‘True blue’ in the garden

Blue is a color that is longed for in the garden by many people. It is a great foil for other colors and, as such, melds easily into a perennial border.

It can stand by itself, too, and in mass plantings provides a soothing place to rest the eyes. Blue can be hard to find in late summer and fall. A plant that can fill this need is Caryopteris, commonly called bluebeard or blue mist flower.

The small, single flowers bloom in cymes (clusters) at the end of the branches. Protruding stamens giving the impression of a mist of blue cover the plant. These natives of Mongolia, China and Japan have been hybridized heavily during recent years, and there are several choices that are worth using in the garden. The plant can be used as a foundation plant, in perennial borders, as a specimen or in mass plantings. They look especially good combined with plants and shrubs with burgundy foliage.

If you like combining blue with yellow, two flowers can be considered. Sunshine Blue TM is a bright, chartreuse yellow foliaged plant with deep blue flowers that blooms heavily. Worchester Gold TM is an older plant that has flowers of true blue with more golden yellow foliage. There is even a variegated plant, Summer Sorbet TM, with green leaves bordered in chartreuse that boasts brilliant blue flowers. If your choice is for a plant with silvery gray foliage, Longwood Blue TM will fill your desire and blooms with sky blue flowers. First Choice TM has green leaves dusted with gray and its tightly branching habit is filled with violet-blue flowers. It blooms somewhat later than some, extending the season. Dark Knight TM has very dark purplish-blue flowers on dark green leaves with a bluish tint.

All Caryopteris bloom for about eight weeks beginning in mid- to late summer. They need full sun to part shade and will grow well in any well-drained, loamy soil. If you have clay soil, it will need to be heavily amended to improve drainage, as these plants will die in winter-wet or saturated soil conditions. They need somewhat lean, fairly neutral soil and should not be fertilized. They are hardy in zones five to nine. Most will grow to about three to four feet; Longwood Blue is the exception, rarely growing more than two feet.

Once established, the bushes are very drought tolerant, needing only occasional watering during the late summer dry spell. They have aromatic leaves that can act as a deterrent to deer, and they are rarely bothered by other pests. One of their best features is that they are butterfly magnets. The bushes can be literally covered with butterflies. Bees will also forage for nectar and pollen. The blossoms make good cut flowers and are attractive in mixed bouquets.

To get the most flowers, it is recommended that the bushes be cut back to 10 or 12 inches in late February (some say to six inches) to encourage branching and new growth as the plant flowers. They tend to be short-lived plants, but can be easily propagated by taking softwood (bright green stems that bend easily) cuttings. They don’t need rooting compound to root easily. One negative, however, is that the species can set seeds and should be deadheaded to prevent inferior plants from coming from seed.

If you are longing for blue, try easy-care Caryopteris in your garden. Late summer will reward you with this restful color.

Linda Stephens-Urbaniak can be reached at

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