Why no garden should be without this drought-tolerant pollinator plant – Press Enterprise


It’s time to consider coreopsis. No garden should be without it. I thought of it after receiving a photo taken by Linda Vaningen that featured coreopsis flowering prolifically, the result of successful germination of the seeds of California pollinator plants she had sprinkled over the area. This was done in mid-May, at the same time and in the same bed where she planted lily bulbs, including the Stargazer variety. She asked if the bulbs benefited from the shade of the wildflower plants and I believe the answer is yes. I, too, planted Stargazer lilies under a small tree and they bloomed spectacularly despite receiving only a few hours of partial afternoon sun. 

Vaningen’s coreopsis plants display flowers with bold red markings at the base of their yellow-orange petals; it’s the petal color most frequently seen in coreopsis species, although other shades of yellow and occasionally red and pink petals on select varieties and hybrids are also seen. Vaningen’s species is plains coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria). The most commonly grown species is known as large-flowered tickseed (Coreopsis grandiflora). Coreopsis gets its common name from the shape of its seeds. Koris means “bug” in Greek and opsis means “having the appearance of.” The particular bug that coreopsis seeds resemble is a tick; hence its common name. Incidentally, the most widely grown orchid, Phalaenopsis, is named for the appearance of its flower, as phalain means “moth” in Greek, and so the moniker of “moth orchid” came into being.

Beautiful sunny yellow flower Coreopsis grandiflora against a blue sky.
Beautiful sunny yellow flower Coreopsis grandiflora against a blue sky.

Coreopsis grandiflora is a perennial native to the Southeast, Midwest, and Southwest. It has also naturalized in parts of California. That being said, there are seven species of California native Coreopsis (recently reclassified in the closely related Leptosyne genus). As a rule, large-flowered tickseed grows with weedlike profusion in every type of soil as long as drainage is adequate. Reaching up to two feet in height with a spread of three feet, it evokes the carefree English garden look.  

The orange-yellow or golden-yellow you see in classic coreopsis species may also be found in certain low-growing and compact bush lantana cultivars such as ‘Sunburst’ and ‘New Gold.’ Coreopsis and lantana are among a small minority of long-flowering perennials that can handle heavy soil or, in other words, soil that drains slowly due its clay content. As a bonus, coreopsis attracts beneficial insects such as ladybugs and lacewings, while both coreopsis and lantana are visited by birds and butterflies of every description. Additionally, Coreopsis is a robust bloomer that I have seen flower practically non-stop for up to two years. Its death is briefly mourned since it self-sows and also spreads vegetatively through underground rhizomes. 

Many species of coreopsis bloom this time of year but perhaps none is more charming than the lacy-leafed perennial ground cover, Coreopsis verticillata. Despite its delicate look, it is as drought-tolerant and cold-tolerant as any other Coreopsis species. Plant it by Lake Arrowhead and it will survive the winter just fine. It is an appropriate choice for cascading over retaining walls and for spilling out of hanging baskets and containers of all kinds. The ‘Full Moon’ and ‘Moonbeam’ varieties have glowing sulfur-yellow flowers and dainty threadlike foliage. I have seen ‘Moonbeam’ die back in the winter but then, when temperatures warm, it starts growing like gangbusters again. 

The more I study “Moonbeam” coreopsis, the more it reminds me of Geranium incanum, another favorite ground cover of mine. Geranium incanum also has soft, finely laced leaves and, like ‘Moonbeam,’ is not at all invasive due to its superficial roots. Growing to less than one foot in height, Geranium incanum self-sows with abandon but is easily deracinated if you should be bothered by where it travels in your garden. Its flowers possess the five overlapping petals of all true geraniums and, in this case, they are magenta rose in color. Usually, Geranium incanum is given exclusive ownership of a garden bed, but I have also seen it used as an underplanting with white ‘Iceberg’ roses. Geranium incanum will need a moderate amount of water to look its best, although it can survive with a single weekly soaking.

The Southern California Begonia Society will present a two-day plant show and sale at Sherman Gardens, home to more than 130 unique begonia varieties. The event will take place on Saturday & Sunday, Sept. 16 & 17, from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. The show offers a rare opportunity to explore the many varieties of locally grown begonias. A large selection of begonias, not typically available for sale in local nurseries, will be available for purchase. Experts will be on hand to answer your questions and enhance your begonia education. Sherman Library & Gardens is located at 2647 E. Coast Hwy., Corona del Mar. Admission is free for members and $5 for non-members.

California native of the week: Giant coreopsis (Leptosyne/Coreopsis gigantea) is a curiosity owing to its thick, succulent stems, feathery foliage, and rich tapestry of three-inch daisies that float above its leaves. It may grow as tall as six feet and is well suited to a garden of succulents. It does experience a dormancy period when its luster fades during late summer. In sandy soil, it will self-sow and spread. The only maintenance guidance that comes with giant coreopsis is the following: Never water it. Irrigation that reaches the soil in summer will rot its roots. If you have done a fair share of wandering along undisturbed portions of the Southern California coast, you have probably seen giant coreopsis growing, whether on flat sand dunes or out of the side of ocean-facing cliffs. Giant coreopsis may readily be seen growing, for example, adjacent to Malibu’s Point Dume beach.

If you have a coreopsis story to tell, please send it along to joshua@perfectplants.com. Your questions and comments regarding any gardening problem or practice, in addition to your photos, are always welcome.



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