Thursday, February 4, 2010

Liatris - The Feather In Your Cap

My neighbor, George, was inspirational.  He, the older man, mentored the younger.  A backyard gardener, he went about it in a big way.  I couldn't begin to match his enthusiasm or energy.  George's sister owned a small floral shop, and many of her flowers were cut fresh from his garden.  Among her favorites was liatris, tall and lively with butterflies, which he grew in abundance.  I learned that it was very easy to grow, so it became one of my favorites, too.

Liatris (ly-AT-riss) spicata (spy-KAY-tuh, meaning to grow "in spikes") is native to eastern North America, and distributed from Quebec to Florida.  Plant height is 18" to 48".  Flower color ranges from purple to pink, and there is a white variety.  The feathery, star-shaped flowers arranged along the spike inspired its common names:  Blazing Star, Gayfeather.  Indeed, it would look jaunty stuck in a hatband.

In addition to its imaginative uses as a cut flower, liatris is grown in perennial borders, wildflower meadows, butterfly and bird gardens (goldfinches love the seeds!) and medicinal plant collections.  Liatris is deer resistant.

Liatris thrives in USDA climate zones 3 through 10.  Plant in full sun to partial shade.  Average well-drained garden soil with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8 is fine.  The corms can be planted in spring or fall.

Before planting, take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office.  They often provide collection bags.  With each soil sample, indicate the type of plant you intend to grow in it.  For the most basic recommendations, you may be charged a nominal fee.  For more information such as micro-nutrient and organic content you may be charged more.

Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 10" deep. Poorly drained sites can be improved by raising the height of the planting beds.

Your soil sample report will include fertilizer recommendations based upon the results of the test.  Following its instruction should be a good bet.  A fine all-around practice for  is to mix 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per ten square feet area.  Repeat the application when shoots appear, but be careful that fertilizer does not come into direct contact with plant tissue.  Apply 2 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer per ten square feet of garden area every two weeks until flower buds appear.

Plant liatris 5" deep.  Depth is measured to the bottom of the hole.  I recommend planting 6" to 8" apart, though I've read recommendations for closer and more distant spacing.  Cover the corms with soil and add a top-dressing of mulch about 2" deep to suppress weeds.  In climate zones 3 and 4, mulch is recommended in winter to protect liatris from cold.

Liatris looks great planted with cosmos, coreopsis, coneflower, daylily, black-eye susan, yarrow, salvia, shasta daisy and mullein.  I'm confident that you'll enjoy growing liatris.  Tall, lively and carefree, it could be the feather in your cap.  If you've never grown it before, do so this year.

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Unknown said...

Liatris are also nice border plants around water features or water gardens. They can add height outside the pond if you dont have room for a shelf with taller plants in the pond.


GoGardenNow said...

Good point, Zac. Thanks.