Winterberry Farm Primitives

This blog is now devoted to gardening with native plants with a focus on those species native to the east coast of the United States. With an MS in Agricultural Science from the University of Delaware and my love of native plants, I hope to help folks see the beauty and necessity of using native plants in your garden instead of exotic plants. Did you know that our native song birds and native insects are disappearing as our local environments continue to change?
For those who come to this page to see my 'Winterberry Farm Primitives' blog can now be found at where I will post new additions to my online antiques shop at and discuss various subjects about primitive antiques.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Boastful Baptisia australis!

Hi everyone! We are having some great rainstorms in Delaware today! Yeah! It only rains for about 15-20 minutes at a time but it is definitely soaking the ground and the plants are very happy! I had a great comment on the blog the other day about False Blue Indigo, Baptisia australis, whose native range is from New Hampshire in the North, across Canada to Nebraska in the west and down to Texas and east to Georgia. This wonderful plant from the pea family is a great middle or back of the border plant for a full sun area. I call this plant boastful because of the way it holds it bright blue flowers over its clear green foliage. It seems to be saying - Hey! look at me! - and no wonder! Baptisia australis starts out as a small herbaceous plant when it is first added to your garden but within a few short years, it becomes a stupendous bright green 'shrub' in the border. It flowers in June to early July and then sets seed in big racemes of seed pods that sound like baby rattles when the wind blows. After flowering, you are left with a wonderful big round bright green bush that compliments the late summer flowering plants in the border. Baptisia will seed into your gardens with apparent ease and if you collect the seeds once the pods turn brown/black then you can grow your own baptisia plants. Sow them in a Redi-Earth mix or other seed mix, pop on a humidity dome to keep your humidity as close to 100% as possible, place them in a shaded area of the porch or side of your house and in about 2-3 weeks you will have some little baptisia plants to share with friends or use in your own gardens. Like other native plants, baptisia does not need any additives mixed in with the soil or fertilizer added to the planting hole. Just dig your hole, plop it in, firm up the soil around the plant and water well. Continue to water your plants with about 1" of water a week for the first year and then leave them alone. They will have had an entire year, including winter, to establish themselves and they should be OK on their own in the garden. This is one place where the use of leaf mold or chipped up leaves would make a great mulch. It will hold water, provide great carbon as they break down and will also hold down fungal growth. Baptisia australis grows to form a 3-4 foot high by 3-4 foot wide bush and is pest-free. In wet summers, you may see some mildew on the very bottom leaves but it is minimal and is usually not a problem. Baptisia also does not like to be transplanted or divided, so if your plant begins to get too large just cut it back to the ground in the fall and use a sharp spade to reduce the size of the plant by removing some of the outside growth. After removing the outside stems, remember to cover the hole with soil and water the remaining plant with 1" per week for the rest of the season. The plant should come back next year. I have found that if I give my baptisias enough room in the beginning, I don't have any problem with them outgrowing their space. They do not roam or spread too quickly and can handle a hard cut-back in the fall. There are several species of baptisia and several varieties and hybrids of those species. Some of the best varieties and hybrids of Baptisia australis are:
B.x'Purple Smoke' - a cross between australis and alba
B.x'Screaming Yellow' - a variety of sphaerocarpa
B.x'Solar Flare' - the flowers start out yellow and turn to orange!
B.x'Starlight Prairieblues' - light blue with a white base - just wonderful!
B.x'Twilite Prairieblues': A hybrid of B. australis and B. sphaerocarpa
B.x'Carolina' - a wonderful light yellow flower color

From this list of varieties and hybrids, you can see that there are several other great species of baptisia out there in the trade. These include:
B. alba - a wonderful white flowered species
B. leucantha - a great white flowered, black stemmed species
B. sphaerocarpa - a yellow baptisia native to AR, LA, MO, MS, OK, TX
Any baptisia species or variety that you find to bring home to your garden will make a fantastic show in your yard or even in your home, as baptisias are great cut flowers! A couple of great mail order nurseries are and North Creek Nurseries is located in PA just about 15 minutes from my home and it is a great nursery - they are wholesale and sell by the flat - but it may still be worth your while to take a look at their online catalog and email them!
Until next time! Happy gardening and decorating!