How to Grow Calliopsis

Calliopsis flower up close

AYImages / Getty Images

An annual species within the typically-perennial Coreopsis genus, the calliopsis (also called tickseed) is an abundant bloomer and a prolific self-seeder. These qualities make it an iconic wildflower, but also a beautiful choice for your garden bed or cutting garden.

If you’re looking for an easy-keeping annual member of the coreopsis family, look no further than the calliopsis—available in both single-hued petal and variegated petal varieties. 

Botanical Name Coreopsis tinctoria
Common Name Calliopsis, Tickseed
Plant Type Annual
Mature Size 1 to 3 feet tall and 1 to 2 feet wide
Sun Exposure Full to part sun
Soil Type Sandy and well-drained
Soil pH 5.5 to 6.5
Bloom Time Summer to fall
Flower Color Yellow or yellow variegated with brown or red
Hardiness Zones 3 to 10
Native Area Western Canada, Northern Mexico, Western and Southern United States
Blooming calliopsis flowers
Bloom and bud of calliopsis plant. Barbara Bergmann / EyeEm / Getty Images
Up close bloom of calliopsis
Calliopsis (Plains coreopsis) bloom. Dethan Punalur / Getty Images

How to Grow Calliopsis

Growing calliopsis is not much of a challenge, even for beginning gardeners. These plants are native to hot, dry climates and aren’t overly particular about soil conditions or watering routines. However, they do require full sun for the best blooms, and the flowers will orient themselves to make the most of the sun’s rays. Calliopsis will self-seed and can easily fill a garden patch with their beautiful yellow blooms. But you can also easily limit the spread of this plant by deadheading blossoms.

Snails and aphids seem drawn to calliopsis. For combating the snails, collecting them from the plants is often the only effective way to deal with the problem. 

Light

Like other flowering plants, the calliopsis loves the sun. With direct sunshine, this plant thrives and produces abundant blooms. It can survive in partial sun, but expect to see less vibrant and outstanding blooms. 

Soil

The optimal soil conditions for calliopsis are sandy and well-drained, but this plant is relatively easy to please. Native to the rocky landscape of the western United States, it can tolerate somewhat dry, rocky conditions where other plants may have trouble putting down roots. 

Water

Hardy and drought-resistant, too much water is not a good thing for the calliopsis plant. Be sure to let the soil dry thoroughly in between watering sessions.

In many climates, rainfall offers sufficient moisture for these plants. But if you live in an arid climate or experience a stretch of dry weather, check to see whether the soil is dry at a depth of 2 to 4 inches—if so, water. 

Temperature and Humidity

Native to hot, dry climates like the western United States and the Andes, the calliopsis is accustomed to dry, arid conditions. At the same time, this versatile plant can withstand some humid, wet weather—provided it has sufficient soil drainage.

Either way, calliopsis prefers warm temperatures and blooms most abundantly during the hot summer months. 

Fertilizer

Generally speaking, calliopsis doesn’t require fertilization and too much fertilizer can even have a detrimental effect on the plant’s health and blooming activity.

One option for supplementing the nutrients in areas that are particularly lacking is to use wood chips over the soil around the base of the plant. The slow release of the nutrients into the soil might give a gradual boost to calliopsis in soil conditions that are particularly lacking. Other common options for fertilizing calliopsis include compost or composting tea.

Propagating Calliopsis

Calliopsis is very good at multiplying and will gladly self-seed if blooms are left to drop their seeds as they wither. However, if you’re looking to intentionally and systematically propagate this plant, you can do it by means of either seeds or clump division.

Clump division is often recommended as the best means of propagating this plant and is generally best done in springtime.

To propagate calliopsis by division:

  1. Remove the entire plant from the ground, including the root ball, and shake to remove the excess, loose soil.
  2. Use a gardening tool with a sharp edge, such as a shovel or gardener’s knife, to divide the plant’s crown into three or four equal parts. Each section should have several shoots, along with a portion of the root system.
  3. Plant each section in similar soil and light conditions as the original plant.

Varieties of Calliopsis

Calliopsis is itself a variety within the Coreopsis genus, but there is one common sub-type of the calliopsis plant.

  • Leavenworth’s Tickseed (Coreopsis leavenworthii): With an appearance similar to a smaller sunflower, this type of calliopsis grows 1 to 2 feet tall and has yellow petals with a dark center. It’s a native species in Florida and Alabama. 
Leavenworth's tickseed flowers
Leavenworth's Tickseed. Weber / Getty Images

Toxicity of Calliopsis

Both the flowers and foliage of the Coreopsis family, including the calliopsis are non-toxic for humans, dogs, cats, and horses. This makes them a good choice if you have pets that frequently wander through your garden and you’re concerned they might nibble a little greenery or snatch a flowerhead. 

Growing From Seeds

You can start calliopsis from seeds—either those you purchase or collect from your own garden—relatively easily. If you want to start seeds in an indoor greenhouse, plant them at the end of winter and sow them into the garden after the last frost has occurred.

If you’re looking to direct sow the seeds into your garden, the window to plant is from about the middle of March until May. If you live in a climate with a mild winter, you may also direct sow the seeds in the fall—but only if temperatures remain fairly moderate all winter long.