Electrifying Lobelia

I believe I have found the perfect blooming plant for my hanging baskets, the ones that are positioned to get only morning sun. Blue is a cool color that usually fades into the background, but the electric blue of Lobelia is exquisitely vibrant. I personally love blue flowers and I have been admiring this low trailing, blooming plant in other people’s yards and containers for several years now but I just hadn’t come across any to purchase in the nurseries. This year, I found some early and scooped them up. I also ordered seed via catalogue and have a few planted in 4-inch pots. I see sprouts (not many) so I’ll have to let you know how growing from seed turns out in one of my later updates, perhaps.

Well, I’m going to go on and on about this plant’s color. Actually, Lobelia is the genus name for a large group of plants of a variety of heights and bloom colors. For example, Lobelia cardinalis (otherwise known as Cardinal Flower) grows up to 3 feet tall and blooms red in color. Some types, including some trailing types, bloom in pink or white. The particular type I am discussing in this post is Lobelia erinus. While the other types and colors of Lobelia are indeed beautiful, I have found nothing more intense in color as the electric blue of the trailing Lobelia erinus. It is a floral hue that makes you do a double-take when walking by because you simply can’t believe the blooms are real.


Lobelia erinus
Picture compliments of http://www.gardening.cornell.edu/homegardening/scene3417.html

Now, having boasted about this plant’s color I’d like to reiterate that it is an low profile edging, hanging basket, and/or filler plant. Its vibrancy indeed makes a powerful statement wherever you choose to place it, but the plant itself is a bit dainty. And being dainty, in general, usually means a little extra TLC may be involved. Such is the case with Lobelia.

Lobelia erinus is a tropical perennial, and thus, in areas north of Zone 10 (pretty much the entire US) it should actually be considered and treated as an annual. Although it is plant of tropical origin and is accustomed to warmer temps, Lobelia is not a full sun candidate – especially in my part of the US – Texas. Lobelia enjoys part sun, part shade and thrives in moderately moist (but well-drained) soil. Thus, if you choose to plant Lobelia in a container or hanging basket you will need to water it more frequently than you would more drought-tolerant plantings. In fact, no matter how beautiful the colors may mix, avoid grouping Lobelia with drought tolerants such as Lantana, Purslane and Moss Rose. Instead, add Lobelia to containers and landscapes that host Liriope, Caladiums, Coleus, and Impatiens. Sweet Alyssum, which benefits from the same part sun conditions, is a great companion to Lobelia in both texture and color.

The Lobelia pictured in my hanging baskets below receive morning sun from about 7 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and I water them daily since they are housed in coconut liners (and thus, the soil dries out rapidly.) I am very pleased with their performance thus far as it has been difficult to find a suitable blooming plant for the area. Fortunately, Lobelia fits perfectly with its part sun-part shade needs, moist but well drained soil preference, and its trailing habit!


With regard to pests, the only thing I’ve found in my research that bothers Lobelia are thrips. Thrips are those tiny “invisible” bugs that sometimes land on and bite humans if you happen to walk in their path. They are especially attracted to white, yellow and yes, you guessed it – blue flowers. The best method to rid your Lobelia of thrips is to give them a spray of organic Insecticidal Soap. Since thrips are so tiny, you might give your Lobelia a spray now and then for preventative measures – just be sure to treat when your plants are in the shade or you may burn them.

An interesting side note about the Lobelia genus is that several plants in this group have medicinal properties. Native Americans historically smoked Lobelia inflata (otherwise known as Indian Tobacco) to alleviate respiratory conditions. In the 19th century, it was used to rid the body of toxins and as such, it earned the name “puke weed” in addition to Indian Tobacco. In today’s herbal medicine world, it is still used (in moderation) to help with asthma. An extract of Lobelia inflata is thought to have properties that may assist with drug addiction and treatment of cancer. Keep in mind herbal medicine is just as powerful, if not more so, than traditional medicine – so never try to diagnose yourself. The “puke weed” reference above should keep you from partaking on your own!

In closing, I hope you are as fortunate as I have been and are able to seek out a few Lobelia pottings in your nearby nursery or garden center. Surely you have a spot in your landscape that can benefit from a little blue electricity this season!

Until next time,
originally posted 2012

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