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Penny Carnathan

Penny’s a Nurture And Hold (NAH): Nah, I won’t pull that out yet, it’s still got a green shoot. She likes dragonflies, lady bugs and new stuff only after weeding, pruning and fertilizing.

Kim Franke-Folstad

Kim’s a Want It Now (WIN): Everything pretty, everything now. She will resort to full-spectrum insecticides in desperate situations, and believes it’s her duty and right to buy new plants every weekend.

Both advocate Plant Choice (SOMEthing besides crotons. Please!), lots of color and low maintenance. We don’t agree on everything, but we’re smart enough to learn from each other - and from you.

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Liatris spicata—you have some issues (we all do) but you are my new friend

Posted May 29, 2011 by Penny Carnathan

Updated Jun 28, 2011 at 09:59 AM


I first met liatris spicata, aka gayfeather, aka blazing star, on a visit to a native-plants landscape designer’s personal garden a few years ago. Troy Springer had it planted en masse, across a portion of his garden that equaled my whole garden plus some. It was beautiful!

It likes sun, it likes sand and it doesn’t like a lot of water. So I figured it would like me. I kept it on the back-burner wish list, but I never saw it at plant sales, nurseries or garden centers.

Until early February. That’s when I found a sack of corms (the technical name – they’re like bulbs) while perusing Lowe’s rack o’ bulbs-in-sacks. I bought a sack of 15 for $4.95 and followed planting directions almost to the letter. (They need to be planted at a specific depth, right-side up.) The rule I broke was planting much closer than the package specified. I wanted the mass bloomage look I’d seen but in a space about 1/100th the size.

I watered diligently for a couple weeks, then forgot about them. So I was really surprised when, about three weeks after planting, I spied “weeds” popping up in the gaillardia bed. They were emerging in an organized pattern that greatly resembled my “natural-look” planting style.

Here they are March 2 – about four weeks after planting.


I was so excited, I went back to Lowe’s and bought a second sack to expand my little native garden bed. (Hey, a bed that gives color and asks for no more than an occasional, “Great job, guys!” deserves to be expanded!)

Here’s where we were March 19. (Most of the other seedlings you see are young, self-sowed gaillardia.)


The sack o’ corms indicated these were fall bloomers, and Troy’s were fall bloomers, so thrilled though I was that they were actually growing, I set my throttle on patience. (Vietnamese hollyhocks taught me that!)

Imagine my surprise when I got my first bloom in April!


These guys bloom from the top down so, theoretically, you could trim off the dead part. I tried it once and I thought it looked decapitated. I don’t trim anymore.


I’ve had a few of the sprouts turn brown and collapse before going anywhere. The first one I dead-headed, in hopes of inspiring more blooms, responded by turning completely brown. I’ve since read that dead-heading won’t give you more blooms, and that liatris will turn brown after blooming. I’ve also read that letting the flowers go to seed will give you new plants, and also lure finches and other birds. So we’re going to seed.

There are a lot of varieties of liatris – white and pink, tall and short. I’m happy with the ease of growing, a little disappointed in the lack of WOW! – these guys bloom when they’re darned good and ready, not all at the same time. And that’s taking into account I have two groups planted a month apart.

Still, for a super low-maintenance, high-color sandy bed, they’re winners and I’ll stick with them. I’m still figuring out what they like (do I cut down the totally brown plants?) and watching for them to multiply (in addition to seed, they’re supposed to be propagated by division – so far, I see nothing to divide.)

Here’s how that bed looks now. Since it’s the one that doesn’t need to be watered to sleep every night, I love it.



Reader Comments

Por (Pumpkin) on May 29, 2011 (Suggest removal)

Penny, I love all things purple and plants that love no water, full sun and sand.Your garden bed looks great, those bags of bulbs in spring are a great deal. Last year Home Depot had the on line coupon buy one get one free. Have a great Memorial Day tomorrow. Pumpkin

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Por (kgardens) on May 30, 2011 (Suggest removal)

I think it’s a smart idea to have such a native wildflower bed. The liatris experiment seems to be working well.  It’ll be interesting to find out just when to cut down the brown and when to leave it.  If they re-seed for you like the gallardia do that should be a really “wild” bed.  Hope they multiply from the corms as well.  Keep us posted.

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Por (rainforestgardener) on May 30, 2011 (Suggest removal)

I recently bought some too! I’ve gotten used to seeing them on hikes through pine flatwoods, and I had also considered buying them as cut flowers for a wedding bouquet, so I bought a plant! I’ve been using the flowers for arrangements ever since.

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Por (Chip) on May 30, 2011 (Suggest removal)

I love the way that looks! Just got home yesterday and got to the Sunday papper today. Looks like your war with lubbers is still ongoing! I am going to have to give these liatrus a try my luck with bulbs is spoty the ones that live thrive and bulbs multiply so a few years from now you will have a your crowded look you want…..chip

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Por (Chip) on May 31, 2011 (Suggest removal)

My garden needs work. The surprize was the black berry plants we got from mango man has been fruiting!  And so are my grape some things just take a while…..chip

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Por (Pumpkin) on May 31, 2011 (Suggest removal)

Yea Chip is back!!!!!!!! How long are you home this time?

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Por (Pumpkin) on May 31, 2011 (Suggest removal)

Big Garden Mistakes
I was gifted a very rare plant a couple of weeks ago, planted in the perfect spot with the best soil money could buy. Every day I would look at my new plant and just imagine what it will look like in one year. Every week I would spry her with Spray N Grow and she was growing.

Last week my neighbor asked if he could pull weeds for me, each time he would ask is this a weed?

Yesterday I made a run to Publix while he was pulling weeds.

Today I went to see my plant to dream about how she will look in one year. She was gone. End of story. Have a great gardening week. Pumpkin

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Por (Chip) on May 31, 2011 (Suggest removal)

I am home till next Monday. Oh pumpkin I just do not know what to say that’s a heart breaker…....chip

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Por (Chip) on June 02, 2011 (Suggest removal)

Some of the things I seen made the trip worth while. The farms old barns having to pass by no fewer than six train museums just killed me. I went over the Mississippi river and seen with my own eyes just how flooded it is, in spots if not for sandbags I-40 would have been underwater. I have been working out in my garden but I think its just a bit to much for Diane to do alone..“Chip”

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