Seeking the true red perennial flower can be a long
I have been searching for a true red flowering perennial
for years now. Not really interested in lilies, but something that
gets about 18-24 inches high and would bloom most of the season.
Any suggestions? Oh- I've tried bee balm but they don't seem to
come back after 2 years, and they are not as true of a red color as
I hoped for. - D. -
Red is a tough goal in perennials. You can call a meeting of ten
gardeners, have each bring their best red flower and get ten
different hues ranging from red-orange to red-violet. Gardeners
themselves are often surprised at how non-red their flowers look
once they are not in situ among leaves of a given color but held up
against other "reds."
There are no perennials that bloom all season. The longest
blooming perennials provide flower for about 7 weeks, 3 or 4 weeks
of which will be non-peak display and may require deadheading to
achieve. So you will need not just one but at least four or five
perennial species to have red throughout the growing season.
A red primrose (Primula polyanthes) followed by tulips,
an oriental poppy (Papaver orientale), coral bells
(Heuchera sanguinea), 'Fire King' yarrow, an astilbe of
your choice (I like 'Glut' but then I call the bluer reds the truer
reds) and winding up with a hardy hibiscus (H. moscheutos, a red
variety) might be the best you can do, although that mix would
start shorter and end taller than your desired size. Perhaps other
readers will have suggestions, which I'll pass along. The fun is in
A reason to choose your weeds
As a professional gardener I often must neglect my yard in favor
of client's beds. This means there will be many weeds in my garden
each June when I turn my attention there, so I've literally chosen
some of those weeds to help make the problem manageable.
My weeds of choice are pretty things grown for their ability to
light a smile while shading out less desirable weeds. Examples are
love in a mist (Nigella damescena), spiderflower (Cleome
hasslerana), policeman's helmet (Impatiens glandulifera) and
perilla (P. frutescens). These annual flowers, available as seed or
plants at many garden centers, spread seed where they have once
been grown. They come up thick and to the near-exclusion of more
troublesome weeds in spots where I have not yet been able to weed
Leaves suddenly stripped from your columbine?
A sawfly that specializes in columbine is probably to blame.
Look closely because these insects are exactly the color of the
leaf in their columbine-eating, caterpillar-like larval stage. They
are easily squished or killed with insecticidal soap. However,
those tactics are best employed early in May when the infestation
starts and the insects are tiny. If your plants are leafless
already, just cut them back and let them grow new foliage.
Stalking the stem borer
Many perennials such as lily (bulb-type Lilium), aster,
delphinium, Helen's flower, hollyhock, obedient plant and phlox are
attractive to the same insect that bores into corn stalks. If you
see the tip of a flower stalk wilting, look for an insect larva
inside the stem at the base of the wilted portion. Clip off that
part of the stem and destroy it.
Don't despair. In most cases you haven't lost the bloom, you've
just pinched the plant and encouraged it to produce multiple
Spraying to prevent the damage isn't worth the costs in time,
pesticide or consequences to the delicate balance of life in the
garden. This insect doesn't cause that much harm and doesn't occur
in quantity in a diverse, healthy garden. However, it does have
such wide tastes that you would have to keep applying an
insecticide on everything throughout May and June to poison
relatively few, scattered caterpillars as they first begin to chew
their way into stems.
Spare that painted lady caterpillar!
This caterpillar also affects the stem tip but it doesn't bore
in. It knits the top leaves together on its chosen plant, which may
be one of many species including globe thistle, aster or hollyhock.
In the protection of that tent it feeds on the growing tip,
creating an increasingly noticeable, messy packet of frass --
Painted lady butterfly is Vanessa cardui, as pretty as its name,
boldly patterned orange and brown. It's often raised and sold for
children's science projects.
This insect, too, does no lasting damage. Plants can complete
their growth and bloom well after the caterpillars have gone.
Green thumbs up
to the intensity of color in early season foliage. It's
delightful to see, as beautiful as a floral display. All the rain
that has caused such trouble on some fronts has also given us one
of the most intensely colored Mays I can recall.
Green thumbs down
to thinking that we're the only ones who enjoy fresh new leaves.
If you had an insect problem on a plant last year, watch it closely
now for signs of infestation. You can nip it in the bud more easily
than you can correct it later.
Originally published 6/5/04