Friday, March 26, 2010

Coneflowers! (Part 1)

Coneflowers. The word conjures up images of masses of purple blooms, bees and butterflies, and relaxing on the patio with a lemonade; content with how easy to grow they are. But are they? I want to review some of the readily available Echinacea species and hybrids and give the information you need to grow them successfully. This is Part 1, which covers a little background of some lesser (but still easily found) available species.

Coneflowers in the genus Echinacea are all native to North America, mostly to the Midwestern states. They have a long history of medicinal use, dating back more than 400 years, for treating infections, wounds, scarlet fever, syphilis, malaria, blood poisoning, and diphtheria. Today people use Echinacea for treating cold and flu symptoms, and much research supports (and almost as much refutes) their immune-boosting effects.

Echinacea pallida
Pale Purple Coneflower has pale lavender petals that droop from a large central cone. The growing requirements are similar to E. purpurea and it grows in clay soils just as well. The stems are fairly sturdy on this species, but tend to grow up and out from the center of the plant which gives it a different look than Purple Coneflower, which tends to grow more vertically. This great often overlooked garden plant is the only species native here in WI and is state listed as threatened.

Echinacea angustifolia
Narrow-Leaf Coneflower is mostly grown for its herbal properties, but is occasionally found as a garden plant. It is similar to E. pallida but smaller, growing only 1-2’ tall. It does not share the adaptability of E. purpurea or E. pallida, and requires well drained soil to really thrive.

Echinacea tennesseensis
Tennessee Coneflower is found in only 3 counties of Tennessee and is federally endangered. ‘Rocky Top Hybrids’ is a seed strain that is commercially available and may not be genetically pure. The plant is smaller than E. purpurea reaching only 2’ in height and has smaller flowers with upturned petals. This variety re-blooms well and is a pretty good garden performer. It does not like heavy clay, but will grow but not thrive in it. It doesn’t have the strict requirement of well drained soil like E. angustifolia or E. paradoxa, and average soil suits it just fine.

Echinacea paradoxa
Yellow Coneflower is found in Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas. This is the oddity in the genus for having yellow flowers rather than lavender or purple. Flowers droop from a large brown central cone, and are produced on relatively weak stems. It also requires well drained soil, and does not thrive in clay. In my clay-loam soil plants have lasted a few years, but never thrive and eventually die out. It is also slightly less hardy than the others, but still hardy to zone 5. I believe with the right conditions, it will probably survive zone 4 without any problems. E. paradoxa is one of the parents for the many hybrids that have stormed the market lately.

New Mugo Pines

I've been growing two great newer Mugo Pines in my garden. The first one is 'Honeybun', which I've had since 2007. It's a dwarf variety with medium-green needles and a moderately slow growth rate. This variety was released in 2008 exclusively by Green Value Nursery. It's performed very well in my sunny front garden near the driveway, not bothered at all by the salt it gets hit with in the winter. It did open up in the center this winter, due to the wet heavy snow being thrown on top of it, but I'm confident it will grow out of it beautifully. 'Honeybun' is a great addition to the perennial garden, mixed shrub border, conifer garden, and even large trough gardens.

The second variety, 'Dew Drop', is also being released exclusively by Green Value this spring. It's even smaller and slower growing than 'Honeybun', and is in fact the smallest Mugo Pine I've had the pleasure to encounter. Last years growth on this beast was about 1 cm. The habit of this variety is so tight and compact, that when I peaked into the center there was moss growing on the branches! 'Dew Drop' is perfect for nearly any size container, as well as perennial gardens, and conifer collections.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Lamium 'Cosmopolitan'

I never thought I'd be even remotely excited about a Lamium. But 'Cosmopolitan' is different. It's a dwarf version of 'Shell Pink' that only gets 3-6 inches tall, rather than 8-10 inches like so many other varieties. The flowers and foliage are the same as its parent plant, but smaller as well. The nicest thing about this variety is it doesn't have the leggy growth of the larger lamiums. The internodes are shorter, making for a much fuller plant without pinching. It just looks neat, which is something that can't be said for other Lamium varieties.

Comparison shot of 'Cosmopolitan' and 'Purple Dragon' planted and pinched at the same time.

'Cosmopolitan' makes a great groundcover for the shade that helps smother weeds, but because of its more restrained habit won't fight for territory with other plants in the garden. It's also great in combination containers and hanging baskets for both flower and foliage effect as a restrained spiller.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Hakonechloa, or Japanese Forest Grass, is a fantastic grass for shaded or partially shaded locations. Its flowing mound habit gives it a dwarf bamboo kind of look and makes it a great accent plant that can brighten up a shaded garden. In general, Hakonechloa wants to be in a rich, loose, well-drained soil that is moisture retentive. There is a lot of conflicting information about its hardiness, and I think a lot of that has to do with its demanding soil requirements. This plant is not happy in poor soil, and commonly dies out in a year or two even in warmer zones. In good soil it thrives but is still slow growing. I've seen 'Aureola' overwinter and grow successfully in zone 4 here in WI.

'Aureola' is the most commonly encountered variety and was the 2009 PPA Perennial Plant of the Year. It has yellow leaves streaked with green, and may get some red fall color. My clump planted in 2002 is now about 4' wide x 15" tall. Seems to hold its color well in the shade. Due to the difficulties the general gardening public might have with growing Hakonechloa, I wasn't enthused with the 2009 PPA award regardless of how much I love this genus.

'Sunny Delight' is basically the reverse form of 'Aureola'. Leaves are mostly green with some nice gold streaking. It is more vigorous and larger than 'Aureola'. It's a really great plant but sadly it isn't widely available in the trade.

'All Gold' is a newer solid gold variety. It seems somewhat more vigorous and has better color with some morning sun. Too much sun and it will scorch. This one is surprisingly more vigorous than 'Aureola' in my experience.

'Stripe it Rich' is a newer gold variety with white streaks. It appreciates similar sun exposure as 'All gold. This one is not as vigorous as 'All Gold' but is still quite nice. It's also hard to find.

'Albo-Striata' is an older variety that has green leaves with white streaks. The title to the blog has a picture of this variety growing at Olbrich Botanic Garden in Madison. More vigorous than 'Aureola', and is the largest variety I've encountered so far.

'Fubuki' is a newer variety released by Briggs Nursery that has white leaves with green streaks. I still need to get one in the garden, but in pots it was quite vigorous for being so white.

There are a number of green-leaved varieties that get some reddish fall color, including:

'Beni-Kazi', 'Naomi', and 'Nicolas'. I have not grown any of them yet. The nicest pictures I've seen have been of 'Beni-Kazi', but I will probably find all three of the above at some point to grow them and compare.