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Liatris spicata – Blazing Star

Native to the eastern U.S., Liatris spicata, common name ‘blazing star’, tends to be a short-lived perennial. In my experience, Liatris needs replanting every couple of years. Liatris provides wonderful structure, juxtaposing well with other shapes and forms in the landscape.

liatris - blazing star
Liatris spicata – blazing star – cottage gardens, perennial gardens.

The purple flowers are just bright enough, neither heavy nor garish. Blazing star blooms in mid-summer, and the flowers are relatively long-lasting, developing over a period of 3-4 weeks.

Exposure is full sun. Many perennials in the south, Liatris included, can grow well with only a few hours of afternoon sun. Liatris is not choosy about soils, although consistently wet will cause the plant to rot.  Wet soil and poor drainage in winter will not do when it comes to Liatris and many other perennials. Oakleaf hydrangea is also prone to winter die-off where soils are consistently wet.

One can minimize winter death in many shrubs by planting them slightly higher than the existing soil grade, but with perennials siting them correctly is required. Unless they are adapted to wet soil, perennials simply don’t have the physical size to overcome wet soil in winter. In wet areas, choose cardinal flower instead; the structure is similar, and cardinal flower’s bloom is the most perfect red I know.

Liatris grows 2′-4′ in the garden, and there is a white cultivar (Liatris alba) that grows a touch shorter than the more commonly seen purple version. Blazing star does not spread aggressively and can be planted fairly tight with other plants.

Many garden catalogs recommend planting in mass, and this can be compelling, but I find Liatris to be more impressive planted in small groups and singly; it is simply more at home in a garden where it looks as if it just wandered in. Cottage and informal perennial gardens are obvious choices for this tactic, but consider the juxtaposition of an obvious prairie plant into the formal garden, with boxwood even. Always seek ways to pleasantly surprise your audience.

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