Blue is not a color people tend to associate with gardens at this time of year. But its cooling look is certainly welcome, even as we move closer to the golden, burnished days of autumn.
Caryopteris, commonly called blue beard or blue mist, will bring this blue into your flowerbed with relative ease, as it settles in companionably with other low-growing deciduous shrubs or herbaceous perennials.
Though not so well known, cartyopteris has important qualities that make it well-suited to Piedmont gardens. For one, it tolerates heat and humidity. Need I say more? Butterflies, bees and other beneficial insects are drawn to it. That’s a real plus too.
The flowers begin to show up in August, often to the surprise of a gardener who wasn’t expecting such a show of pretty blue blooms so late in the season.
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The flowers appear on new growth that emerged in spring from plants cut back to about 6 inches in late winter. In our climate, the stems usually survive winter, but cutting back the old ones tends to produce fresh, vigorous growth in spring and a better-looking, tidier plant.
The finely textured foliage is attractive, a sort of grayish-green with a pleasant aroma that looks nice through the year.
The little shrubs tend to grow 2 to 3 feet tall and wide, but some named varieties may grow larger.
Their requirements are simple: a sunny spot with average soil that drains well. Don’t make the soil too rich and don’t even think of putting caryopteris in a spot that gets soggy. Loss of a plant in winter is directly because of soggy soil.
A number of named varieties are in the marketplace with various tones of blue and violet. These include Longwood Blue, with silver-green leaves and violet-blue flowers. It can grow taller than 3 feet and is sometimes used as a low hedge. Another one with deep blue-violet flowers is Petit Bleu, which is among the shorter ones, growing 24 to 30 inches tall, with deep blue flowers on rich green leaves.
Whether to plant caryopteris as individuals or in a mass of three or more depends, of course, on your space. They are very effective in groups of three or five and quite spectacular as a little hedge. Take care when planting to space them sufficiently so that lower leaves aren’t shaded by crowding.
Mixing them with late-summer perennials, especially the yellow, late-summer sunflowers, can be very effective as blue-violet and sunny yellow look beautiful together. This also creates a nice contrast in textures because the foliage and flowers of caryopteris are finely textured with a misty look that is so appealing.
Q. I will be traveling this month and won’t be able to work on my lawn until late in September. Will that be too late?
A. No. Mid-September to mid-October, or thereabouts, is the prime time to work on fescue lawns in the Piedmont. You will have plenty of time.