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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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Sep 15

A New Acquaintance

Posted on September 15, 2017 at 7:58 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

Caryopteris clandonensis
Caryopteris clandonensis
Once in a while a plant will cross my path that I am not familiar with. It's what I best love about gardening—we can never know it all. As I perused a garden website a few months ago, a picture of a plant known as Caryopteris clandonensis caught my attention. As I read, it sounded like a good fit for a few newly developed backyard planting areas, with the bonus of blooming when most other plants fade during the late summer/early autumn. 

The misguided common name for this plant is blue spirea—misguided in the respect it is not a true spirea (Spiraea). Besides its late blooming season, it has other amazing properties. Deer don't like it, and rabbits don't either. It is fragrant, makes for a good cut flower, grows in the sun, will thrive in lime soil, and attracts bees and butterflies. It grows to a compact 3-4 feet in height and width, plus it is a fast grower with a minimal amount of water needed to sustain it. These features might make it a good choice if you’re looking for a pretty screen.

Does this plant have a down side? Yes: It doesn't like wet feet, so establishing it in clay soil would be a challenge unless the soil is well amended and provides great drainage. It also doesn't have a long life as one would expect from some plant material. However, that shorter life span isn’t a significant issue as it is very easy to propagate. Each spring it needs to be pruned back about six inches. To propagate, simply take the new wood cuttings from your pruning efforts, add a bit of root stimulator and place the stems in damp sand. Keep the cuttings shaded and moist until the roots establish. As tough as this little plant is, it is reasonable to expect beautiful blue flowers in the early fall. 

Pairing this plant with orange poppies would knock this combination out of the park. For a dynamic container display, try placing this plant in an urn with white alyssum or white lobelia trailing underneath. I created a mecca for beneficial insects in one large area by planting a mixture of peonies and ornamental strawberries for spring and Caryopteris with large Agastache for late summer and fall. The bees and butterflies throng to this planting area. Now to add a slurry of water to provide a place for these insects to drink.

Can I challenge you to try a new plant you may not be familiar with? There are many wonderful garden possibilities that go by unnoticed. Upon closer inspection you might find them captivating—a plant to behold!


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