Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Bye Bye Baptisia

Removing a mature baptisia is difficult. They have deeply entrenched tap roots and it's really hard to dig one up. The effort requires an axe, a sharp spade, a crowbar, a shovel, and a young man.

On a cool breezy August day after a couple inches of needed rain, I removed the 'Twilite Prairieblues' false indigo that I planted in 2008. I managed to do it without the young man, and I used the claw end of a hammer instead of a crowbar. Oof.

'Twilite Prairieblues' in bloom -- for all of three days in May it looks like this.

Two years in a row this large baptisia has become very badly infested with spider mites and the foliage is simply stripped. Partially bare stems and stippled gray leaves are all that remain in summer, with a pool of dropped dry leaves at its feet.

It can be treated with horticultural oil, but you need to get it early and often, and this baptisia does not have enough redeeming features for me to fuss with it.

Baptisias are supposed to be totally trouble free and easy, and they are long lived in the garden. You can read the results of the trials of baptisias that Mt. Cuba Center did here:

pdf file

It's an extensive review, and beautifully illustrated with great photographs of many varieties, so check out the pdf file. They have some clear top performers, and they do mention the 'Twilite' baptisias as being good ones, although slightly lower rated.

But nowhere do they mention infestations of spider mites as a problem. My plant has become so troublesome. On top of that, I never really did warm to the flower display on this variety.

Foliage is normally quite clean and bright looking.

The blooms are very brief in May and oddly colored. For years I've complained that they are rust-gray, if such a color can be imagined. In the right light and close up (or in a vase indoors) they are a very pretty purple, but from a distance -- even just sitting a few feet away on the patio -- they look a grim industrial rust color.


So I didn't grow this for its flowers. I keep it for its foliage and to anchor the open spot in this garden by the house.

Now not only do the flowers disappoint, but the foliage disappoints when it gets so diseased looking in summer from the spider mites. Baptisia leaves are normally a nice medium green and after the brief flowering is done, the plant is a good bushy filler all season.

Foliage looks good until the spider mites invade.

I couldn't stand to look at my diseased baptisia any more this summer. I cut it to the ground and then I dug up what I could.

After I got the incredibly tough stone solid rootball mostly hacked up and chopped out, I put in a small rooted cutting of an existing 'Robustissima' fall anemone that anchors one end of the patio wall.

If you have an empty spot in the garden put a bunch of pots in it.

It sends out runners everywhere and needs a lot of attention to keep it from overtaking the lawn and everything nearby. But the good news is that I easily dug up one of the rooted runners, and planted it where the baptisia had been, and it will fill the area and echo the other anemone with pretty pink flowers in late summer.

The existing Anemone tomentosa 'Robustissima' by the patio wall.

As lovely as baptisias can be, mine was not. So bye bye!

I just wish I'd had a crowbar and a young man to get the cussed thing out. What a job it was.

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