Monday, April 30, 2012

Flaming Spikes

I've mentioned before, we have lots of black walnut trees.  Through mostly trial and error, I've found what plants won't grow near these trees.  The walnut chemical "juglone" is certain death for some plants. 

We put a casual fence between the backyard and the woods.  To keep the weeds from spreading into the area, I heavily planted spring flowering bulbs and Hosta.  It was then heavily mulched.  The idea is to have foliage so dense it will help with the weed issue. 

In this heavily shaded area, it's difficult to have flowering plants - in addition to the juglone issue.  It's the perfect spot for the perennial, Astilbe.  Astilbes are also commonly called false spirea, feather flower, meadowsweet, and false goat’s beard.

Since I've learned the hard way (loss of plants, IE cash), I only planted one Astilbe last year.  It was a super healthy specimen from Distinctive Gardens (Dixon IL).  It did well throughout the summer.  It's the over wintering that is the kiss of death for juglone sensitive plants. 

This year, I have a full healthy Astilbe Chinesis "Delft Lace".  This is an apricot/pinkish/lavender flowered plant.  The foliage is maroon in the spring.  Glory Be!

Feeling this was an all clear, last week, I planted a nice Astilbe japonica “Maggie Daley”.  This plant has lavender/purple flowers over shiny dark green foliage and was from Red Barn Nursery, Sheffield IL.

Pushing my luck, I bought a package of six roots from a big box store.  Three each of "America" (rich pink) and "Amethyst" (deep lavender).  Yesterday we were graced by a nice steady rain.  Perfect!  

Astilbe flower stems are1-4 foot tall.  The stems of flowers look like "flaming spikes."  The flowers attract butterflies. 

The how to for astilbes:  They will grow in full shade to partial sun.  The more sun, typically the more leaf color and shorter the bloom time.  The most IMPORTANT thing to remember is they must have evenly moist well drained soil ALL summer.  This means if you have it in full sun or live in the South, you MUST keep it watered.  I recommend mulch.  It can't sit in water or the roots will rot.  Bottom line:  it will die if it doesn't get moisture. 

If you don't want to be tied to your Astilbe duties, plant in a spot where nature helps with these conditions.  My slightly sloped site, shaded, years of decomposed leaves, near the water runoff at the low depth of our rolling hills ensures optimal conditions.  During severe drought, it will still need to be watered on a regular basis.

Astilbe will tolerate average soil although fertilizing in the spring before it flowers may help improve the display.  If it's planted in amended or rich soil, fertilization isn't necessary.  Leave the flower stocks until spring so you will remember where they're planted.  Its deer and rabbit resistant.  Plus, pest free.   

Astilbe bloom starting in June for 6 - 8 weeks.  Flower colors range from shades of peach, lime, white, pink, red and lavender.  Leaf color and shape is varied.  The flowers make a nice cut flower or dried flower.   Astilbe is a native to North America.

(Top photo was the first summer for Delft Lace.  Three remaining photos are from web examples of Delft Lace, Maggie Daley, and Amethyst.)                           

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