Butterfly-like blossoms alighting anew in gardens

Gaura's airy look, easy growing habits make this plant a captivating one

In The Garden

March 28, 2004|By Norman Winter | Norman Winter,Knight Ridder / Tribune

It seems no new plant has captured the fancy of gardeners the past couple of years like the gaura. It's not just happening in the South where it is native but all across the United States it seems gardeners have fallen in love with the texture of the flowers and loose habit of the plant.

Gaura is still a new plant to the majority of gardeners, but leaders of garden clubs and horticulture tours are catching on to the enthusiasm for this plant's unique floral display.

The gaura, whose uncommon, common-name is bee blossom, is in the family known as Onagraceae. This means that the gaura is related to the evening primrose and the fuchsia. However, the look and texture of the gaura is not even close to these family members. The most cultivated species is Gaura lindheimeri, and it is native to Texas and Louisiana.

Gaura is hardy from zone 5 to the Gulf Coast and gives a unique texture in the garden. The butterfly-like flowers are white, pink or deep rose, and they are borne at the top of tall, airy spikes. They will reach 2 1/2 to 4 feet in height.

The gaura tolerates heat and humidity and blooms through the fall if you deadhead old flower stalks, which also will reduce reseeding. Gaura is a perennial but won't really need dividing. You might want to save seeds to plant in the future. They will germinate in 14 to 21 days. You also can let the plants re-seed by themselves. Pluck the ones you do not want and transplant the others.

You can root gaura softwood to semi-hardwood cuttings in spring in a well-drained potting mix. A rooting hormone will help increase your percentages.

The gaura forms a long taproot and is very drought tolerant. It performs best in well-drained soil with full sun. You will be happy to know that this is one plant that does not need large quantities of organic matter or frequent applications of fertilizer to put on a good performance.

While they are not the showiest flowers in the garden, they still are ideal companion plants in the perennial border or for a cottage look.

The leading varieties are White gaura, 'Siskiyou Pink', 'Whirling Butterflies' (dwarf), 'Sunny Butterflies', 'Crimson Butterflies', 'Blushing Butterflies' and 'Corries' Gold' (variegated foliage). Shop for these now, but next year look for 'Walberton Pink', 'Walberton White', 'Pink Fountain', 'Perky Pink', 'Ballerina Blush' and 'Ballerina Rose.'

At the recent California Pack Trials, the Ballerinas, 'Perky Pink' and 'Pink Fountain' were impressive and garden enhancing. The fact that these new varieties are coming out is a testimony to the toughness of the plant, their beauty and the acceptance by gardeners everywhere.

The landscape uses are limited only by your imagination. I have seen beautiful plantings among rocks, and striking companion plantings with blue salvias and burgundy-leafed coleus selections.

Try gaura this year. You will not only be hooked, but you will find yourself at the top of the curve with new flowers.

Horticulturist Norman Winter is the author of Paradise Found: Growing Tropicals in Your Own Backyard and Tough-as-Nails Flowers For the South.

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