CO-Horts Blog

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Perennials that make you go "Ooooooh!"

Posted by: Alison O'Connor, horticulture agent in Larimer County

I never feel like I’m on top of trends, whether it be clothing, cars or electronics. [Really? It’s not fashionable to wear plaid pajama pants in public?] And when it comes to my garden, I tend to stick with plants that are “tried and true.” Sure, I've planted a few novelties in the past—some make it; others turn into compost. Most of my experiments are planting vegetable cultivars that I never eat.

My brother works for a large wholesale nursery in Oregon, and a few weeks ago I was telling him (whining, really) about all the plants in my garden that didn't make it through the winter. Being the nice brother he is, he sent me a plant care package! With fabulous perennials! I’d heard of a few, but most I had to Google to get an idea of what they looked like...and find out their mature size.

I have a Heuchera (coral bells) collection, which is where most of my "popular" plants are located. Anytime I see a coral bell that I don’t think I have, I buy it or ask Jeff to find it for me (remember he lives in Oregon—the mecca of the plant world). Plus the names make you salivate: Caramel, Southern Comfort, Blackberry Crisp, Chocolate Ruffles, Peach Melba, Lime Marmalade, Berry Smoothie, Grape Soda. Truly, I've lost count of the ones I well as all the name tags. But these plants do really well in my part-sun garden with minimal irrigation. They do need to be mulched prior to winter and are slow to wake up in spring, but I adore coral bells, especially the flowers that dance above the foliage. And hooray—they are rabbit resistant!
[Photo from Terra Nova Nursery:]
Blackberry Crisp coral bells
I am also the proud owner of the 2014 Perennial Plant of the Year: Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’. Switchgrass. Just the name alone sounds like fall. Switchgrasses are drought tolerant, sturdy and stay as a nice clump. Northwind’s foliage turns gold in fall. Can’t you just picture the fall sun glinting through the leaves? Wow. A 2014 plant of the year in my garden! Check out more on the Perennial Plant Association.
[Photo from the Perennial Plant Association:]
Northwind switchgrass in fall
Another Panicum in the shipment was ‘Shenandoah’. Jane Rozum, who just graduated from CSU and is now the hort agent in Douglas County, had this species in her ornamental grass trials. Let me tell you—I love this grass. Green foliage turns to maroon foliage in fall with ruby-colored wispy flowers. It is awesome. I’m so excited to welcome this to my landscape. It’s big too, with a height of up to 6’ and 3’ spread.
[Photo by Jane Rozum]
Shenandoah switchgrass
Another grass in the package was prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis). No, this isn’t a new plant or a fancy cultivar, but it’s a fantastic ornamental grass. And guess what? It’s a native! It’s tough, drought tolerant, virtually pest-free and really pretty.
[Photo by Karl Foord, University of Minnesota]
Prairie dropseed
He also sent a Stachys (which most of you know as the genus lamb’s ear). I have an extreme fondness for lamb’s ear. I fell in love with this fuzzy darling during my undergrad and joked that one day I would have a lawn of lamb’s ear in which to roll around. Though many hate the flowers (I simply cut them off) and it’s in the mint family (i.e. aggressive), lamb’s ear is a great selection for spaces where you need to fill large gaps in dry places. But the Stachys my brother sent is actually Stachys officinalis ‘Pink Cotton Candy’ (a cousin of the plant we know). Now, I don’t know much about this plant, except for the pictures I saw online, but it’s a clump-former with pale pink upright flowers. It blooms in early summer and will repeat bloom if flowers are cut back. Has anyone grown this in Colorado…or was this plant so-2004? I'm excited about it.
[Photo from Chicagoland Grows(R):]
Pink Cotton Candy Stachys
[Photo from Chicagoland Grows(R):]
Ooooh...fantastic pink flowers!
I’m looking forward to seeing these plants sleep (first year), creep (second year) and leap (third year). Just like my ginkgo…which, by the way, is fully leafed out!


  1. What's not to love about those great ornamental grasses and pink Stachys?! Hope you can give us an update at the end of the season and let us know how they did this first year.

  2. We bought a home where the previous owner planted ornamental grass exactly next to beautiful rose bushes. Now the ornamental grass is ovegrowing the roses bushes. How does one remove the ornamental grass without killing the rose bushes?

  3. You can dig up and/or divide your grasses and move them to an area with more space. The best time to do this is spring. As we are getting hot, dry weather now, it will make transplant survival more difficult. Regular irrigation following transplant is crucial. Cooler weather is preferred. You can wait until fall, but doing it before cold weather sets in is important (the roots need time to reestablish). If you can wait until next spring, dig up the clump just as new growth emerges. Most ornamental grasses need full sun. If you need additional information, contact your local Extension office.