Lobelia: An amazing flower for pot and garden
Lobelias are probably best known for the annual summer bedding plant, indispensable for edging borders and for brightening up containers and hanging baskets. But there are also some gorgeous herbaceous perennial lobelias too.
My favorite color is blue, so I go absolutely giddy every spring when annual lobelia plants start showing up at my local nursery. Not only do many varieties have true blue flowers, a rarity in the garden world, many also love cool weather and are in full splendor during spring and fall. They are a must-have for my spring containers, and anywhere else in my garden where I want to add a blast of blue.
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When to plant:
In spring, after the danger of frost has passed.
Where to plant:
Most prefer moist, hummus-rich, slightly acidic soil. Some perennial varieties, such as cardinal flowers, prefer boggy conditions and can even be grown in standing water.
In midsummer, most will need some shade to keep them blooming, with the exception of those with improved heat tolerance.
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Water regularly to keep the soil evenly moist, especially during hot, dry weather. Container-grown plants may need daily watering to maintain consistent soil moisture.
Growing from seed:
Although annual types are widely available at garden centers in the spring, you can also start your own plants from seed, sown indoors 8 to 10 weeks before the last spring frost date. Don’t transplant seedlings outdoors until a few weeks after the last frost date. Perennial lobelias will often self-sow given the right conditions and usually bloom the first year from seed.
Growing in containers:
Plant in a potting mix rich in organic matter. When using them in mixed container combinations, be sure to team them up with other moisture-loving shade-tolerant annuals and perennials, such as violas, impatiens, and sweet alyssum.
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LOBELIA CARE AND MAINTENANCE
Perennial varieties can usually get by with a yearly application of fertilizer or compost in the spring. For annuals, fertilize more frequently or apply a continuous-release fertilizer for flowering plants to sustain them throughout the growing season.
Pruning and deadheading:
Most annual lobelias are self-cleaning, so you don’t need to deadhead them. If blooming slows during the heat of summer, the best way to revive them is to cut them back by as much as one-half to two-thirds, followed by regular watering. This radical pruning will regenerate new growth, and by the time the cooler weather of fall arrives, your plants should be in full bloom again. You can also pinch back plants at any time if you prefer bushier growth.
Avoid pruning back or deadheading cardinal flower and other perennials if you want them to reseed naturally.
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Perennials tend to be short-lived, but the plants are easy to propagate by dividing them in the spring or fall or by taking stem cuttings after your plants finish flowering. Unless you plan to let your plants self-sow, divide them every two or three years to extend their lifespan.
If perennials are covered with heavy mulch over the winter, the roots can rot, especially in warmer southern climates. If you typically mulch your perennial beds to prevent frost heaving and root damage, use a light layer of mulch that won’t completely cover the basal leaves.