How to Divide and Transplant False Indigo (Baptisia) Plants

Do you have a false indigo that you would like to move or divide? Maybe it’s too large for its allotted space, or it’s not flowering well, or you want another plant to share or plant in another location. While there are definitely easier plants to divide and move, False Indigo (Baptisia) can be successfully transplanted if you:

  • Plan ahead
  • Take your time
  • Have a strong spade and back
Baptisia alba (White False Indigo) in flower

Baptisia alba (White False Indigo)

When is the best time to move or divide Baptisia?
MOVE – As long as you dig the plant up with a good root ball, there is no wrong time to move a healthy Baptisia plant. Baptisia actively grow roots and recover quickly when the soil has warmed up in late spring. If given the choice, I prefer to move them just after they finish flowering.
DIVIDE –Early spring or just after flowering so plants have the rest of the growing season to recover.

How to move or divide Baptisia

1. Before you start, cut the plant back by half
No matter how many roots you save, the tender new growth is going to wilt, turn black and die. Cutting it back also makes digging around the base easier.

2. Select a site
Choose a site that gets at least six hours of direct sun and you’ll be rewarded will abundant flowers and a compact plant that shouldn’t need staking. Baptisia thrive in most well-drained soils and can tolerate drought and periodic flooding.

3. Prepare the new spot
You want to be prepared and have the new site ready, in case you’re too tired to do so once you have the plant out of the ground – just kidding. Remember dig wide, not deep when planting.

4. Dig a 6-8 inch wide trench around the perimeter of the plant
This gives you room to work and lets you evaluate your progress. Start the trench about 3 to 6 inches out from the outer most stems. You’re going to cut through some thick fleshy roots. That’s okay – as long as you dig 3 to 6 inches away from the stems the plant will have enough roots to survive.

Diagram of a Baptisia plant from above

5. Undercut the root ball
After digging down to a depth of 8 to 12 inches, undercut the root ball. If it’s been in the ground for more than a couple of years you may come across several large roots. These can be cut with a spade or pruners. If it’s a large plant you may need to rock it back and forth to locate the roots and use a saw or ax to cut through the roots.

Diagram showing the cross section of a Baptisia root system

 

6. Lift the rootball
Knock excess soil off the root ball – this will make it easier and lighter to lift out of the ground. An extra pair of hands helps when moving a large plant, but it’s surprising how much can be achieved using planks of wood as levers to lift the rootball out of the hole.

7. Divide the crown
While it’s not necessary for the health of the plant, dividing your Baptisia is a way to gain a few extra plants. To divide your plant once it is out of the hole, knock most of the soil off to expose the thick, woody crown. Use an ax or hatchet to split the crown into equal size pieces; make sure each division is at least six inches in diameter and has least several growing points or stems.

8. Check the hole depth and trim off any damaged roots
Before lowering it into its new home, check to see that the hole is deep enough – you don’t want lift it out once it’s in. Neatly trim off the ends of any damaged roots with pruners.

9. Replant and water
Refill with soil and water in well. There is no need to add amendments or fertilizer to the soil. Baptisia are able to absorb nitrogen from the atmosphere with the help of soil borne bacteria. This allows them to tolerate less than perfect soil.

10. After care and maintenance
If transplanted in spring or early summer, you should see new shoot growth within a week. After a week, scratch down into the soil to check if it’s still moist. If it is, wait until it dries out before adding more water.

If the new growth starts to wilt, dig down to see if the soil is wet or dry. If it’s dry, go ahead and water. If the soil is moist or wet, hold back on the water – wilting can be a sign the soil is too wet. You may water the plant as needed once it leafs out to its original size.

Frequently asked questions

Why do recommend moving Baptisia in the spring instead or the fall?
Baptisia love the heat and recover quickly when transplanted in the spring, once the soil has warmed up. They can be moved in the fall, but they will not produce many new roots at that time of year and there is more of a risk of it rotting over the winter.

Can I move a weak or unhealthy Baptisia plant?
When moving a Baptisia that’s not thriving, timing is important. It’s likely that the root system is weak and transplanting it in the fall or winter may result in it just sitting there and rotting. Follow the steps above and remove the soil to evaluate the roots. Trim any rotten roots off and replant in a sunny spot with well-drained soil and let the plant dry out a little between watering.

How long can I wait between digging up and replanting?
If you’re transplanting during the growing season, try and complete the job as soon as possible. If something pops up, a couple of days delay is not going to hurt. To keep the plant in peak condition, store it out of direct sun, mist with water, and wrap the root ball with plastic or a tarp to prevent the roots from drying out.

Can a Baptisia be too large to move?
No, it just requires time and patience. I have transplanted several dozen Baptisia of all sizes and different times of year and each one survived and thrived in its new home.

Now you can move that Baptisia to its new home with confidence!

The Easiest Way to Propagate Coral Honeysuckle

Coral honeysuckle is usually propagated by cuttings, but by far the easiest way to propagate it is by an age-old practice known as layering, which requires no special skills, tools, or care, apart from a bit of patience.

Coral Honeysuckle's bright red flowers
What is layering?
Layering is laying a stem (usually new or one year old growth) on the ground, covering it with soil, and then waiting for it to form roots – it’s that easy!

When is the best time to layer?
Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) forms roots in late summer, so you can lay down a stem any time from winter through mid-summer and the plants will be ready to transplant as early as late fall.

So, let’s get started…

Loosen the soil where you plan to lay down the stem. There is no need to add amendment such as compost or manure unless the soil is particularly poor and dry.

Lay down the coral honeysuckle stem and cover it with soil

Lay down the stem and cover it with soil

Lay down the stem and make sure at least one set of nodes (where the stem and leaves join) is in contact with the soil – this is where the new roots will grow.

Cover the stem lightly with soil (around ½ inch) and put a brick or large rock on top of it. This serves two purposes: keeping the stem in place and marking its location so it’s not forgotten. Now, it’s just a matter of waiting.

To keep it in place and mark its location, place a rock or brick on the stem

To keep it in place and mark its location, place a rock or brick on the stem

By mid to late fall, the stem should have formed a good root system. At this point, you can cut the stem from the parent plant.

Cut the stem off from the plant with pruners

Cut the stem off from the plant with pruners

In areas with a long growing season, go ahead and dig up your new plant straight after cutting the stem and transplant it. If you’re unsure and want to play it safe, wait until the spring to dig it up.

A healthy root system

A healthy root system! Notice that the roots formed at the nodes

Here is some additional information that may be helpful.
Do I need to water it while it forms roots?
As long as there isn’t drought in late summer, there is no need to water.
How long can I leave it in the ground before digging it up?
As long as you want, but the new plant will keep growing and getting larger.
Why isn’t layering used more often?
Layering is not a very efficient method for producing large numbers of plants, but it is perfect for the gardener wanting a few extra plants.

Now you can propagate coral honeysuckle vines to plant or share. If you don’t have one to start with, we sell them here on our website.

Seashore Mallow – a plant with a bright future!

When selecting native plants for the garden, seashore or saltmarsh mallow is often overlooked in favor of its larger-flowered cousin, Hibiscus. While seashore mallow might not have the huge flowers of its well-known relative, its flowers are by no means modest or less showy. Additionally, its hairy leaves offer resistance to sawfly larvae, which can defoliate the smoother-leaved Hibiscus.

Seashore Mallow in salt marsh at the NC coast

Seashore Mallow growing wild in a North Carolina salt marsh

In the wild, seashore mallow is native along the coast from Long Island south to Florida and into Texas. It is confined to brackish and freshwater tidal marshes, where it can sometimes be found growing in large stands. Despite its coastal origins, seashore mallow can be successfully grown in gardens far from the beach and is hardy to USDA hardiness zone 6 (average minimum temperature of -10°F). Also, plants don’t need to grow in marshes to thrive and can be cultivated in a wide variety of soils as long as they do not dry out while the plant is in flower.

Seashore Mallow could be described as a shrub that dies down in the winter. In late spring growth emerges from a woody, clump-forming rootstock and quickly reaches five feet in height and width, so give plants plenty of room when deciding where to place them. Siting plants in a sheltered and sunny spot will prevent the need to stake and ensure there are plenty of flowers.

In garden literature, seashore mallow is often described as a relatively short-lived perennial, persisting five years or less. Whether these reports are caused by cultural conditions or genetics of the plant material is uncertain, but in our garden we have 12-year-old plants that are thriving and show no sign of decline.

Seashore Mallow flower

Seashore Mallow flower

Seashore mallow bears three inches in diameter blossoms that are typically rosy-pink in color, though there is a white-flowered variety called ‘Immaculate’ in cultivation. Flowering usually begins in July and it is not uncommon to have flowers still opening in October. Like okra, cotton and some other members of the mallow family, the flowers open early in the morning and wilt in the afternoon, unless the sky is overcast. Though each flower opens for only one day, the blossoms are borne in such profusion that mature plants can have dozens of flowers open each day during their flowering season. Seashore mallow blossoms are self-pollinating and don’t require a pollinator to fertilize the seeds, but this doesn’t stop pollinators flocking to the flowers to gather nectar.

In the landscape, seashore mallow has traditionally been used for ecological restoration where it is perfect for planting around ponds and lakes, in ditches, rain gardens, and brackish marshes. In the garden, it can create a strong texture element and can be used successfully as a focal point in all but the smallest gardens. Below are some native plant companions that enjoy similar cultural conditions and provide textural contrast to the coarser leaves of seashore mallow:

  • Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum)
  • Purple Milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens)
  • Blue Flag Iris (Iris virginica)
  • Virginia Chain Fern (Woodwardia virginica) – best used in large gardens where it has plenty of room to spread!
  • Ironweed (Vernonia spp.)
  • Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium spp. – formerly Eupatorium)

Agriculture crop
Not only does seashore mallow make a great garden plant, it is also being trialed by the University of Delaware as an agriculture crop that doesn’t need to be replanted every year and can be irrigated with brackish water. The most important part of the plant is the seeds, which have a high oil content, but fibers from the stems also have the potential for a variety of uses.

Propagation
Propagation is straight forward. Seeds germinate quickly without any pretreatment as long as the temperature is above 75°F. Seedlings grow quickly, especially during the warmer months of summer, and can flower in the first year. In ideal conditions, plants self-seed under the parent plant, but they are rarely a nuisance. Care should be taken when collecting seeds and wearing gloves is highly recommended. The seeds pods are covered in small hairs that can sometimes pierce the skin, very similar to slivers of fiberglass.

Tip cuttings taken before flowering will root in less than three week and can be potted up to plant in the garden in the fall. When potting up cuttings, make sure to bury at least one node (where stem and leaf join) below the soil surface to allow for additional growing points; this is so plants will successfully break dormancy in the spring.

Trivia
Not too long ago, seashore mallow was assigned a new botanical name. The reason for the name change goes back to when America was colonized and some seeds unknowingly made it back to Europe, probably in the ballast of a ship. Over the years, they spread and naturalized along the Mediterranean coast. This plant was thought to be native to that area and was named Kosteletzkya pentacarpos before the plants in America were named Kosteletzkya virginica. This was fine, until it was discovered that the Eurasian plants originated in America and were actually the same species. And because the Eurasian plant was named first, Kosteletzkya pentacarpos is now the correct name to use. The joys of nomenclature!

Looking to buy seashore plants? We have them for sale right here on our website.

How to Transplant Milkweed Seedlings

Transplanting seedlings is sometimes seen as a surgical like procedure with do-or-die consequences. While it does take some care and patience, seedlings are fortunately programmed to grow, and all we need to do is provide the conditions to make that happen.

This is the last post in a series on growing milkweed from seed. The previous posts covered sowing seeds in perlite, sowing milkweed seeds, and milkweed germination.

In the photo below we have a pot of Asclepias lanceolata seedlings that need to be transplanted. They definitely could have been transplanted earlier, but it is better to transplant them a little big than too small. If we didn’t transplant them from this pot, the larger seedlings would eventually crowd out the smaller plants in nature’s survival of the fittest. Transplanting them into individual containers will level the playing field and give them all an equal chance to grow into mature plants.

milkweed seedlings ready for transplanting

 
It’s very easy to get enthusiastic and transplant the seedlings before they have an established root system. Generally, you will have more success if you wait until the seedlings have at least several sets of leaves before transplanting.

materials and tools for transplanting seedlings

Supplies and tools

  • Potting mix
  • Small pots (2 to 3 inches)
  • Small knife (cutting the roots of larger seedlings)
  • Dibber (for making holes in potting mix to place smaller seedlings in)

When transplanting seedlings make sure it is done out of direct sunlight and sheltered from drying winds. If you are worried about the seedlings drying out while transplanting, the roots and leaves can be misted with water to help keep them hydrated.

transplanting milkweed seedlings

Milkweed seeds can often germinate erratically over several months. Since we want as many seedlings as possible, we are not going to dump the soil out and are instead going to cut around and remove each individual seedling that is ready for transplanting. This will keep the seeds that have not germinated near the surface and not buried too deep.

It is important when working with seedlings that you pick them up by the leaves and not the stems. Seedling stems are very fragile as they are where the water is transported up through the roots for the plant to grow.

By gently holding the leaves of the seedling with one hand we are going use a sharp knife to cut around the seedling with our other hand. Make a cut about ½ inch out from the stem all the way around the seedling. With larger seedlings, a deeper cut may be needed to make sure you undercut the longer roots. Gently remove the seedlings by lifting them by their leaves and prying them up with the knife from underneath.

Asclepias lanceolata seedlings
 
Now that we have removed the seedlings from the seed pot, it is time to put them up into individual containers. This should be done as soon as possible so that the seedlings do not dry out and die.

Transplanting Asclepias lanceolata into pots
 
Potting up is fairly straightforward, though it takes a little practice. Hold the seedling by its leaves and lower it into the pot so the seedling is at the same level it was when growing in the seed pot. With your other hand gently add potting mix and lightly press it down, adding more potting mix if necessary, so that the potting mix is ½ inch below the rim of the pot.

Milkweed seedlings all potted up
 
Now we have them potted up it is time to water them in thoroughly and set them in an area out of direct sun. After a couple of days they can be moved to a sunnier location.

Summary:

  • Don’t transplant seedlings too soon
  • Hold the seedlings by their leaves, not their stems
  • After transplanting, place seedlings out of direct sun for a couple of days
  •  

    Milkweed Germination

    We have germination! If you are curious to how we got here, check out my two previous posts, sowing seeds in perlite and sowing milkweed seeds, which will help explain how we got the milkweed seeds to germinate.

    Asclepias lanceolata seedlings

    Like babies, young seedlings are fragile and defenseless, but have an instinctive incentive to stay alive and grow. Fortunately, unlike babies, seedlings don’t need food at this early stage of growth and have just two basic requirements: light and water.

    Light
    After the seeds germinate, I like to move them outside to an area with filter light and keep them in the plastic bag that they germinated in. Keeping them in the plastic bag maintains a humid microclimate and prevents premature drying out, animal disturbance, and damage from heavy rain or hail. Be careful not to leave the seedlings in direct sun while they are still in a sealed plastic bag, as it will act like an oven and cook them.

    Over the next week I gradually open the bag to acclimatize the seedlings and, weather permitting, they are out of the bag and in morning sun with some afternoon shade. The seedlings can tolerate moderate frosts (if acclimatized), though I usually protect them if the temperature is going to drop below 30°F.

    Water
    While the seedlings are in the plastic bag they probably don’t need watering, as they were soaked after the seeds were sown. Once out of the plastic bag, I have found that the best way to check for watering is to lift the container and check its weight. This is where the beauty of perlite as a seed germination medium comes into play. Because perlite drains so well, you can use the motto, “when in doubt, water.” The exception to this rule is milkweeds that prefer drier conditions, like Asclepias amplexicaulis and Asclepias humistrata. I try to let these milkweed seedlings dry out a little between waterings. I use a watering can with a fine rose to water, but you can also soak the container in a dish of water for 5 to 10 minutes and achieve the same result.

    watering milkweed seedlings with a watering can

    Fertilizer
    Don’t be in too much of a rush to start fertilizing. I can’t recall killing a single plant from using too little fertilizer, but I’ve killed my fair share of plants from getting too eager and fertilizing too soon or using too much. Once their true leaves emerge (the first leaves are called cotyledons and have stored food in them), start using a liquid feed at 1/4 of the recommended mixing instructions on the label.

    Summary:

    • Protect young seedlings from drying out, animals, and extreme weather
    • Supply filtered light while seedlings are still in sealed plastic bag
    • Gradually move seedlings out of plastic bag and into more sun
    • Check regularly for watering and if in doubt, water
    • Don’t over fertilize seedlings

    In the next and final post on seed germination, I’ll show you how to transplant your milkweed seedlings into individual containers.

     

    Sowing Milkweed Seeds

    Growing milkweed (Asclepias sp.) from seed doesn’t have to be mysterious or complicated. In this post I’m focusing on sowing milkweed species native to eastern North America, which generally require (or at least benefit from) a cool, moist treatment known as stratification.

    A container with one inch of perlite on top of seed raising mix

    If you’re wondering what the white snow-like stuff in the above photo is, read my post on sowing seeds in perlite to understand how it can increase your success with seed propagation.

    Sowing the seed
    The biggest mistake I still sometimes make when sowing seeds is spreading them too thickly. If you have a lot of seeds, make a conscience effort not to sow them all, or at least spread them over two or more containers. If not, a whole host of problems will arise – from poor air circulation around seedlings, to crowding out each other – making it very frustrating to transplant.

    Sowing milkweed seeds on top of perlite

    When sowing seed I like to use a folded piece of paper to slowly spread the seeds out. You’ll notice that they aren’t all evenly spaced. This is less of an issue than having too many seeds in the container.

    Covering the seeds with a thin layer of perlite

    Covering the Seed
    Lightly cover the seeds with perlite; this keeps them in place and prevents the light seed from blowing out. Also, label each container with the plant name, date, and other information of interest that can be easily forgotten over time.

    Soak the seed pot in a dish of water

    Watering
    Soak the container in a dish of water until it is thoroughly wet. I usually let it sit in water for an hour or two then test it by picking it up to make sure it is heavy and saturated with water. Let the excess water drain out, then place in a plastic bag to keep it from prematurely drying out and help prevent any animal disturbance.

    Container enclosed in plastic bag to prevent seeds from drying out

    Where do I put my seeds until they germinate?
    Option 1 – seeds sown in spring through early summer
    Placing the container in the fridge for 3 weeks. Longer won’t hurt, but check periodically (if longer than 3 weeks), as seeds can sometimes start to germinate in the fridge. Once the seeds are taken out of the fridge and the temperature is consistently above 75 °F, germination usually occurs in one to three weeks.

    Option 2 – seeds sown in mid-summer
    Depending on what climatic zone you live in, it may be too late to place seeds in the fridge, wait for germination, and get plants established before winter. If seeds are sown, but not stratified in the fridge, most species will wait until the following spring to germination, though some southern species like Asclepias humistrata, Asclepias lanceolata, and Asclepias rubra may go ahead and germinate without having a stratification period.

    Option 3 – seeds sown between late summer and late winter
    Seeds will germinate next spring. Keep outside away from direct sunlight and try not to let the container freeze solid for extended periods through the winter.

    In the next post learn how to take care of milkweed seedlings once the seeds germinate.

     

    Sowing Seeds in Perlite

    One of the greatest challenges of germinating seeds is managing moisture so they do not become too wet and succumb to damping off diseases. The following method of using a combination of seed raising mix and perlite minimizes the threat of overwatering and makes growing plants from seed a lot easier.

    Diagram of sowing seeds in perlite

    What is Perlite?
    Perlite is a natural occurring mineral with a high silica content. When exposed to very high heat it softens and expands up to 15 times its volume, in a process similar to what happens to popcorn when it is heated. Perlite is light-weight and used in horticulture as a soil amendment and media for hydroponics.

    Perlite is a natural occurring mineral with a high silica content

    Why use perlite for seed sowing?

    • It is porous and allows air to enter freely
    • Can hold water, but also provides excellent drainage
    • Is sterile and contains no disease spores or weed seeds

    Containers for sowing seeds
    Selecting a container for sowing seeds
    When choosing a container the main requirement is that it has holes in the bottom for drainage. The size will depend on the size of the seeds and how many you are sowing. I don’t recommend using a container smaller than 4 in. as once the seedlings get larger they will dry out too quickly between watering’s. I like to use short, squat containers, as tall, skinny pots dry out quickly at the surface making it difficult to maintain the correct moisture content. Also, don’t forget to make sure the container has been thoroughly cleaned (preferably with a 10% bleach solution) to prevent the spread of soil borne diseases.

    Creating a reservoir

    Creating a reservoir
    We’re now going to fill our container to within 1 to 2 in. of the top with a standard seed sowing or peat-based potting mix. Read the label to make sure it doesn’t have any fertilizer added to it – we don’t want to burn the roots of newly emerging seedlings. This base is going to act as a reservoir and hold water for the seedlings to tap into. Level out the media and lightly press it down to remove large pockets of air.

    Lightly pressing the media down

    Add approximately 1 in. of perlite on top of the seed sowing mix and level it out.

    Adding perlite to the container

    Perlite contains dust particles you should avoid breathing. Handling this material in a well-ventilated area and wetting it down with water helps minimize down. If you have respiratory problems, use a dusk mask.

    Are there any seeds this method doesn’t work with?
    I haven’t had the best of luck with some very fine seeds, such as Sarracenia and fern spores, but have had great results with native Azalea’s, Sourwood, and Penstemon seeds. One method I sometimes use when sowing very fine seed is to mix seed-raising media with perlite, at a 50:50 ratio. I then sieve the surface layer to remove larger pieces and then sow the seeds. Doing this increases water holding capacity while still providing a moderately well-drained media.

    My next post will cover sowing the seeds and where to store them before germination.

     

    Building a Support for Coral Honeysuckle

    Coral honeysuckle, or Lonicera sempervirens, is in many ways the perfect vine. It flowers over much of the growing season, is adaptable and fast growing without being a thug like its invasive cousin, Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), and best of all it is a great wildlife plant, attracting and feeding butterflies, caterpillars, and birds.

    Coral Honeysuckle growing up a 4x4 post

    Before you go out and build or buy an elaborate pergola or trellis, this easy, low-cost project may be just what you need to get your coral honeysuckle off the ground and add a little creativity to your garden.

    Materials
    Use this list as a guide. Thicker, taller, or metal posts can be used, but it is important that the wood is treated so it doesn’t rot.

    • Post – 4 in. x 4 in. x 8-10 ft. tall
    • Crossbar – 2 in. x 4 in. x 4 ft. long
    • Chicken or fencing wire (optional – for deer protection)

    Diagram to build your own support for coral honeysuckle

    The crossbar
    The crossbar idea came to me by accident while I was installing a post for a coral honeysuckle outside my daughter’s window and she needed somewhere to hang her hummingbird feeders. A year later the feeders were covered up, but the crossbar created the perfect horizontal platform for the stems to cascade down on each other.

    Crossbar for coral honeysuckle vine support
    Attaching the Crossbar
    Attach the crossbar to the post using nails or screws, and then secure two pieces of wood on either side of the post, which will provide added support and stability.

    Digging the hole
    Digging the hole is probably the hardest part of this project. An 18 to 24 in. deep by 8 to 12 in. wide hole should secure an 8 ft. tall post. Once the post is in the hole, pack the soil in tightly around post. If you want a more permanent and sturdier structure, use concrete instead of soil to fill the hole.

    Training up the post
    Training the coral honeysuckle up the post can be done by simply tying the loose stems to the post with twine until they reach the top.

    Cage for keeping out deer

    Protecting from deer
    The soft and tender growth of coral honeysuckle presents a problem for those who have deer. Putting a 4 ft. or higher temporary cage spaced at least 18 in. out from the post will protect the plant until it is above deer browsing height. Also, consider using a taller 10 ft. post which will keep the top third of the vine up and above their trail of destruction.

    A couple of tips on growing an awesome coral honeysuckle

    • Plants respond well to extra water during their first season, provided the soil doesn’t stay too wet
    • Once established, plants are drought tolerant and don’t require regular irrigation
    • “The more sun, the more flowers” is an old adage that applies here. If possible, plant close to a south-facing wall or building where year-round reflected sun will reward you and hummingbirds with a plant completely covered in flowers

    To learn more about coral honeysuckle or to buy plants, visit our online store.