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On Gardening: An easy-as-pie perennial with an unfortunate name

May 11, 2015

Sitting at your local garden center right now just waiting for adoption is one of the most easily grown perennials, the lanceleaf coreopsis known botanically as Coreopsis lanceolata. You might be thinking, "Just how easy is it to grow?" Would you believe it is so easy it is native to all but 7 of the lower 48 states? This means you can grow it, too!

Not only is it easy to find and grow, but there are also named selections out their like Baby Sun. These plants offer brilliant golden-yellow flowers borne on 2-foot-long stems that not only dazzle with color but bring in butterflies and other pollinators, making it a fun plant to experience. If that weren’t enough, it will return faithfully for years to come.

We are growing ours in a large sweep or drift in the Rain Garden of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens, Savannah, Ga. The garden has become one of my favorite wildlife watching areas. The clumps are about 18 inches wide and tall, drought-tolerant and tough as nails, getting little to no attention from us other than some effort to keep unwanted weeds in check. This truly is one of the best perennials for the beginning gardener, guaranteeing a green thumb.

Select a site in full sun for optimal growth, although I’ll admit to having seen incredibly showy displays in morning sun and afternoon shade. The only mandatory requirement for growth is well-drained soil. In some regions of the country it is called sand coreopsis. Though high fertility is not necessary, if drainage is suspect, improve the soil by incorporating 3 to 4 inches of organic matter, tilling to a depth of 8 to 10 inches.

Set out nursery-grown transplants in early spring at the same depth they were growing in the container, spacing plants 12 to 15 inches apart. Seeding is also possible with blooms normally occurring in the first year. There is one little aspect you need to know, but it is very important. The common name for this beautiful flower is tickseed. What a horrible injustice done to such a great perennial. "Tick" anything would drive many beginner gardeners away; you can relax knowing that it gets this name from the shape of the seeds.

One key cultural technique with coreopsis is to remove old flowers, as this keeps the plant tidy and the blooms producing, sometimes into fall. This coreopsis probably will need dividing by the third year to keep the quality of the plant at its best. Clumps may be divided in spring or fall.

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