Friday, April 17, 2015

Baptisia australis Success Story!

After attending the Shirley Meniece workshop in the fall of 2013, I came home with Baptisia australis seeds.  I was really excited to try this plant as I have always loved it.  Probably 10-15 years ago I had a couple on my hillside, but I think they fell prey to both too much shade and an overanxious weed eater.  The plant had moved to the back of my mind.    I have a friend who lives nearby and the last several summers I have admired her very large (almost shrub size) plants and so wanted to try again.  The seed heads are lovely in the fall; pea shaped and they turn almost black when mature.  The seeds are a nice size and easy to collect as there are several in each pod.

This is a borrowed photo - but I hope to
have my own by the end of the summer!

Baptisia australis is a native plant.  Also called wild blue indigo or false indigo it was used as a dye in colonial days by the settlers and before that by native American Indians who taught the settlers how to make the dye.  Baptisia has a deep taproot and it is risky to divide.  It is a long lived, slow to mature herbaceous perennial and is also deer resistant (another plus!). 

Just a little bit more description - the plant will grow about 2-4 ft. high from a woody base.  It is a bushy, robust perennial. Flowers are blue-purple and pea-like.  They grow in dense, upright, terminal spikes, 4-16 in. long. Leaves are divided into three leaflets. One of the great advantages is that it tolerates lots of sun in poor to average well drained soil.

In addition, Baptisia is a host plant for numerous butterflies and moths including skippers, the Eastern tailed blue butterfly, Northern Sulphurs, Wild Indigo Duskwings, Clouded Sulphurs, Eastern, Hoary Edg and the Gray Hairstreak.  It is a nectar source for long and short tongued bees and other butterflies.  And a great fall benefit is that the chickadees love them.

Back to the fall of 2013.  We divied up our seeds and jumped into planting.  This was one plant we really need to read about.  DIFFICULT! So, no results. There were lots of email conversations over the summer with Barbara in California and she said she would send more seeds at the right time.  Great encouragement and a new batch of seeds arrived in the fall from her garden.

Our group decided this fall to try them in our "Winter Sowing Workshop" posted in December, 2014  We would use the milk/water jug method.  In early December my water jugs were seeded liberally and set in the yard.

Fast forward to April.  I moved my water jugs a month ago from their very shaded, cold site adjacent to the house over a little bit to a warmer wall.  Still north facing as I didn't want them to get a lot of heat too quickly, but next to the stone foundation of my house where they would get some warm morning sun.  A couple of weeks ago I checked them and lots of tiny green first sets of leaves showing.  Success!

April 17, 2015   My little seedlings are a couple of inches tall and a second set of leaves starting to show.  Time to open the jug, plant and hope for the best.  So encouraged as at least there is successful germination and a lot of it.  Hoping some of the rest of our group are having success also!  Please journal here if you are having success with your photos and comments.


Opened the milk jug by cutting
along the tape line that I sealed
it up with last fall.  Look at all
the seedlings.

Because of the long taproot
I put 3-4 plants in a large container
with plenty of room to grow.  Look
closely and you can see that 3 of the
seedlings have their first real set of
leaves starting.

June 9, 2015  All of my seedlings are now potted and growing.  They are still in their sheltered place, away from hard storms like we had yesterday.  They get bright light and some morning sun, but are shaded a good portion of the day.  Not yet ready to move out into any different setting.  More sets of leaves, but still very tender! Getting ready to share with others next week.

Baptisia plants on June 9 in
holding area.  Baptisia pots
are circled in pink.  Very spindly
but growing well. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Asclepias sullivanti or Prairie Milkweed

Prairie Milkweed is also called Sullivant's Milkweed, named for William Starling Sullivant, an American Botanist of the mid-1800's.  It is the winner of the 2015 Green Thumb Award for Best New Product.  This Milkweed appears generally similar to Common Milkweed but is less aggressive, has slightly smaller flowers and an overall smooth appearance on the stem, leaves and seed pods.  Visited by hummingbirds and a wide variety of bees and butterflies (including, of course, Monarchs), Prairie Milkweed is one of the plants favored by the larvae of the Milkweed Leaf-Miner fly, which bore holes in the leaves.
Easily grown from seed and bearing a very fragrant flower, Prairie Milkweed makes a nice addition to any sunny medium to medium-moist garden.  After just a few years the taproot will extend very deep, protecting the plant in times of drought, but also making it difficult to move so choose your spot wisely (from

As with the other milkweeds, our propagation technique is detailed in our first post about Marvelous Milkweeds to Save our Monarchs.

Following is our journal starting after stratification.

April 12, 2015
WV Sprout.  As with the other milkweed seeds we are starting, I have removed the stratified seeds from their home in the refrigerator.  They have been in the refrigerator since March 2.

Using a soilless mix and placing 5-6 seeds in a large pot, I have planted several pots today and taken outside in the hopes that I will now see some sprouts.  We hope to have pots with green leaves showing by our June membership picnic.  Our weather is already very warm, but the last frost date here is May 10.  A dry week is predicted so I will have to watch and make sure these pots don't dry out.

A large bucket of moistened soilless mix
and a few smaller pots.  5-6 seeds will
to into each of the smaller pots.

Pots will be kept in a small enclosed area
and watched carefully.
June 9, 2015  So far, so good!  We have actually had a high germination rate of our seeds.  They were potted up at two different times, one set April 12 (above) and the other just recently.  The earlier pots are doing well and shown below.  These are in the holding area where the Baptisia plants are located; you can see one in the lower right in the white rimmed pots.  Other asclepias are in a sunnier spot and you can see their progress under whirled milkweed and spider milkweed.
Photo taken June 1, 2015.
Nice growth occurring here.

End of summer, 2015
As with all of our other milkweed varieties, members are putting their gardens to bed.  Plants that were put directly in the ground are being cut back to the ground and a layer of mulch added for extra protection as they are still tender plants.  Plants that were left in the original pots as in the photo above are being put in a sheltered spot and mulch mounded heavily around the outside of the pots to prevent the roots from dying.  We look forward to spring of 2016 to see new growth, blooms and monarchs!

This is from a plant that Kitty
Sprout purchased.  Beautiful bloom
and I am sure hosted a caterpillar or two!

Another of Kitty Sprouts with an
Eastern Swallowtail.
All of our future updates will be on our Marvelous Milkweeds page as an ongoing journal.

Asclepias viridis or Spider Milkweed Journal

Asclepias Viridis or Spider Milkweed shares with other Asclepias species its milky, irritating sap and strong attractiveness to Monarch butterflies and a host of other insects. Very tolerant of dry conditions, it is also called Green Antelopehorn. Spider Milkweed features rose-white flowers surrounded by green that form in showy umbellated clusters, often one per plant.  Its beauty and tendency to spread slightly make it a good garden choice.  (*From
The first part of our journal was detailed in our Marvelous Milkweeds to Help Save our Monarchs post from March 4, 2015.  Several different types of milkweeds specific to our zone were started.
This post will now chronicle just the Spider Milkweed.
April 12, 2015
By WV Sprout.  In advance of our April 27 Hort Committee workshop I am going ahead and potting up several of our seeds.  A soilless mix will be used.  The plants will be put in larger containers as milkweeds have long taproots and do not like transplanting.  This process will allos us put about 5-6 seeds in each pot and not have to transplant until ready to go in the ground. 
Asclepias viridis seeds are removed from
the coffee filters and baggies,  They have been
in the refrigerator for over 30 days for the
necessary stratification period.
Supplies - a large pail of moistened soiless
mix and smaller pots that will each hold 5-6
asclepias seeds.
In their new home in my yard.  More will come soon.

June 9, 2015 
Also updating the spider milkweed here on the same date as the others.  Many more pots were added to their holding area.  This location is in a much sunner location.  Again slightly protected as behind the split rail fence are the neighbor's hemlocks and an oak - but the sun hits them in the afternoon face on from the west.  They are surviving well and I am only watering occassionally; getting them used to our climate.  They will stay in these pots probably for the rest of the summer, but we will update the photographs again in late July.
Smaller plants but still from the April 12 potting. 
The bare pots are ones that were just potted up within
the last two weeks.