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"Crocosmia pack a lot of punch in summer," by the Whistling Gardener

It is always hard for me to focus in on one variety of plant this time of year. But this little treatise is going to zoom in on the genus Crocosmia - mostly because they are coming into full bloom now and there isn’t a day that goes by that someone doesn’t come into the store with a sample and want to know what it is.
Lucifer Crocosmia. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

It is always hard for me to focus in on one variety of plant this time of year. There are so many fabulous summer blooming perennials (and a surprising number of shrubs) that are strutting their stuff in the months of July and August, that to dedicate a whole column to one variety seems impossible and maybe even a little unfair.

But fair or not, this little treatise is going to zoom in on the genus Crocosmia - mostly because they are coming into full bloom now and there isn’t a day that goes by that someone doesn’t come into the store with a sample flower (that they probably liberated from someone’s garden) and want to know what it is.

Crocosmia (commonly known as Montbretia) are hardy perennials that originate from South Africa and grow well in the northwest, if planted in full sun. They have sword-like leaves that can reach two to four feet tall and will be covered with red, orange, or yellow flowers in the summer. If they remind you of gladiolus, it is because they are related, and both have the same bulb (actually it is technically a corm) storage structure. They will multiply fairly fast and in a few short years you will have a rather large clump, at which time you should probably divide them (in the spring as they start to grow) and share them with your neighbors.

Crocosmia are one of the most highly prized perennials for hummingbirds and of course any other pollinators that might be around the garden. They are very easy to grow (our acidic soils are perfect, as long as there is good drainage) and the only pests that I have encountered are spider mites and thrips - both of which seem to be more of an issue on old, over-crowded clumps (these insects will turn the leaves a silvery brown). If this occurs to your plants, then it is probably time to divide them. When this happens to mine, I just cut the foliage down to the ground after they bloom and call it good for the season. One other bit of advice: most of the taller varieties benefit from some sort of staking or they will flop over just about the time you want to enjoy them.

As for varieties, there are probably hundreds of cultivars. They all make great garden plants as well as good cut flowers. I found no less than twelve different ones on our benches the other day and I am sure there are many more at other nurseries as well. Here are a few to consider…

  • Lucifer — This is the old standby variety that most people first come to recognize. It’s a good strong grower with bright red flowers.
  • Honey Angels — This variety is more compact, reaching only 16 to 20 inches with finer, more refined foliage. Flowers are a soft yellow with honey tones.
  • Limpopo — Reaches 36 inches tall with large three inch across peachy coral flowers with yellow throats.
  • Diabolito — A dwarf form of Lucifer growing only 24 to 36 inches tall, but with the same striking red flowers.
  • Fire King — Orange flowers that mature to red on compact plants of 24 inches tall.
  • Nova Dragonfire — A compact grower with thick stems that don’t need staking. Flowers are deep red.
  • Adrianna — She has lovely arching stems of glowing tangerine flowers with a deeper flash in the center, bordered in luminous gold.

So, there you have it, one variety of plant but many variations to choose from. Happy Gardening!

Sunnyside will be hosting a free class, “PNW Shade Gardening,” taught by Steve himself on Saturday, July 20, 2019, at 10:00 am at Sunnyside Nursery.

For more information, visit www.sunnysidenursery.net/classes.

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and you can send your gardening questions to him at info@sunnysidenursery.net.

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