All About Lilacs

 

I’ll admit up front that the lilac is my favorite shrub. It has been since I was a kid, and my grandma had a huge lilac hedge along her alley fence.

The lilac can grow up to twenty feet tall, and blooms in lilac, dark purple, pink, or white. It has dark green heart-shaped foliage, and grows from shoots that come up from the base of the plant. Lilacs prefer full sun, and they do best when planted in an area where they will get decent air circulation. Without good air circulation, lilacs are prone to powdery mildew. They bloom in late spring and early summer.

Lilacs are best planted along a pathway, or next to a porch where you can enjoy their scent the most. They do well as an informal hedge, or as single specimen plantings in a shrub border. I have both a common lilac (Syringa vulgaris) and a dwarf Korean lilac (Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’) in my yard, with plans to add a few more lilacs as time goes by.

As far as day-to-day care goes, give the lilac about an inch of water per week in its first season, and after it is established it will need little, if any, supplemental water. In early spring, sprinkle about a cup of granular organic fertilizer around the base, and foliar feed with diluted fish emulsion when the buds just start to leaf out. Do whatever pruning is necessary, and you will have a happy, healthy lilac.

Throughout May and June, prune off the spent blooms of your lilacs. This will increase flower production for the following year. You can prune your lilacs after they bloom. It is also a good idea to remove any suckers that come up around the base of the plant. If you have an old, overgrown lilac, you can rejuvenate it in about three years by removing about 1/3 of the thickest, oldest branches each year for three years. By the end of three years, you will have a lilac with young, healthy shoots. Also be sure to remove all of the dead branches from your lilac when you prune.

You can propagate new lilac bushes through layering. It is best to attempt layering in early spring, when the plant is growing its strongest. The best stems to use are those that are flexible, and are the result of the previous year’s growth. About 9 inches or so from the tip of the branch, shave a 1/4-inch slice of bark off of the bottom of the branch. Dip the wound into rooting hormone if you’ve got it. If not, it will still work just fine. Make a 6-inch deep trench in the soil nearby to bend the wounded branch into. Secure the wounded part to the earth, being sure the wound is in good contact with the earth below; this is where the roots for your new lilac will form. You can hold the stem in place with a rock or a stake-whatever you have on hand will work. To keep the foliage tip of the branch growing upright, stake it straight. Fill the trench with soil, and water well. It will take anywhere from 12 to 24 months for the branch to develop roots. Once you see that the tip of the layered branch has a flush of new growth, it means you have roots, and the branch can be severed from the mother plant. Just cut the branch before the buried section, dig it up, and plant your new lilac into its place in the garden. This should be done in either spring or fall.

You can also propagate through taking softwood cuttings. To take softwood cuttings, trim off about 2 to 6 inches of healthy growth. The stem you choose should not just bend (it is too young) and it shouldn’t be super stiff (it’s too old.) It should snap crisply. You should take your cuttings in spring, after the plant has fully leafed out. Dip your cuttings into rooting hormone, and place it into sterile rooting medium, such as sand, perlite, or vermiculite. Water well, and place your cuttings into a clear plastic bag to keep everything moist. Keep the cuttings in a warm place out of direct sunlight. Once your roots are an inch long, you can remove the plastic bag, and keep everything moist. After a week out of the bag, you can plant your lilacs in potting soil. They can be put outside once the weather is mild, and then be kept in a cold frame or greenhouse until the following spring, when you can plant your tiny lilac in the garden.

Personally, I prefer layering, since it doesn’t require quite so much time and attention on the part of the gardener. The advantage of propagating from cuttings, though, is that you can get more plants at a time. But, since I don’t plan on a lilac forest, layering will work just fine.

There is nothing in this world like the perfume of a lilac on a warm spring day. I hope you’ll consider the lilac if you’re looking for a flowering shrub for your yard.

Great Plants for Michigan Gardens: Bearded Iris

Bearded irises are the stars of my perennial garden in May. Their tall, frilly blooms and strap-like foliage add a perfect upright element to the garden, and they come in such a huge variety of colors that you are unlikely to ever get bored growing them.

Where to Plant Bearded Irises

When planting bearded irises, you’ll either be started with dormant rhizomes or potted plants. Either way, you’ll want to plant your irises at least sixteen to eighteen inches apart to allow for plenty of air circulation. If you’re starting with a plant, simply plant it as deeply as it was growing in its container. If you are starting with a rhizome, you really want to make sure you don’t plant too deeply. Burying the rhizome will result in weak bloom or rot. The best way to plant the rhizome is to form a mound of soil in the planting hole. Set the rhizome on the mound, and arrange the roots around it. Then, backfill the hole, covering the roots, but leaving the rhizome exposed. I know — it looks wrong. Do it anyway. Your irises will thank you later with plenty of blooms!

Bearded irises really grow best in full sun. You’ll get the most numerous, larger blooms if they get at least eight hours of sun per day. However, if you have light or dappled shade, they’ll also grow and bloom well for you. Just as important as the amount of sun, however, is the quality of your soil. Bearded irises prefer fertile, well-drained soil. Lean soil will result in less-than-stupendous blooms, and soil that stays too wet will result in your rhizomes rotting over the winter.

Here in our garden, where clay is dominant (as it is in many Michigan gardens, at least if you’re away from the coasts) we’ve found it necessary to amend the soil before planting the rhizomes. Dig out an area, and mix a good amount of finished compost into the native soil. This will help lighten the soil overall for planting, and, if you side dress with compost regularly, over time the soil will improve a great deal. Obviously, you’ll want to avoid planting bearded irises in any low areas of your property — any place that water collects and sits will just spell rot for your rhizomes.

The best time to plant irises in Michigan is in June through September — this allows the plants to get established before winter.

 

How to Grow Bearded Iris

If you’ve planted your bearded irises in good soil in a sunny spot, there’s not much you need to do, day-to-day, to keep them happy. I side-dress my irises with fresh compost every spring, and deadhead them after they’ve finished blooming in May.

One of the most important things you can do for the health of your bearded irises is to make sure you remove all of the spent leaves and flower stalks after they’ve been killed back in fall. If you leave the foliage attached to the rhizomes, it provides the perfect place for iris borers (more about these vile jerks later) to overwinter.

You’ll also want to divide your bearded irises every three to four years to keep them growing strong. Once you start seeing decreased bloom, it’s time to divide. I’ll have more on how to do that in another post.

 

Bearded Iris Pests and Diseases

If bearded irises have a rep for being a little on the fussy side, it’s not their fault — blame the pests that like to plague them instead. The main one, which I alluded to above, is the iris borer. Here it is, in all its grossness:

 

Photo by: Bob Gutowski, Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License.

Iris borers can absolutely destroy your irises. They start on the leaves, boring their way in, down into the rhizomes, and then back out again. They cause a lot of damage, and the holes they make encourage rot as well. The best way to fight them is to not leave leaves and stems available for them to overwinter in. If you find borers in your rhizomes, you can try to cut them out with a knife, then replant the rhizomes as long as there is at least one “eye” left. You can also soak the rhizomes in a bucket of water — the water will drown the borer, and then you can remove any damaged sections of rhizome, and replant.

Aside from iris borers, bearded irises also contend with a few other pests, though these generally don’t cause as much damage as the borers:

  • Slugs
  • Snails
  • Aphids

 

Here in our garden, we have bearded irises planted with shasta daisies, oriental poppies, and alliums, and they bloom together and look wonderful. The shape of their leaves adds a nice, somewhat spiky touch to the garden, so even when they’re not in bloom, they have an impact. And because they come in so many colors and sizes, you can really have a lot of fun coming up with new combinations in your own garden.

 

 

 

How to Grow Amaryllis

amaryllis

The dramatic blooms of amaryllis (Hippeastrum) add even more beauty to the holiday season, or any time of year. While we traditionally think of amaryllis as a holiday flower, they are really just tropical bulbs that can bloom at any time of year, after a period of dormancy followed by plenty of light and warmth (more on that later). You can find amaryllis in just about any color, from pure white, to dramatic red, and even lime green, depending on your tastes.

Amaryllis are quite easy to grow, and not even all that difficult to get to re-bloom. Amaryllis bulbs grown in containers and maintained properly can live as long as fifteen years.

The first thing you need to do is purchase some good-quality bulbs.

 

Purchasing Amaryllis

Starting in November, you’ll start seeing amaryllis bulbs and kits in nurseries and home centers, and they are very common impulse purchases, providing the opportunity to grow flowers even when the outside world is covered in snow. Usually, you won’t find a ton of variety in your local nursery or big box, so if you want something beyond the typical red or white, you’ll probably want to see what is available through catalogs or online.

The amaryllis kits sold in nurseries and home centers usually come with a plastic pot, a bulb, and a disk of compressed coir, all packaged in a box. You’ll want to try to inspect the bulb before you buy. The bulb should be heavy for its size, firm, and not shriveled. Sometimes the bulbs in the kits are already growing leaves and/or a flower stalk, and that’s fine as long as they look healthy and the bulb feels firm and heavy.

Potting Amaryllis

Once you have your amaryllis bulbs, it’s time to pot them up. There are two options here.

The first method you may want to try is to simply fill a pot or other dish with pebbles and set the amaryllis bulb on top. You’d then fill the container with water, to about an inch below the bulb. The roots will make their way down into the water, but you do not want the bulb itself to sit in water as it will rot.

The other method uses soil or the coir disks that come with amaryllis kits. Moisten you soil (or hydrate the coir disk by pouring warm water over it and letting it sit for at least twenty minutes) and fill the pot about half full with soil. Then place your amaryllis bulb, root end down, onto the soil and fill with more soil, but do NOT bury the bulb. You want at least 1/3 of the bulb, including the “shoulders” and the stem, above the soil. Once the bulb is planted, water it in and let any excess water drain.

Amaryllis bulbs can be planted in groups in larger containers, or one bulb to a 6 to 7 inch pot.

Caring for Amaryllis

Whether you use the pebbles and water method or soil method, once your bulb is potted up, you’ll want to place it in a warm, bright place. Ideally, your bulb should get at least eight hours of light per day, and should be kept around seventy degrees Fahrenheit. Water it when the soil dries out a bit, and be sure to let any excess drain to prevent rotting. The bulb will shoot up leaves and a flower stalk in two to eight weeks after planting,  Once it has started blooming, you can move it to any location; it does not need to stay in bright light, and, in fact, the blooms may last longer out of strong light. So if you want to move your amaryllis around for the holidays, that’s perfectly fine. You do not need to do any fertilizing during its bloom period.

Supporting Amaryllis Stems

The easiest way to support a tall, top-heavy amaryllis stem is to place a thin bamboo or coated metal stake deep into the soil, next to the bulb. Be careful when installing the stake; you don’t want to stab into the bulb. Once the stake is installed you can secure the stem to it with a bit of cotton twine or raffia. You don’t need to tie it tightly. A loose loop around both the stem and the stake will keep the stem supported well.

Caring for Amaryllis After Blooming

(Note: if you are not interested in saving the bulb, and plan on purchasing bulbs new every year, you can just compost your bulb after it is done blooming.)

Once your amaryllis finishes blooming, cut the flower stalk off, about two inches above the top of the bulb. Do NOT cut off the leaves, since the leaves will store food so the bulb can bloom again next year. If you grew your amaryllis bulb in water, you’ll now want to go ahead and pot it up in soil or coir, following the planting instructions above. Place the pot in a warm, bright location, and water when the top inch of soil is dry. Fertilize your amaryllis bulb monthly with a balanced fertilizer, compost tea, or fish emulsion. Once it is warm (consistently above sixty degrees) you can move your amaryllis outdoors for the summer. You can simply grow them in the pots, or plant them, pot and all, in your garden in a sunny area. Amaryllis sort of prefer being a bit pot-bound, so it’s better to leave them in their pots rather than transplanting them. Then, when it’s time to bring them back into the house, simply lift them, pot and all, out of the garden and bring them indoors.

Getting Your Amaryllis to Bloom Again

The whole point of keeping your amaryllis bulb was to get it to bloom again. Decide when you’d like it to bloom again. For example, for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or another holiday. You’ll need to do some planning if you have a particular bloom time in mind. You’ll want to bring the amaryllis indoors, cut the foliage off just above the bulb, and store the bulb in a cool dark place (no cooler than 55 degrees) for eight to ten weeks, without watering. This is dormancy, and is necessary for the bulb to bloom again. After the eight to ten weeks are up, you can give it a good watering, allowing excess water to drain, and move the bulb to a warm, bright location. Do not water the bulb at this point, unless the soil becomes very dry. When new green growth emerges, you can begin watering again when the top inch or so of soil is dry to the touch, and the cycle begins all over again.

 

In general, amaryllis are not very demanding. Plenty of light, warmth, and attention to watering, and you’ll be able to grow gorgeous blooms indoors. While keeping them and making them rebloom year after year is a bit more work, it can definitely be worth it for those who are collecting amaryllis or who want to eventually fill their home with these beautiful flowers.

Red Twig Dogwoods

Cornus stolonifera

If the only reason you plant a Red Twig Dogwood is for the bright red branches in the middle of winter, it would be reason enough. And, even though that is what most people think of when they think of Red Twigs, it is only the beginning for a shrub that guarantees four seasons of interest in your landscape.

In the spring, the Red Twig Dogwood produces clusters of white blooms that have a light fragrance. During the summer, the dogwood has very pretty, medium green leaves that provide a nice backdrop for annuals and perennials. My favorite season for the Red Twig Dogwood, though, is fall. In late fall, the leaves will start to change from green to a beautiful, rich coppery purple. This was one of the last shrubs in my garden to drop all of its leaves, and I just loved seeing it every time I walked to my garage.

 

The Red Twig Dogwood has a fairly loose growth habit, with new stems growing up from the ground yearly. It will grow to six to eight feet tall, and equally as wide, if left to itself. However, regular pruning will keep this shrub looking its best, since the reddest stems are those that are younger. Older stems will get grayish red with time. Pruning should be done after they bloom, or in late winter if you aren’t concerned with the flowers. If you have a very overgrown specimen, you can cut the entire shrub back to the ground, and it will be just fine, rewarding you with a flush of young red stems within a year. Fertilizing should be done in early spring. I use some organic granular fertilizer scratched into the soil around the base of the plant, and then I foliar feed with fish emulsion just as the shrub is starting to leaf out. The Red Twig adapts to almost any soil, but prefers slightly moist conditions. It does well in full sun to part shade.

You can propagate Red Twig Dogwoods by taking hardwood cuttings in late fall. To do this, cut a stem that is about the thickness of a pencil. Cut the stem with bypass pruners into six to nine inch sections. Cut each section so there is a bud just below the top of the cutting and just above the bottom of it. Remove all side branches. Dip the cuttings into rooting hormone. The cuttings can be placed either directly into the ground (as long as the garden soil is mixed with some perlite or vermiculite for drainage) or in pots with a mixture of potting soil and vermiculite or perlite. A cold frame is a good place to put your cuttings, whether planted directly into the soil or in pots. Keep the cold frame closed over the winter.

 Once spring arrives, you can leave the cold frame open, or remove your pots to another area. Once the cuttings have rooted, you can plant them in a nursery bed (an out of the way area where they can grow a little bigger) or directly into your landscape. This can take up to twelve months, so be patient!

Should you decide to plant a Red Twig Dogwood, it would be a good idea to place it where you can see it from your windows. It will give you something to look at in the winter months. Red Twigs are excellent used in mixed shrub borders, along fence lines, or wherever you would like a bit of attractive screening. Overall, the Red Twig Dogwood is an extremely easy-care plant that gives you a ton of interest in the garden.

Heuchera

For a low-growing plant with incredible foliage, it’s hard to beat heuchera. When you add pretty, delicate blooms and the fact that most heucheras are evergreen, what you end up with is a “must-have” plant.

There are nearly 300 known varieties of heuchera (a North American native), also called “coral bells” or “alum root.” In general, heucheras grow to about eighteen inches tall (not counting the flower spikes) and around eighteen inches wide. Their blooms grow on spikes of delicate “bells” in shades of red, pink, white, and purple, generally blooming for four to eight weeks in late spring through early summer. Recent varieties have made the blooms more prominent. But it’s the foliage that makes heuchera a winner. Purple, black, red, orange, brown, silver, chartreuse-you name it, you can most likely find a heuchera in that color.

Planting Heuchera

Heuchera prefers part shade, although some cultivars do better in full sun. They like soil that is average to rich fertility, moist, and well-drained. Heavy soils can be amended at planting time by incorporating compost or leaf mold into the soil from the planting hole. Heucheras are great plants for either edging a bed or using a group as a focal point. They suffer from very few pests and diseases, but powdery mildew can be a problem. Be sure to give them some room so they will get good air circulation. Heucheras tend to be shallow-rooted, and will heave in the winter if there is a lot of freeze/thaw action. To prevent them from heaving, give them a good, three inch layer of mulch in late fall.

Caring for Heuchera

Since heuchera prefer moist conditions, be sure to water in hot, dry weather, giving the plant about one inch of water per week. They can be fertilized with a balanced organic fertilizer in early spring. Divide plants every three years or so, or when you notice that the stem is looking woody or blooming diminishes. Mulch heucheras in the fall to prevent heaving, but don’t put the mulch up against the crown of the plant, or it will rot. Pull the mulch back from the crown two to three inches. Deadhead after the blooms fade to promote re-bloom.

Propagating Heuchera

There are three main ways heuchera can be propagated: seed, division, and leaf-bud cuttings.

  1. Seed: The thing to note when trying to propagate from seed is that cultivars will not come true from seed-only species will. So, for example, Heuchera americana is a species heuchera that will grow true from seed. Heuchera americana ‘Chocolate Veil’ is a cultivar of H. americana, and will not grow true from seed. To grow from seed, the most important step is to stratify the seeds, meaning that the seeds are stored in the cold (a refrigerator will do) for at least six weeks. After stratifying, sow the tiny seeds on top of your seed starting medium, as seeds require light to germinate. They will germinate fairly quickly. Care for them as you would any other plant grown from seed, including hardening them off after danger of frost. Seedling heucheras can then be planted in their desired location in the garden, or placed in a nursery bed for a growing season until they reach a larger size.
  2. Division: Divide heuchera as you would any other perennial. Dig the plant out of the ground and cut the root mass into pieces with a shovel or knife. Replant divisions with the crown at the soil level. This can be done every two to three years to keep the plants vigorous.
  3. Leaf-bud Cuttings: Leaf-bud cuttings are a type of cutting that consists of a few leaves, but most importantly, of a section of the stem from the main plant. This is important because only the main stem has growth buds on it, which is where foliage will grow from. Take leaf-bud cuttings of heuchera any time during the growing season, although spring is best because it allows the parent plant plenty of time to recover before winter. Dip the cutting in rooting hormone, and place it in either seed-starting mix or a 50/50 mix of peat and perlite. Keep it moist, cover the cuttings with a plastic bag (supported so it doesn’t come into contact with the leaves) and place it in a shady location. Once you have roots, you can plant it out in your garden or into a nursery bed.

Recommended Varieties

Crimson Curls

‘Crimson Curls’ has curly, rich purple leaves with pinkish undersides. This variety works well in beds as well as containers. ‘Crimson Curls’ is compact, growing about eighteen inches wide and tall. Blooms in late spring, sporting long-blooming cream flowers. Hardy in zones 3 through 8. Photo Courtesy of Proven Winners.

Sparkling Burgundy

‘Sparkling Burgundy’ has large, deeply lobed leaves that open bright magenta and mellow to a deep burgundy color. The white blooms appear in spring on eight inch purplish-red stems. ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ is hardy in zones 4 through 9, and can be planted in full sun to part shade. Photo Courtesy of Terra Nova Nursery.

Hollywood

‘Hollywood’ is a gorgeous heuchera with purplish-black leaves frosted with silver. The leaves are nicely ruffled. In spring, bright coral-red blooms will appear, and will reappear all summer. ‘Hollywood’ is hardy in zones 4 through 9, and can be planted in full sun to part shade. Photo Courtesy of Terra Nova Nursery.

Lime Rickey

‘Lime Rickey’ has bold, beautiful chartreuse leaves topped with spikes of white blooms in spring. The chartreuse leaves darken to a pretty lime green color by fall. ‘Lime Rickey’ is very compact, growing only 8 inches high and about 15 inches wide. It is hardy in zones 4 through nine, and should be planted in partial to full shade. Photo Courtesy of Terra Nova Nursery.

Marmalade

‘Marmalade’ has unique foliage that starts out as a bright copper color, and changes to a raw umber color by fall. A bit of a surprise-the undersides of the softly scalloped leaves are hot pink! ‘Marmalade’ has spikes of dark red blooms in summer. It grows to about 12 inches tall and 15 inches wide. ‘Marmalade’ is hardy in zones 4 through nine, and should be planted in part shade. Photo Courtesy of Terra Nova Nursery.

Obsidian

‘Obsidian’ has maroon leaves that are so dark they appear black. They keep this color all season, contrasting beautifully with the creamy white flowers that appear in early summer. It is a compact plant, growing only 10 inches tall and about 15 inches wide. ‘Obsidian’ is hardy in zones 4 through 9, and should be planted in full sun to part shade. Photo Courtesy of Terra Nova Nursery.

Mocha

‘Mocha’ has dark, coffee-colored, deeply lobed leaves that will darken to near-black in the sun. It will grow up to 15 inches high and 24 inches wide. Creamy white blooms appear in mid to late summer. ‘Mocha’ should be planted in full sun to part shade, and is hardy in zones 4 through 9. Photo Courtesy of Darwin Plants.

Combinations

Heucheras play well with many different plants. Shade tolerant varieties can be planted with hostas, bleeding hearts, hydrangeas, astilbes, tiarellas, heucherellas, and ferns. Sun tolerant heucheras would look beautiful planted with irises, campanulas, daylilies, columbine, and phlox. With so many colors available, the combinations are nearly limitless!


Russian Sage

Russian SagePerovskia

If you have a hot, dry area of your yard (don’t we all?) consider Russian Sage. It is a gorgeous, ethereal plant with silvery green, lacy foliage that is topped with spikes of lavender blue flowers from July until frost. Russian Sage grows up to four feet tall and three feet wide, though some varieties are more compact. This is one of those plants in my garden that I pretty much ignore, other than admiring it.

Hardiness: Russian Sage is a perennial that is hardy to zone 3.

Cultivation: Plant Russian Sage in full sun, in average to poor fertility soil, as long as it is well drained. Russian Sage can be planted at any time during the growing season.

Care: Russian sage is a very low-maintenance plant. Make sure they don’t dry out during their first season (but don’t overwater, either!) and after that they’re pretty tough plants. They don’t need to be fertilized or divided. The only care they need is that they should be cut back to 6 to 8 inches tall in early spring to promote bushy growth.

Propagation: Russian Sage is easily propagated by taking softwood cuttings in May or June. “Softwood” means the current year’s growth, before it gets hard and woody. The cuttings can either be kept indoors under lights or in a window, or outdoors in a sheltered spot. To take softwood cuttings of Russian Sage:

  1. Cut about 4 to 6 inches from the end of a stem, right below a leaf node.
  2. Remove any leaves from the bottom 2 inches or so of the stem.
  3. Dip cut end into rooting hormone.
  4. Plant in seed-starting mix (a combination of peat, perlite, and vermiculite-or buy a prepared mix from the store) in either flats or pots. Using a pencil, make a hole 1-2 inches deep, stick the end with the rooting hormone in, and firm the soil gently around the cutting.
  5. Water thoroughly.
  6. Cover the pot with a clear plastic bag, supported by sticks to keep it away from the cutting.
  7. Keep the soil moist, but not too wet. The cutting will root within a few weeks and can then be planted out in the garden.

Good companions for Russian Sage:

  • Black Eyed Susan
  • Butterfly Bush
  • Purple Coneflower
  • Agastache
  • Starflower

Summer Blooms: Black-Eyed Susan

In July and August, the cheerful golden blooms of Black-Eyed Susan grace the garden. But before we talk more about them, we need to get something figured out: which Black-Eyed Susan, exactly, do you have in your garden? There are two very different plants that are both commonly called “Black-Eyed Susans,” (one example of why those pesky botanical names are sometimes necessary to know!) and they have very different attributes. We grow both of them in our garden, so let’s take a look at each.

Black-Eyed Susan #1: Rudbeckia hirta

Rudbeckia hirta is a native biennial or short-lived perennial, depending upon conditions in your garden. It grows anywhere from one to two feet tall (sometimes taller) and spreads via seeds. Each plant is composed of a basal rosette of foliage, and flower stems, each with a single bloom, emerge from the rosette. R. hirta blooms in late summer to fall. It tolerates a wide range of conditions, from full sun (which will result in taller plants with more blooms) to partial shade. It is not overly choosy about soil, though it does best in well-drained loam. In our garden, they’re managing just fine in soil that is mostly clay that we have amended with a topdressing of shredded leaves each fall.

R. hirta can become somewhat invasive if it is happy in your garden. We’ve had seedlings popping up in the lawn and in sidewalk cracks, so that is something to keep in mind regarding this particular Black-Eyed Susan. Another thing to note about R. hirta is that its foliage is fuzzy:

The leaves show some serration, but, as you’ll see when we look at the “other” Black-Eyed Susan, the foliage is definitely different, and is possibly the easiest way to tell the difference between the two.

 

Black-Eyed Susan #2: Rudbeckia fulgida

The blooms above are from the second type of Black-Eyed Susan, Rudbeckia fulgida, which is also commonly known sometimes as “orange coneflower.” Pretty hard to tell the two apart just from looking at the blooms, isn’t it?

R. fulgida is a perennial that grows into clumps about three feet tall by three feet wide. It grows well in both full sun and partial shade, and, while it isn’t picky about soil, it does best in moist, well-drained soil. R. fulgida blooms in late summer, just like R. hirta. In fact, both are blooming in my garden right now, in early August.

R. fulgida spreads by seeds, and you can also divide the clumps (which can expand quite a lot over a few seasons!) to make new plants. It is not nearly as likely to become invasive as R. hirta is, so if you’re looking for a well-behaved, low maintenance Black-Eyed Susan, R. fulgida would be one to look for. How to tell it apart from its prolific cousin? Again, take a look at the leaves. Where R. hirta has fuzzy leaves, R. fulgida’s foliage is smooth, and shows more serration at the edges:

(As you can tell from the photo, R. fulgida is also more attractive to insects. The plant is still growing robustly, though, so I don’t worry about it.)

I hope this helps you tell the difference between the two, and helps you decide which is a better fit for your garden.

What to Plant with Black-Eyed Susan:

Several plants look great planted with Black-Eyed Susans (of either type!) They include:

  • Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
  • Blazing Star (Liatris)
  • Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata)
  • Daylilies
  • Annuals, such as zinnias, marigolds, sunflowers, and cosmos