Blue Sea Holly

flowerloveririnaMay 15, 2010

Hi, I'm a semi-newb at gardening and I am encountering several problems this spring. Here's one of them.

I ordered my very first Blue Sea Holly from Michigan Bulb Co., and promptly planted it in my newly dug up flower bed. It has rained a lot since I planted it, which I thought was excellent since I didn't have to water the plants at all. And the soil seems like it has been draining well. But I just took a look at the Blue Sea Holly and it had rotted off at the top. It was all soft and mushy at the base and had a peculiar odor. I pulled the root out, which came out very easily, and it too felt a little soft. Could it be that it rained too much?

I've read that BSH likes well drained soil... which I think I have. I checked some of the bulbs I planted as well (crocosmias and liatris) and those looked like they were doing all right.. they weren't mushy at all.

I'm having a replacement Blue Sea Holly sent and I would like some advice from anyone who has dealt with Blue Sea Hollies. How can I plant it and not worry about it rotting out on me again?


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All I can say is Michigan Bulb...You're lucky you got anything to grow at all from that place!


    Bookmark   May 15, 2010 at 7:24PM
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I agree with echinaceamanic. Michigan Bulb has a pretty poor reputation. I didn't know that when I placed my first order with them. Live 'n learn. They have very attractive low prices , but I remember how disappointing it was to see so many plants in my large order too wet and mushy when shipped and many packed poorly. I never ordered from them again.

There are websites that have ratings and reviews of nurseries and growers. I tried to suggest one here, but Gardenweb blocked my use of their website's name, so I can't give it. Gardenweb says the blocking is to prevent spammers from posting here. But I think it's super important we can continue to help each other out here by passing on websites that are reputable and helpful. So . . . in order to get you to that not-to-be-mentioned helpful website:

Let's just say the first word in the url address is the short term for David. The second word is garden. And then it's ".com". for ratings and reviews of nurseries and growers. You can't go wrong there.

This doesn't answer your question about Sea Holly but someone here can help. Good luck & Happy Gardening!

    Bookmark   May 16, 2010 at 6:16PM
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laceyvail(6A, WV)

Forget Michigan Bulb. If you want sea holly (or anything else), order from a nusery that cares about its reputation. And its plants.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2010 at 6:04AM
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Thanks for your comments. I suppose I have a lot to learn. I never bothered to check the ratings for Michigan Bulb and I suppose I was sucked into it because of the crazy amount of advertising they do. I guess it just goes to show that companies that advertise too much (like Apple for one, haha) aren't always the best choice.

This was actually my second order from them. I ordered a few flowers from them two years ago and except for the two butterfly bushes I ordered from them, all the flowers seem to be doing well. But I think the butterfly bushes aren't doing well because of my own fault... I trimmed them down to the ground in the fall rather than in early spring when I should have! They shipped my orders promptly and well packaged. One or two of the flowers were heavily root bound, but I've seen that problem at my local family owned nurseries as well. But suffice it to say, I'll explore other options next time and make sure to check ratings.

The blue sea holly came in bare root form and it was in good shape. I'm afraid that the soil conditions may have harmed it and I was only wondering what I should do next time to make sure it grows. Once it's established I'll be happy but for now it seems I have to baby it.... Any advice?

And maybe I'll order another Blue Sea Holly from a "reputable" garden center and see the comparison for myself. And I'll let you all know which one wins :)

    Bookmark   May 17, 2010 at 12:08PM
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bean_counter_z4(Zone 4, Rkfd,IL)

You could try potting it up in some well draining potting soil and waiting till later to plant it out. This will allow it to get some roots and settle in before being put into the garden soil. Also, it will avoid any more heavy spring rains.

In my garden, Sea Holly grows well and reseeds. I have heavy clay but it is planted on a slight hill so the drainage is excellent.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2010 at 4:40PM
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christinmk z5b eastern WA

It is pretty rainy here in WA, but I haven't had any trouble with that causing Eryngium to rot. Both of mine are planted in the worst areas of my garden- areas that have hard and gravel-y soil that dries out super fast. They seem to love it. Perhaps there is a similar area you could plant your new Sea Holly??

And make sure not to plant the crown too deep on the next one, that could have been the reason your first plant rotted out.
Good luck!

    Bookmark   May 17, 2010 at 5:02PM
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gringo(z8 VA)

It's best to pot up these bare roots, as someone has already mentioned. That's what I did, with "blue sea holly" roots from Michigan bulb last spring & they survived & are flowering beautifully this year.
They turned out to actually be the alpinum species, which easily rot from too much rain, after transplanting. This particular species dislikes any root disturbance & is native to the alps of Europe & not the sea.
It requires more careful watering with good drainage even when established, but can still easily rot while dormant.
If it had been the common Eryngium planum instead, (which is also much easier to germinate & transplant) it probably would have grown like a weed!
Some of the more expensive nurseries try to pass off the planum instead, (but offered as alpinum.)
I think the Eryngium alpinum is not only slower growing & more difficult altogether, but is much more attractive though shorter in height.
I successfully germinated E. alpinum 'Blue Lace' & 'Blue Star' seedlings in 2009(some took a whole year to sprout!) & can't wait to see the color of the bracts...

    Bookmark   May 18, 2010 at 12:51PM
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gringo(z8 VA)

flowerlover, I should have mentioned that there is an actual species of 'sea holly', named Eryngium maritimum.
I remember seeing it growing wild near the beach shore in Italy, in what was most likely almost pure beach sand.
The shape of these flower bracts do resemble holly leaves.

I can't say as to why such a variety of species all get advertised together under the same common name of 'blue sea holly', but some websites do list the species offered & sell the correctly advertised plant. Though not often.

But, more probably I've found out over the years that some mail order nurseries may offer the alpinum species, or one of its cultivars in their catalog or website, but the root may turn out to be planum, or one of the numerous E. planum cultivars instead.
They've been mixed up/misidentified, intentionally or not, for many years by many vendors.

To differentiate new growth of a bare root, early on; Eryngium alpinum has somewhat heart shaped (or triangular, pointed at the tip & basally) leaves with a finely serrated edge, especially near leaf stem base. While the leaves of planum are ovate with regular serration.

I would suggest to avoid overly frequent heavy watering or exposure to continuous thunderstorm rainfall, until noticeable growth has started & at least one full sized leaf has appeared.
If you want an easy to grow Eryngium, try 'Sapphire Blue', which I think I'm fairly certain is a hybrid of planum & alpinum, although it is supposedly sterile.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2010 at 3:36PM
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Thanks so much for the informative responses! I believe what I got was the alpinum and after it had rotted, I read a bit more into it and found that it is a more difficult one to grow... I've decided to plant it somewhere else in my garden - where I know for sure that the soil IS actually well drained and more on the dry/rocky side rather than taking another chance in the new flower bed. I'll let you guys know how it goes!

Gringo, thank you so much. You've given me a lot of helpful info and I really appreciate your taking the time to do so :)

Happy gardening to all!

    Bookmark   May 18, 2010 at 9:08PM
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Just had to say I planted blue sea holly and it was pure evil in my garden. First of all, it grew straight up and then completely toppled over -- couldn't support itself at all, and just looked ugly almost all of the time. Much worse though, it was immensely invasive -- even two years after I've removed it from beds I find it coming up, with HUGE running roots that are almost impossible to remove. Hate that plant!

    Bookmark   May 19, 2010 at 10:18PM
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Not all sea hollies are created equal and some can be vicious garden pests, as noted above. I highly recommend Eryngium 'Sapphire Blue' as being one of the easier to grow and more robust forms of sea holly, as well as being seed sterile and of an absolutely stunningly shocking blue color. FWIW, 'Sapphire Blue ' is a hybrid between E. bourgattii (seed parent) and E. alpinum (pollen parent), both of which are highly rambunctious species on their own.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2010 at 11:05AM
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lol.. Thanks again for your advice. I've heard some good things about it and some bad. I have never seen a Blue Sea Holly before so I am a bit leery of planting one in my garden.. but I'd like to take a chance and see how it goes... hopefully mine won't go rampant. Which is a little scary!! Yikes!

    Bookmark   May 20, 2010 at 9:39PM
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I have a blue sea holly, not sure of the variety as I got it from a friend two years ago. It was stunningly blue last year, but this year not a hint of blue. Any ideas why no blue?

If it helps, there is only one seedling so I don't know that it's an invasive variety. Thanks!

    Bookmark   June 3, 2010 at 4:28PM
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The Sea Holly I planted earlier this spring has also rotted out. It was "Blue Hobbitt" and was purchased from a reputable local nursery. It was the only variety they sold. It was planted in a bed that I have been repeatedly ammending for many years and I even added some sand to the bottom of the planting hole to try to improve the drainage. Also, we haven't had a whole lot of rain this spring and I haven't been very diligent about watering (need to work on that or everything will be dead by July).
I'm kind of disappointed because they look like such cool plants in the books. But I guess this how we figure out what will and won't work in our individual gardens. I'm certainly not going to replace it with another anytime soon. Now I just need to figure out what to plant in its place.

Totally Confused

    Bookmark   June 6, 2010 at 6:56AM
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I bought sea holly from my local nursery. It died fairly quickly which was heart breaking since they were $17 a piece! I wish I bought it from Michigan Bulb Co. because I could get new plants to try again. I have never had any problems with Michigan Bulb Co. and I love their replacement policy as I am not an experienced gardener. I have only had two perennials not return the following year and they have replaced both no questions asked. Whereas, I'm out of luck on the perennials I bought and paid more for elsewhere.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2011 at 11:16AM
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gottagarden(z5 western NY)

Sea holly STINKS! Literally. Smells like cat poop. I have yanked out all by paths or under windows due to that horrible smell. Unless you can admire it from a distance, don't bother.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2011 at 8:08PM
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Blue Sea Holly has to be the worst plant ever!!!!

we sold it last year and and as soon as it went on to the pernnial table every fly in the world came buy to hang out with these plants. it got to the point where we had to move it to its own table.
i think i rather sell cat poop on a stick!!! then that plant again...

    Bookmark   July 31, 2011 at 6:38AM
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I have grown them all, except maritimum, which belongs to sand dunes. After many years I've found out the only one worth growing is a hybrid with a name Forncett Ultra(from UK). It is reliably perennial, practically indestructable, unless the roots are eaten by something. Eryngium alpinum is very easy to propagate from seeds if you allow it, but big clumps are more succeptible to winter rot than young plants. So they are never really old to make a very big impact, unless you're lucky. Erygnium planum is a terrible flopper, don't waste your time on it(though there is a dwarf cultivar, don't remember the name), it is rather short-lived.
Warning though: after many years Forncett Ultra can send some short runners.

As far as the ornamental value of the flowers is concerned, none can beat really blue individuals of E.alpinum.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2011 at 4:56PM
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