Saturday, March 27, 2010

Fascinating Brass Buttons

My grandmother kept jars of buttons of different materials and sizes in every conceivable color.  They fascinated me.  I would dump them out on her bed to examine them.  The brass buttons with their golden sheen and intricate designs interested me most.

Leptinella, a genus of plants native to parts of Oceania and South America, is as captivating.  The evergreen, fern-like foliage reminds me of designs on some brass buttons, but the button-like flowers may have also inspired the common name - Brass Buttons.

The genus belongs to the Asteraceae family, which includes Coreopsis, Cosmos, Echinacea, Rudbeckia and such.  The name, Leptinella, refers to the slender ovary of the flower - not something most people would take time to notice.

Leptinella grows very low, spreads rapidly and forms a dense carpet.  Height is usually less than 4".  It spreads to 15".  Small flowers are produced early to mid-summer.

It shouldn't surprise that Leptinella is suitable as a ground cover, but it also does well as an under-planting in container gardens.  For gardeners looking for a lawn-substitute, Leptinella is perfect; it tolerates foot traffic very well, as the accompanying photo demonstrates.  It also grows nicely around stepping stones.

Leptinella thrives in partial sun, and in fertile, well-drained to moist soils with pH ranging from 5.6 to 7.8.  Hardiness varies by species.

Before you plant, take a soil sample to your local Cooperative Extension Service office for testing.  The results will specify any soil amendments needed.

Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 10" deep.  Compost may be incorporated into the soil.  Incorporate 10-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of no more 2 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 4" to 6" of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Space the plants 12" to 15" apart. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container.  Water the plants in the pots, then drain.  Place the plants into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the root balls. Do not cover entirely the root balls with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 1" deep.

Plant Leptinella with other plants having similar cultural requirements.  Fertilize sparingly and allow soil to dry between watering.

Leptinella is a low-maintenance plant, having no serious pests or diseases.  The greatest cause of failure is planting it in an environment that is not to its liking.

Though not well-known, Leptinella is destined to become a favorite ground cover.  Try it.  I'm sure you'll agree.

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