Blue False Indigo: A True Beauty in Your Garden

Add some low maintenance perennials to your garden like Blue false indigo. Native to many areas of the U.S. it almost takes care of itself!

Blue false indigo flowers opening.
Blue false indigo opens its petals for pollinators.

In my side garden, two globe shaped masses of pretty blue green leaves catch my eye. Emerging from the top of each leafy globe, pale purple flowers climb thin green spears.

Two Blue false indigo plants, side by side in the middle of the garden bed, show off their blooms at almost the same time.

They are so striking between the maroon leaves of Diablo ninebark planted on either side. Stella D’Oro daylilies sit in front, sort of like a family portrait.

This picture is set against the green backdrop of Privet hedge in the garden bed seen by neighbors driving by. I hope the scene gives them a little joy.

Blue false indigo or Baptisia australis returns from the ground every spring as my side garden bed progresses from barren decomposing plant material to tulips and daffodils to leafy flowery globes like Blue false indigo.

The perennial belongs to a family of legumes like peas, soybeans, fava beans and peanuts. Plants like alfalfa, vetch and clover are legumes too.


Native to: Eastern United States west to Nebraska and in Texas.

Name refers to:  False indigo is a U.S. native plant that looks similar to one cultivated by early settlers to dye cloth blue.  That plant, called Indigofera tentoria L. was grown in many parts of the world and is now considered invasive in many places.

The flowers of that plant are pink to lavender in color. The oval leaves grow opposite each other on the stem.  It’s the leaves that are processed to create the blue dye.

Blue false indigo may not work well for dye but it has other qualities. It’s a pretty native perennial. It fixes nitrogen in the soil for its own use.

Being a native plant adapted to the climate and soil, and providing its own food makes it easy to grow.

Unfortunately it is also considered threatened or endangered in several states, due to changes in its habitat.

Zones:  3-9

Trifoliate leaves of Blue false indigo.
Trifoliate leaves of Blue false indigo.

Leaves:  Blue green trifoliate, that is, one leaf is made up of three smaller leaflets. They turn silver grey in the fall.

Blooms:  May to June.  Depending on location, some species begin to bloom as early as April and as late as July. Besides blue purple, flowers come in white, yellow and red purple.

Four colorful petals fold over to form a ball. They open to reveal two more petals pressed together covering the stamen.

Pods form after flowers bloom.
Seed pods (left) form after pollinated flowers bloom.

If pollinated, a tiny seed pod much like a pea pod forms and grows to approximately 2.5 inches long. Inside the pods are kidney bean shaped seeds. After seed pods dry they rattle when shaken.

Height:  2.5 – 4 feet

Width:  3 – 4 feet

Grows from:  Seeds and rhizomes.  Make sure you choose the best location before you plant it because it does not like to be moved.

Of two plants that I relocated, one lived, the other died.  They have extensive rhizomes that grow deep as well as wide. It took a long time digging to find the end of the root system.

Allowing the seeds to fall to the ground once dried, will produce new plants the next year, sometimes in spots you don’t want them!

Spears of flowers on Blue false indigo.
Spears of blue purple flowers emerge from plant.


  • Sunlight:  Full to part shade.
  • Soil:  Does best in average soil that is well drained. Tolerates poor, dry soil like clay or rocky types because it fixes nitrogen in its roots to supply itself with this nutrient.

Fixing nitrogen means that legumes like Blue false indigo get a little help from bacteria living in small nodules on the plants’ roots.

The bacteria take in nitrogen gas from the air and convert it to a form of nitrogen that the plant can use. In exchange, the bacteria gets sugar the plant created.

  • Water:  Average.
  • Fertilize: No need to fertilize.
  • Maintenance:  In fall when the leaves turn silver gray, the plant breaks off from the roots and falls over on the ground.

That’s a good time to get out the hedge shears and cut the dried branches into pieces to leave in the garden bed as a lightweight mulch. If left whole, the dried plant gets carried around the garden by the wind.


No serious problems. This is a beautiful, low maintenance plant.

Bumble bee pollinates Blue false indigo.
Bumble bees like the nectar.


Makes a low growing border in summer. Blue false indigo can be naturalized in native gardens. Just let the seed pods fall wherever and watch all the new plants come up the next year!

Attracts native bees and butterflies.  Deer don’t like it.

Enhance flower arrangements with seed pods still attached to their stems. Add them green in summer or let them dry on the plant and cut for fall designs.

As a native plant, Blue false indigo is easy to grow because it thrives in the climate and soil conditions of its home. A real plus for a beautiful plant in the garden.


Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Missouri Botanical Garden

Mt. Cuba Center

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Copyright Juli Seyfried 2020

Cyclamen: Butterfly Blooms of Winter

Colorful cyclamen brings a little spring inside the winter home. Easy to care for too!

Cyclamen flowers almost look like butterflies.
Cyclamen flowers imitate a butterfly shape.

Cool foggy morning on a San Francisco street in winter some years ago. Heading downhill, feet hitting a dry sidewalk, I see giant cement planters evenly spaced along the curb as I go.

Inside each planter surrounding a pale grey tree trunk, the deep pink flowers of cyclamen stand just above dark green leaves. So captivating!

Pink petals are open like butterflies poised for nectar. Layers of dark green, heart shaped leaves with pale green patterns, cluster in a circle below.

Cyclamen growing outdoors in winter surprises this Midwesterner. Blooms are for indoors. 

Available during the holiday season, blooming cyclamen adds beauty indoors. The freshness of a living flowering plant lasts through weeks and weeks of cold grey days.

Flowers make you happy during winter but also growing in the right spot indoors they look happy!

How do you care for the one you were given or bought during the holidays? Let’s find out.

Cyclamen leaf is heart shaped with light green on top of dark green background.
Heart shaped leaf of the cyclamen with variegation in a lighter shade of green.

Features of Cyclamen persicum

This is the florist version of the hardy cyclamen which grows outdoors.

Native to:  Algeria to eastern Mediterranean.

Name refers to: The round shape ot the tuber. The name is derived from the Greek word for circle.

Zones: 9-11

Leaves:  Rounded, heart-shaped, deep green with pale green variegations.

Blooms: Pink to red to white, lavender to purple. Five petals loosely cluster together.

Height: 6-8 inches

Width: Depends upon the size pot you buy. The number of tubers in each pot varies. They come in pots from very small to large.

Grows from:  Tuber.


  • Hopefully you got a plant that has a lot of buds about to bloom. Flowers last for several months.
  • Sunlight:  Keep it in a sunny but cool location. Heat sources like furnace vents, dryers and ovens create a too-hot environment.
  • Soil:  Average to slightly acidic.
  • Water:  Once a week water from the bottom of the plant. Place the pot in a tray of water.  Check to see that the top of the soil is moist and then remove the pot.

Cyclamen likes moist but not wet soil. Overwatering rots the tubers.

  • Fertilize:  Not necessary for the indoor florist version. 


Mites are parasites which are too small to see with the naked eye. They cause damage before you know they are there. The larvae feed on new plant growth.

The growth is stunted. For example, buds may form but wither before having a chance to bloom.

There are a couple of solutions.

You can throw it out so your other plants aren’t infected.

You can use an organic insecticidal spray and follow directions.

Prevent mites from developing by keeping the humidity low. Indoors in winter this should not be a problem as the air is dry.

From underneath, cyclamen flower looks more like a hat.
Cyclamen flower looks like a hat from underside.


Cyclamen is a seasonal indoor plant.  Most people enjoy the blooms through the winter.  The foliage is pretty even without flowers. Throw it out once it finishes blooming and loses its leaves.

Can‘t I grow it year round?

Sometimes it’s fun to see if you can grow a plant that others say probably won’t grow or rebloom.  Cyclamen is one of those plants.

I tried regrowing the plant once and succeeded. However, it did not produce any blooms.

Maybe you’ll do better than I did. Give it a try!  Here’s some tips:

1. When it stops blooming and the leaves die back, remove the leaves. Reduce watering gradually, then stop watering.

2. Put the pot in a cool spot and let the tubers dry.  You can also take them out of the pot and pack them in dry peat moss.  They are dormant just like summer bulbs that you save over winter.

3. Midsummer, repot in fresh soil and place in a sunny window or in partial shade outside.

4. Water the pot regularly from the bottom to keep the tubers from getting too wet.  

5. When foliage begins to grow place the pot in a cool spot to encourage blooms.

Cyclamen is a beautiful and easy to maintain flowering plant for indoors. It’s hard to say goodbye to the butterfly blooms when the season is over. But by then it’s spring and new flowers outdoors will entrance you!


Missouri Botanical Garden

North Carolina State University Extension

USDA Resources Conservation Service

Copyright 2019 Juli Seyfried

Christmas Cactus: Easy Care All Year

Decorating for the holidays? Of course! It’s time to bring out all the treasures from past holiday celebrations that get used during one season of the year. Fun to unpack old friends again. Memories good and maybe a little sad come out of the boxes or containers. At the holiday’s end back in storage they go with maybe a few new decorations to pack. How about a holiday decoration that adapts to any season?

A stunning flower arrangement often smells good, but has a short life – a couple of weeks at most. A live flowering plant like the Christmas cactus continues to grow all year. Blooms are abundant and add energizing color to your holiday arrangements as only a blossoming, living plant can.

Sometimes called the Thanksgiving cactus or holiday cactus, this indoor plant produces many spectacular two to three inch flowers throughout the season. After the holidays and bloom time are over it’s an undemanding plant with arching green branches. It’s ready for the next decorating assignment!

Flat and barely spikey green leaves grow in segments creating branches.
At branch’s end a sturdy leaf yields a delicate flower bud. Each bud produces a bloom that telescopes out as petals open and fold back to reveal the next layer of the flower.

Follow along the flower towards the end to see the cream colored almost fuzzy looking stamen. The “fuzz” is pollen.  Look beyond the stamen to the pistil with a delicate red seed pod hanging down as the final touch. Fascinating and beautiful flower!

This plant is a species of cacti called an epiphyte. Epiphytes grow on the sides of trees in the rainforest. No harm done to the tree, this epiphyte cactus just needs the structural support of the tree branches. It gets its food and water from air and rain and sometimes the plant material that falls around its base.

Hybrids of these epiphytes are sold as houseplants during the holidays.


  • Native:  Grows in Brazil along the mountains of the country’s southeast coast.
  • Names:  Christmas cactus, Thanksgiving cactus and holiday cactus. The names refer to the time of year that the flowers bloom north of the equator. 

The genus name Schlumbergera is a nod to a Belgian horticulturist Frederick Schlumberger who it is said grew different species of this plant in his home. According to research there is some mystery about who or which Schlumberger actually gets the credit. But one of them lends their name to the plant.

  • Zones:  10-12. Generally grown as a houseplant in other zones.
  • Leaves:  Segmented, slightly leathery and green all year. A segment joined to the next segment and then the next and so on creates a branch.
  • Blooms:  Most bloom November through December.  Flowers come in red, pink, purple, orange or white. The blooms are generally two to three inches long. No scent to detect.
  • Height: 12 inches.
  • Width: 12 inches to 24 inches.
  • Propagation: New plants easily grow by leaf cuttings.  A couple of months after blooming is finished cut the plant back by trimming the leaves off where they join at the segments.  Place segments at least halfway into premoistened soil in a pot.  Water lightly when dry.  So that they receive the same light grow the pot of starter plants in the same area as the parent plant. New growth occurs at the end of the planted segments.


Sunlight: After decorative use during the holidays place in low light from an east or west window. This avoids scorching leaves. It may be hard to find the right spot for the plant at first but keep experimenting. Once it has the right location it is easy care. 

You know you have the right spot when it surprises you with buds and telescoping flowers during bloom time. In the right place many people report plants that get larger and bloom like crazy year after year.

If moved outdoors for summer, part shade on the east or west side of the home is best. Remember the original plant of this hybrid grows in the under shade of a rainforest tree in its native environment. Strong hot sun will scorch leaves and dry out the plant.  In zones 10-12 where it can grow year round outdoors, part shade is also best. 

Soil: Part potting soil, humus and sharp sand.

Water: Sparingly but regularly. Keep the plant on the drier side. Overwatering causes root rot.

Fertilize: Use a weak solution of fertilizer during the growing season spring through early fall.


Soil that is too wet causes root rot which is the most common problem. The usual indoor insects like aphids, scale and spider mites may also attack if the location for the plant is wrong.


Decorative in special containers for holiday displays anywhere you want to show it off. Follow directions for sunlight (above) once holidays are over.   Make gifts of new plants from cuttings that were rooted earlier in the year.

Christmas cactus is a flowering fresh plant that livens up any holiday décor and with care, continues to add to room arrangements all year.

Copyright Juli Seyfried 2018

3 Ways to Use Autumn Leaves

Yellow-orange maple leaves show off at the park.

Who can resist the beauty of leaves in the fall? Summer green leaves turn colors not seen in a year. Trees become giant bouquets to rival any collection of flowers. As the final leaves on a tree turn they pause:  a group having one last moment together.  Then one lets go, several more let go and drift away followed by the others scattering, collecting somewhere down below.

On the ground, the leaf collection has a scent, sharp and musty. Colors fade and turn to crunchy brown. And it’s time to gather them up. Where to next?

Leaves raked and left on the curb wait for municipal collectors to haul away for community compost. A good way to recycle. But leaves can stay closer to home. How about free food for the garden?  Here are three ways to use the once colorful autumn leaves.

1. Compost them.

Rake them up. Use the power mower and collect with the bag attachment. Blow them into a pile with a leaf blower. However they’re collected dump them into the compost bin ready to decompose for next year’s fertilizer.

Raking benefits:  good exercise, no pollution.

Lawn mower with bag benefits: covers large areas, leaves collected in one motion and ready for compost, completes the task in shorter amount of time compared to raking.

Leaf blower benefits: while noisier, moves leaves into piles faster than raking.

2. Leave them directly underneath the bushes or trees where they fall.

In the forest, leaves decompose where they fall creating nutrients to feed plants in the woods. They provide cover for birds and other small animals, create a living environment for insects. Leaves also act as mulch protecting plant roots from freeze/thaw. They capture water and retain moisture.

The same is true for the plants in the yard. Create a woodsy result with the plants’ own fallen leaves. A light layer of leaves will decompose over winter. Be sure to avoid mats or clumps of leaves. Thick mats of leaves promote disease. Spread the bounty with the rake. Move some to other areas that didn’t get any leaves.

3. Collect a thin layer of leaves on the lawn and run the lawn mower over them.

This cuts them into small pieces that will fall between the grass leaf blades and decompose to feed the lawn. Again don’t leave mats or clumps to smother the lawn.

Saves money on lawn fertilizer.

Tips for Composting

  • Compost looks like rich dark earth. It crumbles well in hand. It often has worms moving through it.
  • Find a location out of the way and in line with local government zoning laws. The area should be in full sun and drain well – no standing water.
  • Use yard waste like leaves, cut grass from the lawn, perennial flowers that were cut back, annuals that have finished blooming for the season, small branches from shrubs. While adding yard matter cut larger material into smaller pieces so they break down easily. Material will fit better into the bin.
  • Use the brown and green rule: add both dead or dried up plants and fresh materials like weekly grass cuttings. One to one ratio is considered best.
  • Keep diseased plant material out of the pile to prevent the spread of harmful bacteria. These items can go in the garbage.
  • Keep weeds out. They may not break down fast enough to kill roots or seeds.
  • Tree branches take a few years to decompose. Best to leave them out. They take up space, don’t break down much in a year. Some cities have curbside branch removal services where they collect and shred branches for mulch for community use. Rent a shredder and make mulch for the yard.

Consider having two bins. Since collection is year round, one sits with last year’s material decomposing in it. The other collects new material. The goal is to have compost ready from one bin to spread around in autumn.  Rotate between the two: one for this year and one for next.

Here’s how it works: add new material to the first bin through late winter – early spring, then stop. Let it rest, so materials have time to break down. Shift to the second bin in spring to add new material and collect in it until late winter – early spring the next year, then stop. Every autumn, remove the compost from the resting bin. It should be ready to feed the plants’ roots.

The first year may not create much. Don’t worry. What’s on top may not have time to break down.  If the top material doesn’t look like good earthy soil just transfer it to the second bin. This should expose the ready to use compost underneath.

What Kind of Compost Bin to Use?

One kind is not a bin: simply pile up yard material in an out of the way spot in the yard.  It might blow away in the wind or wash away by rainwater.

A second kind: buy bins. Make sure they are large enough to hold more yard waste than what’s planned. It can take a year for a pile to break down. The material when first put in can be bulky and awkward even when cut down – it’s not a smooth pile.

A third kind: Make a bin. Bins can be made out of almost anything: used pallets or old boards hammered together (no treated wood – toxic), stacking cement blocks or bricks. Straw bales create a quick solution for a year but break down too and can be added to compost.

A simple bin to make is a metal post and chicken wire bin. Plan to make two – it’s easier to access the compost if not buried under the newer non decomposed material.

Three easy ways to use fall leaves after the color show is over. Composted leaves feed the garden crowd for next year’s display. An end becomes a beginning.


Copyright 2018 Juli Seyfried



Three Seasons of American Cranberry Viburnum

American Cranberry Viburnum begins its change to orange red.

Spectacular fall color is everywhere! Trees and  bushes almost become new plants when leaves change color. Fresh autumn flowers pick up where summer blooms slowly leave off. Gourds and squash such as pumpkin give new geometric shapes, textures and colors to work with in decorations.

Orange red leaves of Viburnum opulus var Americanum add fall color to this symphony. Go backwards to summer: orange red berries complement green leaves. Backwards again to spring: lacy white flowers appear all over the bush. How’s that for three season interest? Winter’s not so bad either when brown gray branches capture snow and support busy sparrows.

Viburnum opulus variation Americanum is the the most current name of this shrub. The new name may be more difficult to ask for at the nursery or garden center, so keep these other two common names in mind.

One is Viburnum trilobum because the leaf has three oval parts or lobes. The other is American cranberry – a name used to separate this Viburnum from a similar bush that grows in Europe. While it has berries that can be made into jam, this bush is not related to the cranberry plant that grows in bogs and provides us the large tart red berries we have at Thanksgiving dinner.

This Viburnum is native to the region along the Canadian/U.S. border. In Canada it grows from Nova Scotia to British Columbia. In the U.S. it grows from New York, along the Great Lakes to South Dakota and west to Oregon.


Not only does it provide three season color, it soaks up water. Planted in a berm to protect the house from water that runs into the yard from neighbors’ yards it receives the moisture it needs without sitting in water.

  • Zone: Cold hardy in 2 – 7.
  • Soil:  Moist that is also well drained, not standing water.
  • Sun: Full sun to part shade.
  • Average height: 8 – 12 feet.
  • Average width: 8 – 12 feet.
  • Location: Consider the height before planting. Place it where it can grow to its full height of 8 – 12 feet otherwise prune it to a shorter size every year. It expands in width when new shoots grow out from the ground near the original bush. A branch touching the ground will take root to produce a new plant that gets larger every year.
  • Bloom: In late spring and early summer, flat white lacy flowers appear all over the bush.
  • Leaf:  Green with three lobes in summer which turn orange red in fall.


Water: Considered medium, but since it is native to low wet areas, watering well during hot dry spells will keep it healthy.

Fertilize with compost once a year in the fall to feed the roots.

Prune: After it flowers.


An insect called crown borer can cause dieback of the bush. The bottom of the trunk is where they do their damage. Larvae drill under the bark and feed on the inside of the trunk. They also feed on branches and roots. This weakens and destroys it.

Keep the plant healthy. The insect is less likely to be attracted to it. Water during hot dry spells and fertilize in fall with compost.


Borders, hedges and any place that water collects temporarily. Just make sure the water drains off.

Arrange cut branches with berries in a tall vase as a background for other flowers or use alone in a container.


Viburnum opulus var Americanum is an enduring shrub in the yard.  It’s easy to care for when planted in a spot that meets its needs. It’s interesting in three seasons and attractive to songbirds. It’s worth planting!


Copyright 2018 Juli Seyfried



How to Improve Clay Soil As You Plant

The best kind of soil amendment: compost with earthworm activity.


Other than that’s what a plant grows in, I didn’t give soil much thought in my early years of gardening. Too busy touching, smelling, trimming and watering what grows above. Add a little compost on top of the soil in fall to feed the plant and done.

I discovered that if I put a little more effort into the soil when planting something new, then add compost to the soil yearly while the plant is growing, my plant thrives. Makes me feel like a successful gardener!

My yard has three to four inches of topsoil with clay below that. Plants don’t grow well in clay. It is made of compressed particles that leave no room for air or water to circulate. It does have nutrients but plant roots have trouble making their way through the compressed clay.

New rule for my yard: When digging a hole for a new plant – amend or change the soil.

Tools Needed:

  • Measuring tape
  • A large shovel or spade
  • Gloves
  • Wheelbarrow

Digging the Hole

Before you begin you need to know how deep and wide to dig the hole. Caution: math skills at work here!

How Deep

To find out how deep the hole should be, measure the height of the new plant’s root ball (the batch of dirt surrounding the roots whether round or not).  With the measuring tape begin at the top of the ball where the stem goes into the soil and continue to the bottom of the ball. That measurement tells you how deep to dig the hole.

How Wide

Dig the hole two times wider than the root ball. Measure across the root ball from side to side. Multiply that number times two.  Dig the hole that width all the way around. This will give your plant roots plenty of room to stretch out and grow.

Two times the width is a general guideline. The tag on the plant often has directions for planting depth and width. Another place to look is online. Gardening books have information too.

Now Dig

Knowing the depth and width of the hole to dig, it’s time to shovel.

First dig topsoil from the top layer of ground. Put it in a pile on the ground to one side of the hole you’re digging.

The clay from deeper in the hole goes in a pile on the other side.

This makes two separate piles of material from the hole. It’s time to mix up “new” soil in a wheelbarrow using the shovel.

Creating New Soil

Three ingredients go into the wheelbarrow one shovelful at a time:

  • Soil from the first pile.
  • Clay from the other pile.
  • Compost from your compost pile in the garden or a purchased bag.

How to mix it:

  1. Using the shovel chop the pile of clay into very small chunks, less than ½” large. Put a shovelful of that in the wheelbarrow.
  2. Add a shovelful of soil from the other pile.
  3. Add a shovelful of compost to the mix.
  4. Chop and mix this all together with the shovel until it’s loose and fine. It’s ready to use for planting.

Planting With the New Soil

Put a shovelful of the newly mixed soil in the hole and spread it out along the bottom. Set the root ball of the plant in the hole. Now fill in all around the root ball with the new soil. Press the soil gently as you add it to eliminate air pockets. Water can collect in air pockets and rot the roots. Not good!

Finish by pressing down on the top layer with your hand if it’s a small plant like a day lily. Use your foot if it’s a shrub or tree. Water thoroughly – until the water quits sinking in, puddles and runs off.

Add a layer of mulch on top to keep the soil from washing away. Mulch helps keep moisture in too. In the fall add a one inch layer of compost to feed the roots for next year’s growth.


Amending poor soil like clay when planting has long term benefits. The plant gets off to a strong start with roots that can move through the soil, take in the nutrients that are available in it and receive water that drains well. Plant the best you can once and enjoy years of beauty.


Copyright 2018 Juli Seyfried

Volunteer Tree Becomes a Member of the Yard

Forsythia (left) and Birch (right) remain close friends.

Forsythia bush finishes its display of yellow blossoms for the spring season. I’m planting flowers nearby. I happen to look up then stand up startled. I’m staring at a smooth reddish-tan trunk of a tree about one and one half inches in diameter. Whaaatt? My eyes follow the trunk up past branches, past the top edge of the six foot wooden privacy fence. Finally my eyes stop at the leafy summit five feet or more above the fence. Clearly a tree. And clearly I’m not paying enough attention in my small yard to know what’s growing in it.

I’ve been surprised many times before by volunteers. Usually seeds from other cultivated plants like begonias, cannas, maple trees, honeysuckle bush (the invasive kind), and cone flower catch me off-guard in places I know I didn’t plant them or expect to see them. Weeds of course are perpetual masters of surprise.

Depending on what the plant is I remove it or transplant it if I can find a spot. Or I give it to a neighbor – minus the weeds!

Volunteer tree gets by me for several years. Forsythia grows near our privacy fence. The grey wood provides a back drop to the beauty of forsythia’s yellow flowers, one of the first spring bloomers. It gives shelter to birds and soaks up the water that runs down from neighbors’ yards after a heavy rain. And within its branches it harbors a thriving little tree.

The bark on both the bush and young tree are similar. So are their leaves. The first year I feel concern when one of the branches doesn’t bloom in yellow flowers or leaf out like the rest of the plant in spring. Maybe it’s the lead branch because it keeps growing taller than the rest of the bush? A good thought. It seems healthy, getting its leaves a little later so I don’t cut it back. I just let it grow – for several years.

This early spring, again, no flowers on the branch and there are other non-flowering branches. I should take the hint, right? It still looks healthy so I let it grow. And later in the season – surprise!

Through identification sources I think it’s a birch. But I’m not sure. Maybe from a similar tree in a nearby neighbor’s yard? From a seed or maybe an outgrowth of a root reaching into my yard? The neighbor removed his tree while clearing his property edge for a fence. I admired the tree’s smooth bark and was sad when it was cut down. Young volunteer tree could be a replacement.

Since it continues to play on my sympathy this new tree gets a pass. It isn’t too close to the house. It won’t really give us shade but that’s okay because it doesn’t change the current design of the yard. Digging up forsythia and moving it a little further away, gives them both room to grow. They thrive near each other as friends. After all, forsythia covered for baby birch. Volunteer tree is a member of our yard.


Copyright 2018 Juli Seyfried


3 Traits to Love in a Heuchera

Palace Purple Heuchera is a hardy variety.

Pink tinged white flowers of Palace Purple Heuchera.

Heuchera or Coral Bells as it’s commonly called has become one of my favorite plants because of three traits. The leaf comes in many colors. As the day goes on a single leaf color is highlighted by change in the sun’s position. Leaf shape varies with the hybrid. The plant is easy to grow.

When I first began to plant Heuchera there were two kinds available at the local stores.  One was small with green leaves. Its little bell shaped flowers are the coral color that gives the plant its nick name – Coral Bells. The other was large with dark purple leaves. I planted them both.

The one that has been the hardiest is called Palace Purple. One leaf can be dark green with purplish edges. Depending on the amount of sunlight a leaf may be all purple. I have been able to transplant some of its offshoots to other places in the garden. As long as it is shady it grows. Even when I think I’ve dug up the whole plant, I’ll find a part left behind that’s still growing.


  • Grows best in Zones 3-8.
  • Native to western United States.
  • Height varies from from one to one and a half feet.
  • Width is generally one foot.
  • Heuchera grows from a root. The middle of the plant mounds a bit. It covers the ground effectively and blocks out weeds.  As the leaves spread out the stem touching the ground can take root and form a new plant.
  • This plant is known for its leaf shape and color.  Leaf shapes are flat to ruffled. A leaf comes in colors from green to orange to red to purple. It is often mottled. Each leaf can have two shades of color on top and a third shade on its bottom side.  The color changes slightly as the growing season continues.
  • Flowers are very small but pretty on long stems blooming in late spring to early summer. Some might bloom later. Depending on the plant the colors are pink, coral or cream.
  • Attracts hummingbirds and butterflies.
  • Cut flowers and use them much like Baby’s Breath in a bouquet.


Plant in part to mostly shade in an area that is well drained. For most a drier location is preferable to a wet one.

Watering is average. However hot days will dry it out faster because of shallow roots.

Fertilize in fall with compost.

Other plants that grow well in the same location with Heuchera are Fern, Astilbe and Tiarella. Some Heucheras have been bred with Tiarellas becoming plants called Heucherella.


The main drawback: shallow roots. Root tops tend to heave in winter which means the they will come out of the ground. When the roots pop out they’re exposed to cold, dry air causing the plant to die. The remedy is to push the roots back into the ground. Add soil around them and press firmly. Try to prevent heaving by covering roots with mulch in the fall.

In winter Heuchera almost disappears. Mid-spring its colorful leaves reappear.  That’s as exciting as seeing blooming flowers.


Copyright 2018 Juli Seyfried


6 Reasons to Plant Arrowwood Viburnum

It sits quietly at the intersection where the bottom of one hill becomes top of the next. It’s on the side of the house I don’t visit too often because, well, nothing goes on over there. Wildlife has an undisturbed area to inhabit.

However, branches hang into the neighbor’s yard. I walk closer with my trimmers to see why they’re hanging. And there they are – the most beautiful little blue black berries in clusters weighing down the branches of Arrowwood viburnum! I leave them alone. Instead I make a note to trim back the bush after it flowers next spring.


1. The shrub Arrowwood viburnum or Viburnum dentatum is native to the eastern part of North America.

2. It thrives in Zones 2-8.

3. Arrowwood has multiple trunks. The largest are about one inch in diameter. The name arrowwood is attributed to the use of stems by Native Americans. Straight stems became shafts for arrows.

4. It grows about ten feet high and five feet wide. The leaves are heart shaped with slight ridges throughout. Their edges look as if they were cut with decorative scissors. Leaves are green until fall then turn yellow, red or red-purple.

5. In late spring and early summer unscented lacy white flowers cover the bush. Blue black berries form and remain on the branches as food for birds in winter.

6. Birds like the berries. Bees and butterflies are frequent visitors.


This viburnum couldn’t be easier to care for:

  • Plant in full sun.
  • Tolerates many types of soil including clay, but best in an equal mix of clay, sand and humus.
  • Water needs are average to moist. Likes a well-draining location. Tolerates the occasional super wet weather, including the runoff from the roof of the house next door.
  • Prune after flowering in spring.


The Viburnum leaf beetle can be a problem. According to Cornell University’s website for viburnum leaf beetles the best way to control their spread is to look for infested branches from fall through spring. Remove the diseased branches and place them in a plastic bag and into the garbage. Do not compost diseased plant material as it will spread the problem.


Grow one as a specimen or grow them as a hedge.  Cut some branches with leaves and berries in fall and add to an indoor bouquet.

Easy care, spring flowers and fall berries make the Arrowwood viburnum a joy. No hard work needed to have a little beauty in the yard!

Copyright 2018 Juli Seyfried

A Gardener’s Never Done

Evergreen needles (top) greet spring-only Hyacinth flowers.


“A gardener’s never done,” a seasoned gardener said to me.

I was just starting out as a gardener designing one space in my yard. I studied the plants that would fit best in that spot. My plants were going to have the right light and right amount of water as well as look wonderful in that spot. My imagination was running wild with the vision of what the space would look like finished.  Then I asked for advice from the veteran gardener. Never done? Huh?

“Yeah,” this seasoned gardener continued, “Something won’t look right or it won’t grow well or another plant would be better in that spot or it dies…any number of things.”

The list of negatives was not very encouraging. Uncomfortable thoughts were going through my mind. Even the idea of giving up – maybe.

Later that day a nearby neighbor saw me standing in the yard eyeing the space.

He ventured over, listened to my idea and told me, “You might want to use that space one day for something besides plants. Then you’d have to dig it all up.”

My beautiful vision – well, I almost felt defeated before I started.  And I had to start somewhere. Huh!

Several garden projects later I have to admit the seasoned gardener knew some things. I have moved many bushes and perennials to other locations for most of the reasons given by my gardening friend.

Some plants didn’t do well in a spot despite my best efforts to put a plant in the right place for its light and watering needs. A plant either barely survived until I could relocate it or it died rather quickly.  In a few cases, a plant was dug up because its service was needed in another area.

But the neighbor’s thought about using a space for something else besides a garden bed after I planted? Not interested in starting over! I made sure the area I chose to plant would be only for plants. My neighbor’s observation helped me think hard about how I was going to use my garden.

Now my yard is at a reasonable capacity, but I can still find a new place to tuck in another plant. Today I went to the garden store for a replacement annual. In addition, I bought six perennials and a fairy garden planter. All on sale. Couldn’t resist. Yet another reason this gardener’s never done: falling in love with new plants!

Copyright 2018 Juli Seyfried