How To Grow and Propagate Lavatera in the Perennial Garden

I really like my Lavatera blooms and as I wander through my gardens this past week, the several species of Lavatera that I am growing are simply stunning.

Origins

It seems that the 17th century Swiss botanist that this plant was named after, J. R. Lavater has been well remembered in my garden. They are obviously well remembered in their native habitats of the N.W. Himalayan Mountains, Eastern Siberia and even warm Australia.

I really like this plant because even though each individual flower is short lived (a day or two at most) my perennial plants are smothered with newly produced flowers for an extended period of time.

Lavatera cachemiriana
L.cachemiriana Image the author

Perennial and Annual

I note that my perennial lavatera plants are different from the L. trimestris annuals that are regularly available in garden centers. I’ll be listing others over time on the main perennial flower page here.

While the annual forms are interesting, I do prefer the perennials with their bush like growth or tall straight stalks.

However, if you are growing the annual forms, look for:

  • ‘Silver Cup’ a bright pink, dwarf bush form to 30″,
  • ‘Loveliness’ with a trumpet shaped rose flower stretching up to 4′ in height,
  • ‘Mont Blanc’ a dwarf 24″tall, with white blossoms or
  • ‘Pink Beauty’ another 30″ plant with wonderfully large, pale pink blooms.

Issues With Lavatera

All these lovely pink flowers have not come without a price however. The seeds are slow and difficult to germinate and I’ve had to experiment with different species to see if they were hardy

L. arborea, known as the tree mallow, has twice failed quite spectacularly in attempts at overwintering. After having gone into the winter in good shape, two years in a row I was left with a grey-brown pile of slushy roots in my garden the following spring. I guess this plant had a dislike of Eastern Ontario winters.

I think if I were to seek out this plant again, I would winter it indoors or in a greenhouse to atone for my past mistakes and try to keep it alive.

Update 2019. I haven’t even tried to do this again as I no longer have greenhouses or cold frames. Plants survive outside (or not).

Self-sowing Variety

One plant that has more than redeemed the above failure has been the L.cachemiriana that now self sows itself enough to be called a bit of a nuisance.

This native of Kashmir is quite hardy in our garden and seems to thrive on a sunny garden spot

It starts life as a rosette of leaves and then the second year it sends one or two shoots skyward to five or six feet in height covering them with 2 inch wide soft pink blossoms. The petal is 5 lobed and a tremendous mid pink that brightens up the garden.

Right now, it is also trying desperately to colonize underneath my crab apple tree without a great deal of real success in this lower light area. I know it will pop up somewhere else in the garden in a year or two to try to take over that space and I’ll wind up thinning it down to 3 or 4 plants again.

A Star Variety

The real star of the show is the L. thuringiaca or Tree Lavatera.
This would be a hardy shrub if we lived in Southern Ohio or Pennsylvania but in my USDA zone 4 garden it is killed back to the ground every winter

In the spring it sends up lots of shoots to 6 or 7 feet (the older plants now resemble a large forsythia) and covers them in mid-summer with an abundance of the typical 5 lobed flowers.

Flowers Short Lived

Lavatera flowers are short lived as well but with hundreds of buds being produced, I’ll have a huge display of flowers almost until the middle of August.

I now have two forms of this plant in our garden.

  • I have the species and I have a cultivar called ‘Barnsley’. The newer ‘Barnsley’ is a darker pink than the species and it has a red throat. It is quite an attractive flower and well worth the search to find it.
  • L. ‘Aurea’ or Golden Leaved Lavatera is a stunning plant in the spring when the golden leaves first emerge. It fade a bit to a yellowy green at the end of the summer. It has the traditional pink blooms and is quite a stunning plant when it reaches full size.
  • L.’Bredon Springs’ has rose-pink flowers and a soft grey-green foliage that is quite attractive when placed next to darker leaved plants in the perennial border.
  • I grew L. tauricensis for two years before I lost it during a mild wet winter but I have to confess that there was some discussion amongst my friends and I about whether it was mislabelled. I’m looking for a good botanically accurate source for this as well. It shared the same flowering form as the L. thuringiaca and was quite showy in the trial bed. I’ll be using a German source of seed next year to try and obtain the right plant.

All other forms of Lavatera are for a much warmer garden than my USDA zone 4, Eastern Ontario garden.

Starting Seed

To start the seed successfully, use Doug’s outdoor pot method

  • Take an old 8″ nursery pot (size is not important although 6–8″ is ideal) and cut the bottom off the pot.
  • Plant the pot. I liked that line but it really means to sink the pot in the ground so only the rim is showing.
  • Fill the bottomless pot with either the soil from the hole or a good quality potting soil.
  • Sterilize the soil by slowly pouring a kettle of boiling water into the pot.
  • Once cool, plant the seeds and cover with only a quarter inch of potting soil.
  • Tag the pot so you don’t forget what you’ve planted and then forget it until next spring.
  • In May, after the winter of dormancy, you should see tiny Lavatera seedlings popping up with their distinctive maple like leaves. If it doesn’t have a maple tree leaf, it is a weed and can be removed

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Resources to Find Material Mentioned on This Page

Lavatera seeds — caution — some are annuals but lovely nevertheless 🙂

How to Keep Spiderwort or Tradescantia Blooming All Summer

Spiderwort or Tradescantia is a particularly gratifying perennial because this plant is one of the longest bloomers in the garden – carrying flowers from early June right through until fall if treated properly.

It is a North American native plant named for John Tradescant senior (he died in 1638) a famous English gardener who received the species from Virginia sometime before 1629.
There is also the possibility that it was named after his son, John Tradescant junior, who was himself a notable gardener and who visited Virginia in the 1650’s.
Both men were head gardeners to King Charles I of England and both were very serious plant collectors, traveling around the world in search of new plants for the King’s garden.

Tradescantia ‘Charlotte’s Web’ from Proven Winners.

Spiderwort – The Name

The common name Spiderwort (some folks like to use a space spider wort) is presumed to come from the way the flowers hang like spiders from a web off the main stem and “wort” is the Saxon name for ‘plant’

I like this plant because while it blooms almost all summer, (with heavy flushes in the early summer and again in the fall) spiderwort requires next to no special care in the garden. I prune it to the ground in the fall and the rest of the time, we co-exist and enjoy each other’s company.

For Heavy Blooms

There are two conditions however spiderwort must have if it is to bloom heavily.

  • The first is full sunshine. The more shade you present spider wort with, the fewer blooms it will produce. A light dusting of shade in the early morning or late afternoon is acceptable but you do want this plant to get as much sunlight as possible.
  • The second and equally important variable is soil moisture. Spiderwort demands constantly damp soil if it is to bloom continually. You can not put this plant in the full sun and allow the surrounding soil to dry out. It will quickly stop blooming if you do.

I plant my spiderwort around the pond where they are available for regular waterings as I top up the water level. I also mulch them heavily so the soil moisture stays constant and even below the mulch.

If It Dries Out

Here’s a tip. If you mistreat spider wort by allowing it to dry out and it stops producing flowers, simply cut it back by half and start a weekly watering program. It will respond with new growth and flower production in the fall.
A lack of water will also produce brown tips on the leaves rather quickly

If grown in a moist and fertile soil, not a boggy poorly-drained soil, spiderwort will grow to 24 inches tall and spread the same amount.
You’ll find spider wort in most garden centres and the better ones will have the newer varieties.

Varieties

  • ‘Charlotte’ is a clear pink flower and a delightful grower.
  • ‘Concord Grape’ is one of the better dark flowering varieties with a deep purple flower. It also features frosted blue-green foliage that makes it stand out in the garden.
  • ‘Hawaiian Punch’ is another good rebloomer and it has ‘magenta-pink’ flowers.
  • ‘Isis’ has white flowers although there is a flush of violet-blue in the centre of the flower. Many of the lighter varieties have this blue flush to the bloom; the breeders haven’t bred out the native blue flower genes yet.
  • ‘Little Doll’ is a compact variety for those of you with smaller gardens and the blooms on this plant are a delightful light blue colour.
  • ‘Purple Dome’ has been around for many years now and it features a very dark purple flower. You should be easily find this variety; it is still a good one.
  • ‘Zwanenburg Blue’ is another older and easily found variety that still graces my garden with its clear blue flowers.
  • Rubra’ is a one of the newer red flowering introductions and I confess I don’t like it as much as I like the purples and blues. The “red” in the bloom has too much blue in it for my tastes.
  • Two brand new varieties you’ll want in your garden are ‘Bilberry Ice’ and ‘Blue and Gold’.
  • ‘Bilberry Ice’ is a light violet flower with darker centres on the three-petalled flower. An attractive plant, it has just entered my gardening world.
  • The star attraction and one of the newest spiderworts to hit the garden is ‘Blue and Gold’ or ‘Kates Gold’ (same plant – different name). The foliage on this plant is golden green (chartreuse) and the flowers are a dark violet blue. The foliage holds its colour best when the temperatures are cooler so a touch of shade (rather than hot noonday sun areas) will help keep its yellow tones. The contrast between the leaves and flower is delightful and this will be a hit in your garden. This is the plant that started blooming for me this morning and I confess I put it right on the top of my favourite plant list.

Resources to Find Material Mentioned on This Page

Spiderwort plants – start with plants not seed.

 

Why Did My Beautiful Coreopsis Die This Winter?

In order to answer the question “Why did my beautiful Coreopsis die this winter?” it’s important to understand a few things about the Coreopsis family in our gardens.

I’ve grown this amazing daisy family member – common name is Tickseed –  for almost as long as I’ve been gardening (ahem… over 45 years now) professionally. And I’ve learned a few lessons about it along the way.

To begin with, almost every one of these plants is a long-blooming perennial but they do come with different lifespans.

The Longest Lived Coreopsis In My Gardens

Both Coreopsis verticillata and Coreopsis rosea are heavy bloomers and very long lived in my USDA zone 4 garden. In fact, they are the best of the long-blooming family.

They’re both hardy into USDA zone 4 (although C. rosea  – a pink flowering plant may not be quite a hardy or long-lived as C. verticillata – a yellow bloomer)

Other Coreopsis In Garden Centers

You’ll often find C. grandiflora and C. lanceolata in garden centers and these tend to be shorter-lived plants.

They have larger flowers though and with regular deadheading and pruning, they’ll bloom all summer.

You can see all kinds of Coreopsis plants here.

The Modern Hybrids

In order to obtain different colors, modern breeders introduced tender Mexican species to the breeding mix. So if you’re purchasing some of the more colorful hybrids, these are variably hardy

So What You’re Saying…

Yes, some of these modern hybrids are not as tough as the older plants. The Southern genetics are lovely but they’re not really tough enough for some northern gardens.

And yes, nursery marketing people aren’t necessarily making this fact part of their sales pitch.

My Best Advice

Read the label. Good marketing people put the USDA hardiness rating on the label (If you’re in a USDA 4, you’re mostly out of luck with the new ones)

Here’s The Secret To Making Coreopsis Tougher

Grow them in the full sun.

Grow them with perfect drainage. This plant thrives in well-drained, sandier soils. Any clay or standing water is going to make them weaker going into the winter.

If your garden is too wet over the winter (too many freeze-thaw cycles in the spring) or with irrigation or any moisture around the crown of the plant, the survival rate will be low.

In short:

  • This is a plant for full, hot sun.
  • It wants perfect drainage with no clay soil.
  • It doesn’t want wet mulch around the crown over the winter.

And even then, it may not live over the winter as marketers tend to overestimate how tough their perennial plants are.

But at least now you understand why your fancy, expensive Coreopsis died on you.

For more practical perennial tips, check this out.

How To Grow and Propagate Perennial Hibiscus

Over the years, I’ve grown quite a few perennial flowers such as Hibiscus in my garden. They’re easily grown if you give them the conditions they want (in fact, they’re easily grown in most conditions)

Background

This is a rather large family of plants ‘ about 220 species all told of annual and perennial herbs, shrubs, subshrubs and trees.
While you won’t grow too many Hibiscus trees in zone 4, you will likely grow all the other forms. Hibiscus are a member of the malvaceae or Mallow family which lends them a common flower habit with some of our less popular roadside weeds (white mallow) and our more popular garden plants (Lavatera).

 Growing Summary:

  • Sunshine: Sun to part shade
  • Soils: just about anything other than drought and heavy clay
  • Propagation: Seeds or Tip Cuttings
  • Height: From 24″ to 60″
  • Flowering Time: late summer through fall
  • Hardiness: USDA 4 for common perennials

Common Garden Center Plant: Hibiscus moscheutos

Hibiscus moscheutos is the plant that garden centers sell as perennial hibiscus. Native to the Carolina forests, most perennial Hibiscus are rated a USDA zone 4 for winter hardiness and down to a warm zone 9 for summer heat tolerance.

They are typically July-August bloomers although a few bloom later than this. If grown in good rich soil, this plant will quickly turn into a four to six foot tall bush every spring (dying to the ground over winter). The flowers will also be amazingly large at six inches across.

I have grown this plant in sand and clay and have abused it terribly, it survives almost every kind of soil although it doesn’t bloom well when drought strikes.

The only problem I ever had was winter-hardiness on some of the dwarf varieties but that might have been my gardening rather than the plant. Given that I like the taller varieties better anyway, it was no loss.

They are usually pruned to the ground in the fall and regrow (starting as one of the last perennials to emerge) each spring.

The most commonly available form of perennial Hibiscus is ‘SouthernmBelle’ because it is carried by most seed catalogues.

This wonderful plant, if grown in a moist, rich soil in full sun or part shade can easily hit 4 to 6 feet tall in a season and be covered by a delightful display of huge six inch blooms in late summer.

New Varieties

The breeders have done their magic giving us plants such as ‘Cotton Candy’ pink and white, ‘Satan’ blood red, ‘Radiation’ deep pink, and ‘Crimson Wonder’ with you guessed it ‘ crimson flowers.

‘Kopper King’has coppery-red foliage with massive white flowers containing a red eye; this is an excellent show-stopping fall bloomer. I’ve also grown ‘Lord Baltimore’ which is a rather large bushy perennial Hibiscus plant with massive bright red flowers and this has received more than its share of garden envy while in bloom.

‘Fantasia’ is a compact form, only growing to three feet tall but it does have massive rose-pink flowers.

Transplanting Caution

If you purchase perennial Hibiscus moscheutos, be extremely careful with transplanting. It resents having its roots moved and can turn from a healthy hulk into a basket case with careless moving or even weeding that disturbs its roots.

Propagating Perennial Hibiscus

These plants can be divided taken from cuttings or seed. Here are tips on propagation and how to do these things.

You can get all the hibiscus plants you’d like here.

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