What to Do When Wisteria Has No Blooms

Dear Garden Problem Lady

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What can I plant to hide the old leaves of daffodils? And, when my Virginia bluebells die back to nothing, as they do – and my white bleeding heart also disappears from view, do you have ideas for what to put in the blank space that will not interfere with the bluebell bulbs and the Dicentra roots?

To mask daffodil foliage, which you know must remain to replenish the bulbs for next spring, bright annuals will do the job. For the spring ephemerals – bleeding heart, bluebells, first make note where these are, before they disappear. Then try shade-loving annuals – Astilbe comes in white and colors.

Our vigorous four-year-old Wisteria still has no blooms. Ideas?

In Georgia and South Carolina Wisteria – both Chinese and Japanese – (which are not native plants) – are invasive, and bloom profusely. Native varieties bloom well there too and are not invasive. Here in DC the secret seems to be enough sunlight. In other words, although “some shade” appears on the store label, Wisteria can’t bloom well without what’s known as “full sun” – 8 or so hours. Some do bloom, perhaps after years of waiting. Wisteria’s not blooming is notorious.

You can try adding phosphate. Make sure you water well. Apply compost if soil is poor, although Wisteria doesn’t need rich soil.  And some swear by pruning. Directions vary on whether Wisteria blooms on last year’s wood or on new growth! But prolific new growth without flowers leads many to cut off all new growth, feeling it “saps” the plant’s bloom potential. Finally, some do root pruning to “shock” the plant into blooming. Dig 10 inches down with a sharp shovel about a foot all around the main stem, to cut the roots. It won’t hurt the plant. All this said, Wisteria gardeners wait three, four, up to 15 years for blooms to arrive.

Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii)

Is Butterfly weed the same as Butterfly bush?  I’ve been reading about native plants, and apparently butterfly weed attracts lots of butterflies and also tolerates drought.

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa – like a milkweed )  has a deep taproot, making transplanting difficult. It is a hardy, native perennial with magnificent bright orange flowers in clusters at the top of branching stems.  The flowers produce large quantities of nectar. The plant needs well-drained sandy or gravelly soil in full sun.

Butterfly Bush is much taller, also with copious nectar attracts butterflies, but at only one stage of their life cycle. Butterflies need host plants on which to lay eggs and on which their caterpillars feed. Not a single native caterpillar eats Butterfly Bush leaves. Without caterpillars, there will be no adult butterflies. Without caterpillars, birds will not survive.

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