Cedar waxwings dine on black chokeberry fruit in winter. © Fotolia

Here are some resolutions we can make to green up our lives in 2009.

Give by volunteering to beautify a public garden or to teach others about gardening. For opportunities, please check with Keep Indianapolis Beautiful Inc. ,  or Indianapolis Downtown Inc.

Right plant right place. Besides proper planting methods, make sure to take into account a plant’s horticultural needs, such as sun or shade or wet or dry soil. Just as important is knowing the plant’s mature size. When you allow for a plant’s mature height, width and habit, you have fewer pruning duties. Here’s a guide for planting a tree from Keep Indianapolis Beautiful,

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Native plants help sustain wildlife

Fueling station — A monarch butterfly relies on the fall-blooming aster and other native plants for nectar as it migrates south for winter. © Fotolia

Fueling station — A monarch butterfly relies on the fall-blooming aster and other native plants for nectar as it migrates south for winter. © Fotolia

The Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society’s annual conference features Douglas W. Tallamy, a University of Delaware professor who specializes on the sustainable relationships among insects, wildlife and plants.

In his book, Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens (Timber Press, $27.95, hard cover), he writes of the unbreakable link between native plants and native wildlife.

The bugs, birds and other fauna are hard wired to seek food and shelter from native plants or to use them for laying eggs. The relationship is a matter of their survival and as we sprawl into the suburbs, we destroy or disrupt the natural habitat of birds, butterflies and other creatures.

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Native Plants The Natural Choice