If you live in a place with short unpredictable springs and hot sticky summers, you probably have issues with delphiniums. You can buy them, you can plant them, but you can’t expect them to give you joy forever. In fact, you frequently can’t expect them to perform beyond the first season. This is frustrating for delphinium lovers, especially those without the funds or inclination to buy new delphiniums every year.
The delphinium dilemma came up recently in an online discussion about historic plants. The question was, “What plants make good delphinium replacements in historic gardens?” The answers from various experts were enlightening and made me think further on the topic. While there is nothing quite like a well-grown delphinium, there are some acceptable, less finicky substitutes.
The most frequently mentioned stand-in is a relative, Consolida ajacis or Consolida ambigua, commonly known as larkspur or annual delphinium. Like delphinium, larkspur is tall, with stalks of outward-facing blossoms in shades of blue, gray-blue, blue-purple, white and pink. The double flowered varieties like Giant Imperial, Ocean Mix, Parisian Pink, Earl Gray and Sublime Mixed look the most like their perennial relatives. Single-flowered varieties are lovely in their own right, and may provide the necessary height and color, but the individual flowers are not as closely packed as those on delphinium stalks and may have the distinctive spurs that inspired the plant’s common name.
Larkspur, which has been cultivated in the United States since Colonial times, is especially appropriate for historically authentic planting schemes. In her book, Restoring American Gardens, Denise Wyles Adams includes Consolida ajacis on her list of “All-American Ornamental Plants” because the species has been in constant cultivation all over the country since 1750. While it is technically an annual, a happy larkspur reseeds itself prolifically, making it seem like a perennial.
Another tall flowering plant that might make an acceptable delphinium substitute is aconitum or monkshood. Monkshood, a poisonous plant, is perennial and features flowers in shades of blue, blue-purple and pink. The hooded blossoms that give the genus its common name differ in shape from delphinium flowers, but from even a short distance the look is similar. A European immigrant, monkshood has been used in American gardens since Colonial days, and has the added bonus of partial shade tolerance. Try Aconitum carmichaelii Blue Bishop.
You might also consider some of the new hybrid verbascum. Some of the taller varieties of this familiar plant, commonly known as mullein, grow to be three feet tall–equal in size to some delphiniums. While there is no true blue verbascum, there are tall purple-flowered varieties like Verbascum phoeniceum Violette. Flush of White and Snow Maiden are tall white-flowered forms and Southern Charm blooms in shades of pink. Verbascum are unfussy, sun loving perennials
It takes a little out-of-the-box thinking, but you could also use good old gladiolus as a delphinium stand-in. Glads also have densely packed flowers on tall stalks. Like verbascum, gladioli flowers do not come in true blue, but varieties like Blues, Violetta and Violet Queen supply blue-purple and purple shades. There are numerous pinks, not to mention good white-flowered varieties like White Friendship and White Goddess.
Nineteenth century hybridizing efforts produced the full-flowered glads that we enjoy in gardens today. If your old house was built in the nineteenth or early twentieth centuries, gladioli, planted in clumps of three, five or seven might just fill the delphinium bill.
Gladioli grow from corms, and are not usually hardy in cold winter areas. The corms can be lifted in the fall and stored until spring, or purchased anew every year. Even if you choose the latter option, they are still cheaper than an annual purchase of the same number of delphinium plants.
For the longest time, tall plants have been relegated to the back of the garden, up against a fence or off to a corner, shunted aside like that 6-foot seventh-grader who was always in the last row for class photos.
But a flower bed of 4-, 5- or 6-foot plants can be functional and rewarding — and quite an attention-getter as well.
“One of my friends calls them 55-mile-an-hour plants,” says Justin W. Hancock, a Better Homes and Gardens garden editor since 2003 and now the senior garden editor for the magazine’s website (bhg.com). “They catch your attention even when you’re flying down the highway at 55 miles an hour.”
Hancock says that some gardeners can be intimidated by tall plants, assuming there’s extra work involved because they all need to be staked. That may be true for some varieties, such as delphiniums, but not others, such as sunflowers and cannas.
“Another thing I like about them is privacy,” Hancock says. “They’re a great way to screen views, especially if you live in some of these suburban areas where your neighbors’ deck is 10 feet from yours. You don’t have room for a hedge. You don’t want to put in a fence. But some of these taller perennials will give you nice coverage over the summer season and into the fall.”
Even if a gardener does think big, finding the right tall plants can be a challenge. “I think (interest) is diminishing,” Hancock says. “It’s so much easier to ship compact plants. Put them on the truck, they’re damaged less. So more and more plant breeders are trying to get their plants smaller and smaller.”
Still, there are enough large flowers available to put on a flashy show (and many even grow better from seed, making them a great value too). Here are a few:
Boltonia: This underused North American native, a member of the aster family, looks a lot like an aster, with white or pink flowers. It can grow, shrublike, to 6 feet. “It puts on a huge show in the late summer, fall,” Hancock says. “It’s the aster on steroids.” Full sun.
Butterfly bush: A butterfly bush can grow to 5 or 6 feet — 7 in a good season. They attract butterflies and other insects as well as hummingbirds, drawn to their pink, white, purple or blue flowers. Full sun.
Canna: Big leaves and boldly colored flowers (red, orange, yellow or pink) add drama to a garden. “It’s not hard to get them to grow to 5, 6, 7 or 8 feet,” Hancock says. “The tallest one is C. ‘Musafolia,’ and that can get to 12 feet in a season if it’s happy, in a warm, moist spot.” These are tropical plants, so gardeners here will have to dig and store the rhizomes in a cool, dry place, or simply treat them like annuals. Full sun.
Cleome: Also known as spider flowers, these annuals grow up to 6 feet tall and have distinctive pink, white or purple flowers. They’re easy to grow from seed. “They look so much like fireworks to me,” Hancock says. “Why wouldn’t you want to grow it? They’re wonderful in attracting hummingbird moths. And they give off a really nice fragrance at night.” Full sun.
Cosmos: This delicate-looking flower with its fernlike leaves is tough as nails and easy to grow from seed. Their lacy look makes them great filler plants too. Cosmos need full sun, but will thrive in ordinary soil. Butterflies and bees love them. Sensation is just one of the taller varieties, topping out at 4 feet.
Delphinium: A summer garden staple, they grow to 6 feet and have beautiful blooms that attract butterflies. Hancock calls them “probably the most majestic, eye-catching of the big perennials.” He also says they’re one of the fussiest. “Delphiniums like really rich soil to produce those good-size blooms, but the plants themselves are often short-lived.” Full sun to partial shade.
Hollyhock: Tall, colorful and old-fashioned, they need sun and moisture and will grow to 6 feet or more. Many varieties die off after two years, “but happily they often self-seed, so you plant the seeds once and let the seeds on the plants drop, and you’ll never have to plant them again. You see old farmsteads that have been abandoned for 20 years that still have stands of hollyhocks.”
Joe-Pye weed: Another perennial, it does well (7 feet) in moist soil and has a flat top clustered with flowers. “It’s an A-plus plant for attracting butterflies,” says Hancock. Full sun but can tolerate some light shade.
Sunflower: If you want them really tall, buy one of the older varieties. “Breeders have really been working on compact varieties with all of those colors,” Hancock says. “Some of the newer ones have great branching, so you can get a dozen flowers per plant instead of just the one big one on top.” Still, what’s more impressive than a 10- or 15-foot-tall plant with a basketball-size flower on top? Some of the taller varieties: American Giant Hybrid, Mammoth and Skyscraper. Full sun.
Zinnia: Keeping with recent trends, these popular annuals have been downsized in a search for compact, more disease-resistant varieties. But the 4-footers still have a lot to offer: They’re easy to grow from seed, are colorful and keep producing till frost. Taller varieties include State Fair, California Giant, My Lucky Ladies and Big Red.
GROWING AND LEARNING
For additional gardening information, visit the Web sites of the National Gardening Association (garden.org) and The Gardener’s Network (gardenersnet.com).
- Garden Plans For Larkspur
- Bountiful Blues
- Larkspur Care Must-Knows
- Larkspur vs. Delphinium
- More Varieties of Larkspur
- Plant Larkspur With:
- Choosing the Best Companion Plants for a Phlox
- Staking Options I Don’t Recommend:
- Forty-eight inch tomato baskets:
- Polypropylene Spirals:
- Frog Vine Holders:
- Tried-and-True Staking Options:
- Round Tomato Cages for Peonies and Dahlias
- Bamboo and Bandages for Delphinium
- Other Tips For Successful Staking
- Learn How To Plant And Care for Your Delphiniums
- Planting Delphinium
- Caring for Delphinium
- Pests & Diseases
Larkspur is a classic cottage garden staple that produces great cut flowers. With airy stalks of blue blossoms, this plant adds a gracefulness to any garden and looks good in masses or mixed with other perennials and annuals. A true annual, larkspur is easy to start from seed and will happily reseed itself in the garden year after year.
Garden Plans For Larkspur
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With blooms coming in beautiful shades of sky to navy blue, it’s easy to see why larkspur is planted year after year. Blue is a hard to find color in the flower world, and larkspur has it in spades. You can find these blooms in both single and double varieties. Some varieties feature numerous petals that create a pom-pom effect. Plants will bloom longer if you remove old blossoms.
See more lavender flowers to add to your garden.
Larkspur Care Must-Knows
Larkspurs are extremely unfussy plants and grow easily from seed. In southern climates, you can sow seeds directly in the ground in the fall. As soon as the weather begin to warm up in early spring, they will happily sprout and begin their show. Because they are cool-season annuals, the plants will begin to brown and die in the humid summers of the South. In more northern climates, sow seeds in early spring. Plants can last longer into the summer in the North before the weather gets too warm.
The foliage of larkspur is a great addition to the plant (and the garden!). Light, airy foliage lends a soft fern-like effect. It also helps plants blend in the garden, making larkspur extremely versatile when paired with other plants.
When planting larkspur, make sure you choose well-drained soil. Larkspur doesn’t like to stay wet for long periods of time, but it does need consistent moisture. Be sure that plants stay evenly moist, especially when flowering. If they remain too dry for too long, plants can become stunted and have poor bud set, so you may miss out on blooms.
For the best blooms, plant larkspur in full sun. Although plants can handle a small amount of shade, they are more likely to flop and require stakes. You can prevent this by planting larkspur near tall neighbors to act as a support system, by sowing plants densely, or by planting them along a wall or structure.
Deadhead your larkspur for blooms all season long!
Larkspur vs. Delphinium
A very close relative of larkspur, delphinium looks almost identical in many aspects, but a few differences set these two plants apart. Delphinium tends to be a perennial species, whereas larkspur is an annual. Foliage of larkspur is finer textured than delphinium. When it comes to blooms, delphinium flowers are densely born on spikes while individual blossoms tend to be much larger than larkspur. With those few exceptions, general plant care and maintenance is basically the same.
More Varieties of Larkspur
‘Cloudy Skies’ larkspur
Consolida ‘Cloudy Skies Mix’ bears blooms in shades of purple, blue, white, and silver on 3-foot-tall plants.
Consolida ‘Imperial Strain’ bears stately spikes in shades of pink, rose, blue, purple, or white on strong 4-foot stems.
Consolida ‘Sublime Mix’ bears flower-packed spikes in a variety of shades on 4-foot stems.
Plant Larkspur With:
You can depend on this cottage-garden favorite to fill your garden with color all season long. The simple, daisylike flowers appear in cheery shades on tall stems that are great for cutting. The lacy foliage makes a pretty backdrop for shorter plants. Cosmos often self-seeds in the garden, so you may only have to plant it once, though the colors can appear muddy or odd after reseeding. Plant cosmos from seed directly in the ground in spring, or start from established seedlings. This flower doesn’t like fertilizer or conditions that are too rich, which causes the foliage to be large and lush but with fewer blooms. It does best with average moisture but will tolerate drought.
Few gardens should be without the easy charm of snapdragons. They get their name from the fact that you can gently squeeze the sides of the intricately shaped flower and see the jaws of a dragon head snap closed. The blooms come in gorgeous colors, including some with beautiful color variations on each flower. Snapdragons are an outstanding cut flower. Gather a dozen or more stems in a small vase and you’ll have one of the prettiest bouquets around. Snapdragons are especially useful because they are a cool-season annual, coming into their own in early spring when the warm-season annuals, such as marigolds and impatiens, are just being planted. They’re also great for fall color. Plant snapdragons in early spring, a few weeks before your region’s last frost date. Deadhead regularly for best bloom and fertilize regularly. Snapdragons often self-seed in the landscape if not deadheaded, so they come back year after year, though the colors from hybrid plants may often look muddy. In mild regions, the entire plant may overwinter if covered with mulch. Shown above: ‘Rocket Red’ snapdragon
Plant marguerite daisy for a spectacular show during cool weather. Often confused with Shasta daisy, marguerite is more mounded and shrubby. Bloom colors include pink, white, and a purple that resembles purple coneflower. Marguerite daisy’s hallmark is that it loves cool weather, blooming best in most areas in spring and fall, though it will continue to bloom through the summer in mild-summer areas. Even when it’s not in bloom, the dark green, finely cut foliage looks good against just about any light-color flower.
Choosing the Best Companion Plants for a Phlox
Many sun loving perennials go well with phlox, such as ornamental grasses, agastache, rudbeckia, coreopsis and other plants. Pick plants that will compliment the color of your phlox as well as the color of other plants you place around the phlox.
Before purchasing plants or rearranging your garden, it is important for you to decide what you would like to see in your garden. How would you like it decorated? Would you like a minimal amount of plants or a lot of plants? How tall would you like your plants? What colors would you enjoy?
As phlox has bright flower clusters, other plants around the phlox should be a little duller in vibrancy not to compete or distract from the beauty of the phlox’s color. The exception would be with white phlox, which has no color, or if you have a very small amount of phlox.
Phlox grows to anywhere between 15-48 inches high depending on both the variety of the phlox and the location where you live. Most varieties reach between 24-36 inches. When choosing plants to place near and around your phlox, make sure that to place taller plants behind the phlox, so you don’t obscure it from view. Tall ornamental grasses are perfect for this, as it gives a nice backdrop to the color of the phlox.
Likewise, smaller plants should be placed in front or around the phlox. It is important to know how you would like to place your plants, whether you want to create a border or a specific type of plant or have a smorgasbord or colors and varieties.
If you have a small garden with a weaker soil, consider using plants that do not require as many nutrients as the phlox. This will allow it to gain and maintain the nutrients that it needs without competing with other plants.
Also, by planting a few insect repellent plants in the area, you could help save your plants from potential pest damage.
A List of Good Companions
One of the best companions to phlox are other colors and varieties of phlox itself, but others can add beauty to the plant’s surroundings. These plants are agastache, Echinacea, hermerocallis, ornamental grass, coreopsis, penstemon, rudbeckia, Euonymus, Gaillardia, Nepeta, Perovskia, Physocarpus, Salvia, Sedum, and Weigela.
These are all plants that enjoy the same amount of sun as the plox, but do not distract or take away from its beauty. It is important to add plants that will need the same type of care as the phlox.
However you decorate your garden, you should do it in a way that you will enjoy. Though there are things that appeal to many, if you enjoy a specific combination of plants, you should try it out and see if it works.
Wilson Bros. Observations
Tall garden phlox are a beauty to behold – a must in every southern garden. The large flower clusters, produced in abundance during summer, are perched on tall stems that rise just above the dark green foliage – or variegated foliage in the case of ‘Nora Leigh’ (shown below). Some are sweetly fragrant, most make good cutflowers, and all are attractive to butterflies. There are many new varieties that have shown good resistance to powdery mildew, as this had been a problem in the high humidity in the south. Below are a few of the more mildew-resistant varieties that we try to keep in stock at the nursery during the season.
|36″ HT||36-48′ HT||24-26″ HT||48″ HT|
|Lavender-Blue||White- fragrant||Pink – fragrant||Deep Purple|
|Nora Leigh||Red Super||Robert Poore|
|24″ HT||28″ HT||60″ HT!|
|White w/ eye||Red||Rosey-Purple|
Soil: Well-drained, fertile is preferred
Light: Sun or Partial Shade
Tall garden phlox are great additions to sunny perennial garden or beds. Growing from 2 to 5 feet in height, they should be used in the mid-ground or background. If planted in containers make sure the soil used is a well-drained premium potting mix.
Planting – Plant this perennial as you would most others making sure that there is good drainage. (Do not plant in boggy or consistently wet soils). Also, space plants 2 to 3 feet apart to allow for plenty of breathing room. As with roses and many other plants, overcrowding garden phlox can promote the onset of unsightly powdery mildew during high humidity times, though many of the varieties we stock at the nursery are quite resistant. Dig the hole two to three times the width and no deeper than the rootball. Mix in a good soil ammendment such as Claycutter or Mushroom Compost at a 50/50 ratio with the soil removed from hole. Place rootball in hole making sure that top edge of the rootball is at or slightly above the ground level. Backfill with soil mixture to top edge of rootball. For more detailed instructions and a diagram see Planting Instructions for Perennials.
Pruning – Pruning is not necessary however, cutting the plants back by half their height after the first flush of blooms will often encourage new blooms. When the plant has gone totally dormant in late fall or early winter dead foliage can be trimmed back to the ground.
Fertilization – To enhance flower production and good health fertilize in early spring and again in early summer with a good flower food such as Colorburst, or an organic fertilizer such as Milorganite.
Watering – Once established, garden phlox need little attention to watering however, do give them some water during extended dry periods in summer. You’ll know they need a drink if and when the foliage wilts during dry spells.
Known pests and diseases: Powdery mildew is the only problem we’ve seen. Purchasing mildew resistant varieties, spacing adequately to provide for good air circulation, and not watering the foliage in the late evening, or at night, can prevent the onset of powdery mildew.
Companion Plants for Tall Phlox
Shrubs – Dwarf Spireas, Dwarf Abelias, Dwarf Gardenia, Daisy Gardenia, Dwarf Crape Myrtles, Loropetalums, landscape Shrub Roses, and most of all: Vitex (Chaste Tree) SEE: Flowering Shrubs
Ornamental Grasses – Maiden Grass, Pampas Grass, Zebra Grass, Muhly Grass, and other ornamental grasses.
Perennials – Rudbeckias and other daisies, coreopsis, Russian sage, coneflowers, sedums and many other sun-loving perennials or cutflower perennials.
Trees – Crape Myrtles, Japanese Maples and other small trees.
Groundcovers – Low Growing Sedums, Dianthus, Verbenas, Lantana ‘New Gold’, BlueStar Creeper, and other low growing perennial groundcovers.
All About Perennials
K. Van Bourgondien & Sons / 800-622-9997
by George Papadelis
We’ve all seen it: that glowing mound of flowers that catches your eye each spring. It’s impossible to miss an established planting of creeping phlox, even when driving 40 miles per hour.
Creeping phlox is the name often used to describe several species within the huge genus Phlox, which includes perennials such as the tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata and Phlox maculata) and the annual phlox (Phlox drummondii). Few perennials, however, can produce flowers as densely and reliably as creeping phlox.
There are several species of phlox that are low growing. The most popular is Phlox subulata which bears the common name moss phlox or creeping phlox. This easy to grow plant thrives in sun and is not particular about its soil, although good drainage is preferable. The small, starry flowers come in many colors and the fine foliage can be dense or airy depending on the cultivar. Spring temperatures determine whether your phlox will bloom in late April or as late as mid May. Flowering only lasts for about 3 to 4 weeks. Most grow 4 to 6 inches tall and stay extra compact, especially if lightly sheared after blooming. They can spread up to 2 or more feet wide in just a few years.
Phlox subulata is native to the eastern United States but is hardy enough to withstand much colder climates. Pest and disease problems are rare. This is part of the reason that moss phlox is one of the most popular rock garden plants. It is also used in troughs, as an edging plant, in wall gardens, and in the perennial border. It doesn’t grow from seed, but mature plants can be divided after they flower.
The two most popular varieties of Phlox subulata are the blue ‘Emerald Blue’ and the pink ‘Emerald Pink,’ due to their bright, clean flowers and their dense, low leaves. ‘White Delight’ is the most popular white and ‘Atropurpurea’ is the most popular red. For interesting bicolored flowers, try ‘Millstream Coral Eye.’ It is pure white with a crimson eye. ‘Millstream Daphne’ is clear pink with a darker rose eye. One of the most striking cultivars is ‘Candy Stripes,’ with a distinctly star-shaped pattern.
There are many early-blooming plants that make wonderful partners for moss phlox. As far as bedding plants are concerned, pansies are certainly the most diverse and dependable phlox companions. They come in an almost infinite range of colors and color combinations, and they will tolerate the occasional frosts and freezes of early spring. Early-blooming perennial companions include bugleweed (Ajuga), pasque flower (Pulsatilla vulgaris), and a very broad range of bulbs. Blue or pink moss phlox underneath the blooms of yellow daffodils makes an impressive combination.
Phlox douglasii is another available species that is also called moss phlox and grows almost exactly like Phlox subulata. Phlox douglasii is even shorter, rarely growing over 4 inches tall. Only a few cultivars exist, but ‘Crackerjack’ has near red flowers and ‘Rose Cushion’ has delicate, soft baby pink flowers that are very unusual. They only grow 10 to 12 inches wide, making them even better for smaller crevices or troughs. These varieties also benefit from shearing after blooming.
For shade or partial shade, we have Phlox stolonifera, commonly known as creeping phlox. This was the very first plant chosen to be the Perennial Plant of the Year by the Perennial Plant Association back in 1990. Its low, spreading stems are adorned with leathery, almost round leaves. The stems are referred to as stolons since they will root at the stem nodes and tips. Stem tips will turn upright and produce clusters of sweetly fragrant flowers in May. Plants will grow 6 to 12 inches tall and spread indefinitely to form a groundcover.
Phlox stolonifera makes a great companion for spring-blooming shade plants such as primrose, lungwort (Pulmonaria), foamflower (Tiarella), and shade-tolerant bulbs such as scilla and daffodils. Selections include the white ‘Bruce’s White,’ the pink ‘Pink Ridge,’ the blue ‘Blue Ridge,’ and the purple ‘Sherwood Purple.’ These, like Phlox subulata and Phlox douglasii, are best propagated by division. Also, rooted stolons (stems) can be separated from the main plant and grown on their own.
All of these phlox are very easy to grow. Their dense flowers, reliability, and ease of cultivation make them valuable perennials. Try some and you too could have a carpet of traffic-stopping blooms in your spring garden.
George Papadelis is the owner of Telly’s Greenhouse in Troy, MI.
At a glance: Creeping Phlox
Phlox stolonifera (floks sto-lo-NI-fer-a)
Phlox subulata (floks sub-ew-LAH-ta)
Common name: Creeping phlox, moss phlox
Plant type: Perennial
Plant size: 4-12 inches tall
Habit: Creeping groundcover
Hardiness: Zone 2
Flower color: Wide variety: lilac, pale blue, mauve, pink (many shades), white, red
Bloom period: April-May
Light: P. stolonifera: partial shade to shade / P. subulata: sun
Soil: P. stolonifera: rich, moist, well-drained / P. subulata: well-drained
Uses: Evergreen groundcover, edging, woodland garden, rock garden
Companion plants: P. stolonifera: early spring-blooming bulbs and perennials for shade, such as lungwort (Pulmonaria), foamflower (Tiarella), scilla, many others. P. subulata: early spring-blooming bulbs and perennials for sun, such as pansies, ajuga, daffodils, many others.
Remarks: Keep P. stolonifera out of full sun. P. subulata is drought-tolerant once established.
Staking perennials is a real pain in the butt. Sometimes it’s not until the poor perennial is lying in the mud that a gardener decides to take action. In the west where plants grow shorter and sturdier due to poor soils and arid climates, gardeners get away with staking less frequently, but there are still a few varieties that almost always need to be staked:
- Delphiniums due to their hollow stems and heavy blossoms,
- Peonies to show off their great foliage and hold up their huge blooms
- Dahlias, a non-winter hardy tuber that a gardener may choose to grow.
No garden would be complete without Delphiniums, Peonies, and Dahlias, so stake we must.
An interesting variety of staking materials is available, but I have two secret staking methods that Donrey and I have learned are almost infallible. But before I show you my own favorite methods, let me show you a few that I’ve tried that haven’t worked so well:
Staking Options I Don’t Recommend:
Forty-eight inch tomato baskets:
These cages are fifteen by fifteen inches wide. To use, stick the bottom spikes into the ground and square up the huge cage and then stand back and see how your Delphinium looks standing in jail.
These spirals have a pointed end to anchor in the ground and uncoil into a seven foot spiral that is attached to a wooden stake at the top. Seven foot plastic spirals attached to seven foot wooden stakes sticking up all over perennial flower beds are not a pretty picture.
Frog Vine Holders:
Another staking technique that, if it would have worked, might have been delightfully whimsical were these Gumby-like frogs. They were advertised in a magazine and when they arrived and were tried, the arms and legs were much too short to wrap around anything larger than a pencil. They would not even hold a Clematis vine to an arch. My grandsons got caught placing the frogs in an obscene chain and getting them grounded was all the frogs were really good for.
Tried-and-True Staking Options:
These round tomato baskets make nice supports for perennials with only a few changes. Cut off the wire spikes that are usually sunk into the ground. Bend the cutoff spikes into a hook. To stabilize, place the cage big circle down. Using the large ring for the base and not the top minimizes the chance of damaging roots or bulbs.
Round Tomato Cages for Peonies and Dahlias
Another traditional staking method is the round cage tomato baskets. Blooming perennials always topple these baskets just when the flowers reach their peak of performance. However, tomato cages with a little adjustment are my number one secret staking solution.
- 1. Cut off the puny wire stakes that are to be pushed into the ground.
- 2. Bend a crook at one end of the cut wire and use it to securely anchor the cage.
- 3. Place the large ring end of the tomato cage upside-down over the plant and then anchor the ring with the bent hook supports. The attractive Peony foliage fills this shorter ring quickly and gives the perennial a tidy vase-shaped appearance in the garden that lasts until after frost. At fall cleanup time, the removal of the obnoxious wire legs, that have a tendency to poke out eyes, makes stacking of the baskets quick and easy for storing.
- Bamboo stakes are lightweight, strong, attractive, and completely biodegradable. Mesh bandaging tape is self-adhesive and holds solid until fall cleanup when it starts deteriorating, making it easy to remove.
Bamboo and Bandages for Delphinium
Next is the secret staking solution for showing off the elegant blooms of Delphiniums. This method is so simple, so inexpensive, and so totally natural that most gardeners will wonder why they didn’t think of it. Use the stretchy mesh bandage tape used by hospitals, (a material we call “horse-wrap”) to secure the plant. This material comes in different widths that can be sliced into an appropriate size such as two inches. Use biodegradable bamboo stakes that come in either green or tan and stick them deep into the ground for a camouflaged cage around the Delphinium bush. Then wrap the bamboo with a double twist of horse-wrap to give a totally solid foundation for the height and width of these beloved garden perennials. Delphiniums wrapped this way have a strong tendency to bloom again in August and September. The stress of being snapped off in a wind, just at June bloom time must weaken the plant and cause it to be short-lived. This staking technique eliminates that stress and gives the Delphinium more strength to return year after year. The mesh tape is a great improvement over using ridiculous old pantyhose for a stake wrap.
Other Tips For Successful Staking
1. Get it done early. As the plant fills out the staking will disappear into the foliage.
2. Choose perennials that have strong stems. Aconitum (Monk’s Hood), Aruncus (Goatsbeard), Heliopsis ‘Summer Sun’ and Echinacea (Coneflower) are typical of perennials that will not flop. Tall flowers with spikes or heavy flowers are the most prone to toppling.
3. Choose sturdy cultivars of perennials. For example, the Shasta Daisy, ‘Becky’ is one of the tallest Daisies and has huge blooms but has been bred with stronger stems. If staking is not an option do not plant: Clematis, Chrysanthemums, Delphinium x elatum hybrids, Digitalis (Foxglove), tall Asters or Campanula lactiflora. Select low growing varieties of these perennials that will not fall over. For example, Delphiniums ‘Magic Fountain’ and ‘Guardian Mix’ are only thirty to thirty-five inches tall so they are not as prone to breaking.
4. Plant an informal garden called a “cottage garden” that allows perennials to weave and sprawl in the garden.
5. Over-watering or over-fertilizing causes perennials to grow tall and leggy and so will planting sun-loving perennials in a shade garden.
6. Plant your perennials in a location not susceptible to wind to save them from breaking.
7. Divide older perennials when they show a tendency to flop open in the middle.
Using these tips plus horse-wrap with bamboo stakes and revised tomato cages will make staking a much easier, simpler task. A gardener just might decide they like staking.
Learn How To Plant And Care for Your Delphiniums
Adding splendor and architectural height to borders, Delphiniums (Larkspurs) are elegant and stately perennials, biennials or annuals, which form incredibly eye-catching spikes of single or double flowers in early-mid summer and often rebloom in late summer or early fall. Profuse bloomers, their regal blooms come in an array of gorgeous colors including blue, white, pink and violet; the blue varieties being highly prized by gardeners. Rising from a mound of divided, pale to dark green foliage, hummingbirds are endlessly attracted to them – as are most onlookers!
- Delphiniums may be planted in spring
- Delphiniums grow best in cool and moist summer climates, and do not fare well in hot, dry summers
- Delphiniums need at least a half-day of sun (minimum of six hours of sun a day). Full sun is ideal as Delphiniums bloom best in sunny spots except in the South, where afternoon shade is appreciated.
- These plants require excellent drainage. In poor or heavy soil, add organic matter at planting time to improve drainage.
- Delphiniums love fertile, rich, moist soils. They are heavy feeders so the more compost you add to your flower bed the more spectacular your Delphiniums are likely to be.
- Provide a site sheltered from strong winds and sufficient space to ensure good air circulation. Don’t let your Delphiniums be shaded or crowded by their vigorous neighbors.
- Loosen your garden soil with a garden fork or tiller to a depth of 12-15 in. (30-37 cm), then mix in 2-4 in. (5-10 cm) of compost.
- Space your plants 1 to 3 ft. apart (30-90 cm), depending on the variety.
- Dig a hole twice the diameter of the pot your Delphinium is in
- Place your plant in the hole so the top of the root ball is level with the soil surface.
- Backfill the hole and firm the soil gently. Water thoroughly.
- Delphiniums may be grown from seed, but this can be quite challenging. Seed should be started indoors early in the year, and those plants will flower the first year. If seeds are sown directly in the ground, those plants will not flower until the following year.
‘Black Eyed Angels’
Caring for Delphinium
- Delphiniums require regular watering, specifically during the dry summer months. Soil should stay just barely moist and never dry out, nor become soggy.
- Apply a balanced liquid fertilizer every 2-3 weeks.
- Apply a thin layer of compost in the spring as well as a 2 in. layer of mulch to keep moisture and control weeds.
- Stake tall varieties, no later than mid-spring or when the plants reach 12 in. high (30 cm) to prevent the flower spikes from flopping over due to high winds. Grow-through supports work well for Delphiniums, as do cages.
- Thin shoots when 3 in. high to ensure good-quality flower spikes. Leave at least 2-3 shoots on young plants and 5-7 shoots on well-established plants
- Remove spent flower spikes to promote additional blooms.
- After the first killing frost, cut stems back to the ground.
- Divide plants every 3 to 4 years as new growth begins in the spring, lifting plants and dividing them into clumps.
‘Magic Fountains White’
‘Highlander Blueberry Pie’
Pests & Diseases
- Susceptible to slugs and snails as well as cyclamen mites.
- Powdery mildew, Southern blight, bacterial and fungal spots, gray mold, crown and root rot, white rot, rust, white smut, leaf smut
- To avoid most of these diseases and pests, practice good sanitation around the plants and keep their area well drained and clear of debris.
- All parts of the plant may cause severe discomfort if ingested.
‘Magic Fountain Sky Blue’