Gardening Q & A

clematis
This young bush clematis (foreground) is already producing purple flowers. Photo by Meleah Maynard

It’s raining again and I couldn’t be happier. After years of drought, or close to it, by this point in the summer, it’s been lovely to see everything growing so well and still looking so beautiful this late in the season.

Every so often I answer readers’ questions in this column, and I’ve had a few pile up recently, so that’s what’s on tap today.

What can I plant near bleeding hearts to fill in the space once they die back?

Good question. People ask this a lot because bleeding hearts are gorgeous for a while, and then they turn yellow, go dormant and look dead. Keeping them watered well will prolong their season a bit. I cut mine back to the ground when they really start to get ugly. And I’ve learned to plant hostas, astilbe, ligularia and lungwort nearby to fill in the space once the bleeding hearts are gone. Whatever perennial you choose, pick something that won’t really get going until the bleeding heart is on the way out. (One thing to note: Our dog Lily recently started chomping on our bleeding heart plants, so I looked it up and found that bleeding heart can be extremely toxic to dogs and cats. So if you have a garden, be sure to watch what your beloved creatures are munching on. Some plants can be very dangerous.)

Name a couple of plants that you love that are not often found in garden centers. 

I love yellow wax-bells (Kirengeshoma palmata). A neighbor gave me a seedling from one of her plants a couple of years ago, and it’s grown to be quite a beauty in the backyard. A late-blooming shade perennial, yellow wax-bells are hardy to USDA Zone 5, so a harsh winter may kill them, but so far so good at my house. Plants grow to about 3 feet tall and wide with maple-like leaves and pretty yellow flowers that start blooming in August.

I’m also very fond of bush clematis. Yes, there are bush forms of clematis! I’m not sure what kind I have since it was given to me by a fellow gardener and she didn’t know either. But this shrub-like perennial has a very nice compact form with deep green foliage and purple flowers that bloom late in the season. I’ve got mine planted in partial sun and I’ve had it for three years, so it must be winter hardy. I don’t see these in many garden centers, but I know Tangletown Gardens carries a few different varieties.

What’s that twining vine that is actually a weed?

That’s probably bindweed. Gardeners get tricked into leaving bindweed alone, thinking that it’s morning glory because the leaves do look similar. This nasty weed spreads by roots and even a tiny piece that you miss will turn into a new one. Capable of growing more than 20 feet long, bindweed is hard to get rid of, but you can do it by being diligent about pulling them out whenever you see them. Eventually all that pulling will deprive the roots of the food they need to survive.

Why are there fewer Japanese beetles this year?

I’m not sure, but the prevailing theory among local entomologists seems to be that the ground froze deeply enough to kill much of the larvae last winter. Whatever the case, it’s been great to not have to deal with gross Japanese beetle orgies all over my plants this summer.

Meleah Maynard is a Minneapolis-based writer and editor who blogs at Livin’ Thing. If you have a question you’d like her to attempt to answer, send her a message at livinthing.com/contact.

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