Perennials Archives

Late Season Blooms for Butterflies

Monarch & Asclepias (Milkweed)

Monarch Butterfly & Asclepias (Milkweed)

by Natalie Brewer, Master Gardener
One of my favorite aspects of summer is seeing all the butterflies, like exquisitely colorful silk tapestries, fluttering throughout my garden. Butterflies are from the insect family, Lepidoptera, which includes butterflies, skippers and moths. Over 151 species of butterflies have been recorded in the state of Maryland. Many butterflies have names that conjure up images of a land replete with fairies and unicorns; names such as wood nymphs, brushfoots, satyrs, elfins, and duskywings. Butterflies are beautiful, tough yet fragile, and can put a smile on the face of even the most negative nature-averse person on the planet.

Tiger Swallowtails on Joe Pye Weed

Tiger Swallowtails on Joe Pye Weed

Many butterflies have very particular needs throughout their life cycle. Some are very specialized and require a specific host plant family, or sometimes only one particular host plant, to feed on during their larval stage as caterpillars. In addition, some require specific plants that they use as nectar sources; perhaps it is the quality of the nectar, the shape of the flower, the specific bloom time, or simply a nectar plant that tends to grow in the same habitat as the larval host plants and through evolution have become the preferred flowers for nectar consumption simply because they were the closest flowers. Unfortunately, with development systematically encroaching on wild areas, and residential and commercial gardens containing few, if any, native plants, these important food sources, that are essential to the survival of future generations of butterflies, are disappearing quickly. Because of this, many butterfly species have declined and some have even become endangered.

Tiger_Swallowtail_on_Monarda

Tiger Swallowtail on Monarda

The good news is that you can help. Homeowners can have a crucial impact on the future of our butterfly population by planting more native plants in their gardens. As this year’s growing season comes to an end, we can help butterflies now by helping them to prepare for winter. Butterflies spend their winter in a variety of ways. Some butterflies, like the famous Monarch, migrate south for the winter, traveling an exhausting, perilous journey across thousands of miles. Other butterflies over-winter as eggs, chrysalis, or caterpillars, hiding under fallen leaves or tucked away on the undersides of branches. Still others, such as the Mourning Cloak, spend the winter as adult butterflies, hiding under the shaggy bark of trees in a state of torpor, or semi-hibernation. But all butterflies share one thing in common, in order to survive the winter; in late summer and early autumn they all need extra energy and nutrition in the form of nectar.

It is no accident that there are many native plants that bloom toward the end of summer. Through hundreds, or even thousands, of years of evolution, flowers adapted their bloom period to coincide with the time when pollinators are available and in need of nectar. Simply put, that means that there are many beautiful flowers to choose from that will suit nearly every gardener’s (and butterfly’s) taste. In order to attract the most butterflies and have a beautiful end-of-season garden, be sure to provide an assortment of native plants that bloom at different times, right up until the end of the growing season. Here is a list of some of my favorites that are easy to find and easy to grow.

[Note on availability from Larry Hurley, Perennials Specialist: Availability of perennials for sale at Behnke Nurseries varies throughout the year, with the best availability from mid-April to early June. Some of the items described below, such as the wild form of Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta, I have been unable to find for sale. Vernonia noveboracensis and Conoclinium coelestinum are occasionally but not routinely, available. You can always email me at lhurley@behnkes.net to check availability on perennials you are looking for.]

Joe Pye Weed and Goldenrod

Joe Pye Weed and Goldenrod

Joe Pye weed
One of my all-time favorites, and a seemingly infinite source of nectar, is Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium species). Depending on the variety, Joe Pye can grow from a diminutive two feet tall, to an astounding twelve feet tall. The hazy purple-pink flowers are actually umbels of numerous tiny flowers that produce copious amounts of nectar that every butterfly in the neighborhood would have a hard time passing up. Some varieties, such as common Joe Pye weed, Eupatorium dubium, and spotted Joe Pye weed, E. maculatum, require soil that does not dry out. However, trumpet weed, E. fistulosum, can withstand drier soils. In my garden, however, I grow the cultivar, Eupatorium maculatum ‘Gateway’, and the plant does extremely well without any additional water (although I gave it plenty of water the first year until it became established). Joe Pye weed looks fantastic when planted in odd-numbered groups of three, five, or more. Try it with switchgrass, Panicum virgatum, or Indian grass, Sorghastrum nutans, for a stunning late-season effect.

Aster divaricatus

Aster divaricatus

Asters
Other late season butterfly favorites are plants in the aster family. Asters are a diverse group of flowering plants that offer fall-blooming beauties for both the sunny and the shady border. The most easy-to-find asters include New England aster, Aster novae-angliae, and New York aster, Aster novae-belgii, both of which prefer full sun to partially sunny areas. These plants are popular in the nursery industry and many cultivated varieties are available with many different flower colors and plant heights to choose from. Asters can come in colors ranging from sophisticated light pink to arresting fuchsia, and from delicate sky blue to dramatic royal purple. Asters are easy to grow, just provide them with a bit of extra attention the first year. Asters also look better when grouped together and glow in the late summer garden when most other plants have petered out. Some varieties bloom late in the fall and the flowers look spectacular among the red, yellow and orange fall foliage. In addition, the non-cultivated varieties of both New England and New York aster are the host plant to the Pearl Crescent butterfly.

Phlox paniculata

Phlox paniculata

Garden Phlox
A third favorite and a must-have for any butterfly garden, is tall garden phlox. There are many cultivated varieties to choose from, but one of my favorites is Phlox paniculata ‘David’. Some phloxes tend to get a bit of whitish mildew on their leaves, but not David. With its five-inch long panicles of pristine white, hay-scented flowers, David can take drought, average garden soil, and whatever else you throw at it. In addition, if seed heads are left to mature, you will soon find your garden full of David offspring, which tend to revert back to their wild nature and mature to different shades of vivid pink. In addition to ‘David’, ‘Eva Culum’, ‘Franz Schubert’ and ‘Katherine’ are the cultivars that I enjoy growing in my garden, but there are many other varieties to choose from. Phlox begins blooming in July and continues well into the end of August. I find that they are constantly visited by many different butterflies and hummingbird moths. [Note from Larry Hurley, Perennials Specialist: I have seen powdery mildew on Phlox ‘David’, but all things being equal, it develops fewer symptoms than many of the older selections. Others that are mildew tolerant include ‘Robert Poore’ and ‘Speed Limit 45’. This is the end of the Phlox sales season, so selection at this point is limited.]

Black-Eyed Susan
No butterfly garden would be complete without our state flower, the black-eyed Susan. Rudbeckia hirta and other Rudbeckia species are tough garden plants that deserve their place in every garden. Although it seems that every gas station tends to have these plants, that should just give you more reason to consider planting them because they bloom for long periods of time and are very easy to grow. In addition to being a nectar source, American goldfinches and other seed-loving birds will flock to your flowers, if you let your plants go to seed. It is exciting to watch an American goldfinch clinging upside down from his own weight, carefully picking out the small black seeds. Letting the flowers go to seed also means you will probably be rewarded with additional black-eyed Susan seedlings the following year. As if all that isn’t enough, the uncultivated species, Rudbeckia hirta, is the host plant to the Silvery Checkerspot butterfly.

Goldenrod Solidago rugosa Fireworks

Goldenrod – Solidago rugosa Fireworks

Goldenrod
An important group of plants to consider for feeding butterflies in late summer is the goldenrod (Solidago) genus of plants. Goldenrods are the quintessential nectar producing plants of our area. These plants can take drought, scorching heat, and even overcrowding, and still shine on. Their tiny yellow flowers growing along their slender stems must be an intoxicating source of nectar, because their flowers are never without the company of numerous pollinators. Goldenrods tend to be one of my favorite flowers. There are many different species and cultivated varieties to choose from that offer different shape and sized plants. All are exciting when grouped together with vivid purple asters, showy pink phlox, and smoky violet-pink Joe Pye weed. One of my particular favorites is Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’, which really does look like a parade of golden fireworks. But try a number of varieties; they all add sparkle to the flower border.

New York Ironweed
A lesser-known native plant which is a spectacular nectar source is New York Ironweed, Vernonia noveboracensis. This plant can grow up to six feet tall and likes full to part sun. Besides getting a layer of mulch in spring, the ironweed in my garden does not receive any additional water and still looks great. Its luminous purple flowers remind me of little puffs of woolen pompoms. Plant it in groups among black-eyed Susans and goldenrods for a dramatic effect. Purple and yellow are on opposite sides of the color wheel and the contrast of their vivid colors draw the attention of pollinators and people alike. For a more subdued effect, plant purple love grass, Eragrostis spectabilis, or purple muhly grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris, in the front of the border to mimic the purple color and create a more cohesive design. Regardless of what you plant it with, ironweed will look great in your garden.

Although there are many other late-blooming native flowers to write about, I wanted to switch gears and mention a few plants that would work for those homeowners who are blessed with shady areas in their yard. Tolerating excruciatingly hot summer temperatures this year, I have found myself spending more time in the shady parts of my yard which, at ten to fifteen degrees cooler than the sunny areas, are a respite during the summer months. Butterflies, too, enjoy a break from scorching heat and will travel into tree lined gardens in search of native beauties such as cardinal flower and white wood aster. Both of these native plants are late summer bloomers and offer rich nectar for hungry pollinating insects.

Cardinal Flower

Cardinal Flower
Cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis, is a stunning native wildflower. This plant is always a surprise to most people when they find out that this spectacular flower grows wild in our wooded areas. As its name implies, the cardinal red flowers rival the color of the red robes of the Cardinals in Rome. Larger butterflies, in particular swallowtails, seem to thrive on the nectar from this sensational plant. In addition, hummingbirds flock to the flowers and will fight over the area so that they do not have to share the tasty sweet liquid with any other hummer. I particularly enjoy the combination of cardinal flower in bloom planted with the non-natives Japanese painted fern and Brunnera macrophylla ‘Looking Glass’. The wide silver leaves of Looking Glass and the lacey silver and maroon leaves of painted fern, both compliment and contrast with the bright crimson of cardinal flower. And since cardinal flower can sometimes be a little leggy, underplanting Brunnera and ferns in front of cardinal flower will hide the cardinal flower’s lanky stems. Another excellent companion plant and a favorite of pollinators is a native called blue mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum (formerly Eupatorium coelestinum.) Looking very similar to the annual blue ageratum, but much taller, the Wedgwood blue fuzzy flowers of blue mistflower create a striking vignette with cardinal flower.

Wood Aster
By contrast, white wood aster, Eurybia divaricatus (formerly Aster divaricata), is a sophisticated subtle beauty. When in bloom, white wood aster plants nearly exhaust themselves by completely covering their stems with tiny white blossoms held high above glossy heart-shaped leaves. Since flowers are modest in size, white wood aster creates a stronger impression when planted in larger groups. Add white wood aster to your vignette of cardinal flower, Brunnera Looking Glass, Japanese painted fern, and blue mistflower. Throw in a few Christmas ferns for some deep green to tie in the color scheme and allow the eye to rest, and you have a shady border that will be the envy of the neighborhood. For a bold background to offset the dainty blooms and lacey foliage, plant some Annabelle or White Dome hydrangeas, which will, by this time, have lime green flower heads. Now you’ve taken the shady border to an entirely new level of ‘Wow’.

So the next time you decide to add some more plants to your garden, consider adding a variety of late season nectar sources for the butterflies. The colors of the flowers and the color and movement of the butterflies will bring you endless joy during the final days of summer.

Sidebar From Behnke’s Woody Plant Manager, Miri Talabac. Several native shrubs also serve as great nectar sources for butterflies and other pollinators. Sweetspire, Summersweet, Buttonbush, New Jersey Tea, several deciduous Azaleas are some of the most popular. (As with the perennials, some of these plants are more readily available in spring.)

Tiger Swallowtail photos by Natalie Brewer.  Photos by Larry Hurley:  Monarch with Milkweed, Phlox paniculata,  Solidago ‘Fireworks’, Aster divaricatus, and Solidago with Joe Pye. Cardinal Flower photo credit.

Summer Tune Up

by Larry Hurley, Perennial Plant Buyer

Or, perhaps we should say Tuin Up; I believe Tuin is Dutch for garden. By mid-summer, much of your garden is feeling a little dragged out. Hot days and warm nights are tough on plants as well as people. A little pruning back can be just the ticket to rejuvenate annuals and perennials. I’m not your guy for vegetable garden hints, I have a shady yard.

Let’s start with hanging baskets. A couple of things happen over time, both a factor of the concept that, if a plant is still alive, it’s trying to grow. (That which doesn’t kill it, makes it longer.)

Hanging Baskets: Basket plants should be sheared or selectively pinched to keep them in proportion to the pot. Petunias, for example, will trail down the side of the pot, growing and flowering from the ends of the stems, until you have flowers at the end of 18 inch long stems with few leaves or flowers at the top around the basket.

The best thing to do is selectively cut off about 20% of the stems each week or two right at the edge of the basket. As those stems recover and start to grow and make flower buds, you cut the next 20%. Over time, you keep the plant to a manageable length and it never looks like it was cut back. For an upright plant, do the same thing–just pinch random stems back from say 12 inches long to 4 inches long, once every week or two.

As the basket ages, the plants roots slowly fill the soil in the basket. The soil settles, washes out of the pot, decays…at some point you have more roots than soil. Roots don’t hold water like soil does. If you find you are watering a couple of times a day, it may be time to put the plant into a larger container– maybe no longer hanging– or in the ground.

Echinacea Trial garden

Echinacea Trial garden

Perennials: The best reference is The Well-Tended Perennial Garden, by Tracy DiSabato-Aust. She tells you how and when to cut back or shear plants in your perennial garden in order to control height, or to prepare the plant for another surge of bloom if it’s a rebloomer like most of the summer-blooming perennials are. Tracy is a landscape contractor in Ohio, and the book is written from practical experience and for the average gardener.

Annuals: Cut off old flower heads to encourage rebloom (deadheading) or cut back the plant part way to encourage bushiness and branching (and eventually more flowers). If you are happy with how they look, don’t do anything. Vinca and Supertunias probably don’t need any attention at all.

Herb Container. Photo by Larry Hurley

Herbs: Continue to pinch off the ends of the stems to encourage bushiness. With basil, remove flower buds by pinching out the flowering stems. If you have a few strong stems that have not gone to flower, take a 3-inch- or-so long tip cutting (the end 3 inches of the stem) and put it in a glass of water so that the bottom inch or so is in the water and the top is in a sunny window. It should root in about 10 days. In two or three weeks, you can plant it back outside while your older basil flowers and declines. The water glass should be dark; dark colored, or wrap it in foil. You can do that with coleus, too.

Weeds: Pull them out, they are just going to get bigger and meaner.

Milkweed, So Much More Than Just a Butterfly Plant

Asclepias tuberosa, ‘Butterfly Weed’. Photo by Larry Hurley taken at Longwood Gardens.

Most people are familiar with milkweed as the host plant for the Monarch butterfly. However, milkweed is so much more than just a butterfly plant. Milkweeds are one of our most stunning and attractive native wildflowers. Boasting fantastically bold colors such as luscious orange and creamy-lipstick pink, milkweeds are garden gems that no landscape should be without.

[Note from the Behnke Perennials Specialist: we try to have Asclepias tuberosa in stock in season, which is late April through August. Asclepias incarnata is most easy to obtain in April and May. Being tall, while it is nice in the ground, the latter tends to be unattractive in a pot in the summer. ]

Asclepias tuberosa, ‘Butterfly Weed’

Three milkweeds are indigenous to our area, but only two are widely available through retail nurseries. The most popular is butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa. Butterfly weed is an easy-care beauty for the sunny border. Laughing at drought, deer, and disease, this plant is as maintenance-free as it gets. With a color reminiscent of juicy oranges, butterfly weed is one of those seventy-mile-an-hour plants, meaning you can still see it from your car while driving down the highway at seventy miles an hour.

The show-stopping blooms on this plant aren’t the only attribute to this garden-winner. The butterfly weed in my garden has withstood temperatures hovering close to and above the one hundred degree mark, without even so much as a hint of rain, and it still looks as fresh and cool as a tall glass of orange juice.

Butterfly weed can grow from two to three feet tall and belongs in the front or middle of the border. Even though the blossoms are bold, butterfly weed blooms are not brash and look great paired with nearly any other color. For a show-stopping combination, try it with Liatris spicata, blazing star. The purple spikes of blazing star combined with the flat-topped orange flowers of butterfly weed are a stunning arrangement. Add some Panicum virgatum, switchgrass, for a soft background and some movement, and you have a native butterfly garden that will be the envy of the neighborhood.

Asclepias incarnata ‘Swamp Milkweed’

On the other hand, as its name suggests, swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, requires a bit more moisture to keep it happy. However, swamp milkweed is no less a winner. Its beautiful rosy pink flowers lend a touch of tenderness and charm to the perennial border. Growing taller than its cousin the butterfly weed, swamp milkweed can easily reach three feet tall. Pair it with some yellow Coreopsis verticillata ‘Moonbeam’ or Rudbeckia fulgida, otherwise known as black-eyed Susan. Add some Perovskia atriplicifolia, Russian sage, for the background; and you have just created an eye-catching vignette that will certainly catch the attention of all the butterflies in the neighborhood.

Milkweeds are most often known as the host plants for the dynamic orange and black monarch butterfly. The color of the butterfly, and its familiar white-yellow-and black-striped caterpillar, advertise its toxicity to predators and therefore keep it safe from marauding birds. Monarch butterflies can only survive on milkweed plants and follow the milkweed trail north in spring and back south in the fall during their extraordinary and implausible migration. So planting milkweeds in our landscapes will help the monarch butterflies to survive their impossibly long journey. However, monarchs are not the only insect that survives on milkweed. The elegant look-alike Queen butterfly is also dependent on milkweed as its larval host.

In addition, many curiously beautiful beetles enjoy milkweeds, such as the aptly named milkweed beetle, which resembles an oblong, whiskered ladybug with its red body and black polka dots. This beetle is a beauty to behold and, unfazed by close human contact, seems to stop and smile for my camera lens as I lean in close for a picture. But most of all, milkweeds offer the sweet, nutritious nectar that so many butterflies and other pollinators long for. Adding a few milkweed plants to your garden is almost like adding an entire butterfly garden in one plant. Butterflies, skippers, beetles, beeflies, and other pollinators dance from one flower to the next in utter delight, blissfully intoxicated by their drink of preference. It’s like a pollinator party!

In addition to feeding multiple insects by being a host plant and a nectar source, milkweeds produce soft downy fibers in late summer when their seeds mature. In nature, this down helps the seeds get carried off by gusts of wind so that new milkweed colonies can become established further away from the competition of the parent plants. These downy fibers are used by birds, particularly the American goldfinch, to line their nests and create soft cozy cups for their precious offspring. American goldfinches build their nests late in the summer when seeds become available as a food source, and when most other bird species have finished caring for their nestlings, so the silky milkweed fibers are available at the same time as the goldfinches are building their first nests of the season.

The fibers, although soft, are also strong, and historically have been used in textiles for making rope and twine. Sometimes the downy seed heads were used instead of feathers for stuffing beds and cushions. And since the downy fibers looked like soft, fine fur, they were also used in making hats. If you allow the seeds to mature and burst open in your own garden, you may be rewarded with some new plants the following spring. But be aware, milkweeds are slow to emerge in spring, and just when you thought your plants did not make it through the winter, they will finally awaken from their deep sleep. Mature milkweeds don’t like to be transplanted, since they have a long taproot, so transplant seedlings when they are still young to encourage success.

So if you are looking to add some new plants to your garden, why not try one of the milkweed species? Even if you already have some milkweed in your garden, studies show that butterflies find plants more easily that are grouped together, so it would be a good idea to add more milkweed plants to your landscape this year. The butterflies and goldfinches will thank you for it.

Natalie Brewer
Master Gardener

I Love Shade Gardening

By: Constance Cleveland, Behnke Nurseries’ Perennial Department

Do you have a dark side? You know, that part of your world where the light is slight, the shimmer is dimmer, and where nothing seems of interest?

I cannot tell you how often I hear people say that they would love to have a beautiful garden but all they have is shade. My suggestion is always the same – add height, texture, movement, and stronger variations of leaf color. Trust me, with a few new additions, you will never see shade as a dark, lifeless place again.

Heucheras 'Marmalade' and 'Citronelle'

To spice up the predominantly green hues typically found in shade gardens, add a spot or two of intense color. If you have a bit of dappled sunlight during parts of the day, you could easily throw a few brightly colored Heucheras into the mix. The greatest rewards come from the most vibrant colors – more bang for your buck, you might say. Some of the brightest are: ‘Citronelle,’ ‘Georgia Peach,’ ‘Lime Rickey,’ ‘Lime Marmalade,’ and just plain ‘Marmalade’ with its fantastic bi-colored leaves – a surface of light orange with purple undersides.

Another great color option is the St. John’s wort (Hypericum moserianum), ‘Tricolor.’ It boldly offers small leaves of green, edged in cream and pink and eventually gives you a yellow flower at the end of each sprig. In addition, it has a beautiful, fountain-like growth habit that make it truly unforgettable.

Jacob's Ladder

Jacob's Ladder

For movement, leaf color, and delicate texture, consider a variegated Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium reptans, a native) like ‘Stairway to Heaven’ or ‘Touch of Class.’ The clusters of small leaves seem to move in the tiniest breath and their variegation catch your eye immediately.

Grasses are another good source of movement and texture. Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) is not only native to this area, but is shade tolerant. There is also a breathtaking variegated variety, ‘River Mist,’ that I consider a must-have for anyone looking for an instant knock out.

Japanese Forest Grass

Another rewarding choice is Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa). If their graceful blade shape and vibrant range of greens aren’t enough, Japanese forest grasses move in such a way as to make them appear as fluid as water rolling over rocks in a stream. There is nothing more mesmerizing.

Bugbane

Enough cannot be said about the importance of height, which adds form and visual interest to your site. There are cultivars of Black Bugbane (Actaea simplex) that have a wonderful, reddish-black, deeply-cut leaf, and eventually a tall stalk of white flowers, that grows strikingly large. Cultivars include: ‘Brunette,’ ‘Hillside Black Beauty,’ and ‘Black Negligee.’ On average these plants can range from 4 to 7 feet, depending on whether they are in flower. Another tall beauty is Goat’s Beard (Aruncus). Goat’s Beard is a wonderful native alternative to Astilbe and is much more captivating due to its size. Its clusters of fine, white flowers brighten up any shady spot effortlessly.

Don’t ignore your light-deprived spots, hopelessly filling the spaces with fern and hosta. Embrace the shade and explore your options. Look for the shade cloth in our Perennials section at either store, and in Beltsville, make your way back to the covered area in Woody Plants for our native plant section for shade. Just a few bright choices will make a world of difference in how you manage your dark side.

Editor’s Note: Availability of perennials varies seasonally, with the best availability in late spring. Not all of the recommendations of the author are available at all times.

The Sun, the Moon and the Stars

Coreopsis verticillata 'Moonbeam'

How would you like a plant that is drought tolerant, is heat tolerant, blooms for weeks, is deer resistant, is native, and is a butterfly magnet?  Does this sound too good to be true?  Well, if you haven’t tried Coreopsis verticillata yet, then it should be on your next plant-shopping list.  Coreopsis verticillata is known by many other names, such as thread leaf coreopsis, tickseed, whorled coreopsis, and pot of gold.  But I think it should be named ‘the sun, the moon and the stars’ plant, because it offers so much in exchange for so little.

Coreopsis verticillata is a perfect little plant.  Just plant it in a sunny location and it will gratefully respond by blooming with unabashed enthusiasm, beginning in early June and continuing for weeks.  When the first flush of bloom is over, shear it back lightly and you will be rewarded with more flowers in a couple of weeks. With attention, it will bloom on and off throughout the summer.  Its fern-like foliage is delicate, but don’t underestimate the vigor of this little plant by its dainty looks.  Coreopsis is not fussy about soil conditions and does not need much water once it is established.  When other plants are wilting and looking tired from the heat and humidity, coreopsis continues to look as fresh as a cool breeze.

Coreopsis verticillata 'Moonbeam'

The native species, Coreopsis verticillata, can become two to three feet tall and has glistening golden blooms.  However, there are also cultivated varieties, such as Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’, which was named the Perennial Plant of the Year in 1992 by the Perennial Plant Association.  Its flowers are a soft yellow and blend well with both pastel and bright color combinations in the garden.  The color of the flowers reminds me of sweet, creamy, whipped butter. ‘Moonbeam’ plants maintain a height of about two feet.  Another tried-and-true cultivar is Coreopsis ‘Zagreb,’ which is shorter and grows to about one foot tall with bright yellow flowers that look like little golden stars.

Coreopsis verticillata 'Zagreb'

In the garden, coreopsis can be successfully combined with many other summer blooming perennials and annuals.  I particularly like the combination of the soft yellow Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’ with bright pink garden phlox (Phlox paniculata).  Or Coreopsis ‘Zagreb’ with its golden flowers can look stunning when planted with a purple-flowering plant, such as Blazing Star (Liatris spicata).  I am also fond of any coreopsis planted en- masse in front of a green backdrop, such as in front of a group of arborvitae, Thuja occidentalis.  The dark green arborvitae make the coreopsis flowers really pop.  Since its foliage is so fine, I recommend planting coreopsis in swathes or in groups so that its beauty is visible from a distance.

Perhaps the best attribute of this tough little plant is its unfailing ability to attract pollinating insects.  Coreopsis is a butterfly magnet and would be a wonderful addition to your butterfly garden.  Hungry butterflies, skippers, and other pollinators eagerly fly from flower to flower drinking the sweet nectar.  Birds are fond of the seeds that form in the summer and can be seen in autumn pecking at the seeds on the ground under the plants.  In fact, the only wildlife that is not a fan of coreopsis may be white-tailed deer.  They prefer other plants and will most likely leave your coreopsis untouched.

So the next time you are looking for an easy addition to your garden, try thread leaf coreopsis, tickseed, whorled coreopsis, or pot of gold.  Or, as I like to call it, go for ‘the sun, the moon, and the stars’ plant, Coreopsis verticillata.

by Natalie Brewer, Master Gardener.  Photos by Larry Hurley.

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