Gaura flowers catch attention as the plant that always looks great in your brown thumb neighbor’s yard. Waving wands dotted with dozens of pinkish flowers didn’t stop blooming in triple digit temperatures or dry weather that turned lawns crisp. Get to know this low-maintenance perennial that may give coneflower a run for its money in the cultivated wildflower popularity contest.
Get to Know Gaura
If the name gaura doesn't roll off the tongue, it helps to remember the Greek origin of the word gauros, which means superb. Also known as wandflower, whirling butterflies, and bee blossom, Gaura lindheimeri can range from 15 inches to four feet tall, but most new cultivars are bred to be compact and container friendly. One of the best features of gaura plants is the long bloom time, much longer than most perennials. The heaviest blooming occurs in early summer, but expect flushes of flowers to recur throughout the summer and into fall in USDA growing zones 5-9. Full sun is necessary for floriferous plants, but some afternoon shade is tolerated, especially in hot climates.
Gaura foliage is lance-shaped and often tinged with pink, cream, or gold, depending on the variety. Wiry flower stems bear many one-inch flowers with four petals each. Flowers are white, pink, or a combination of the two.
The long taproot that makes gaura so drought tolerant also makes it difficult to transplant successfully, so choose your planting site carefully. The two most important ingredients for a successful gaura installation are excellent drainage and plenty of sunshine. Gaura plants aren’t the longest-lived perennials anyways, but wet winter soil is a sure way to kill these drought tolerant natives. Amend the soil with a mix of compost and grit, or better yet, plant in raised beds. Space the plants at least 12 inches apart, and plant in groups of three or five plants for maximum impact.
Water gaura infrequently but deeply to help the plants establish their deep roots. Cutting back the stems of gaura after the first main bloom will encourage a tidy plant and spur repeat blooming. Gaura thrives in poor soil and doesn’t need supplemental flower fertilizer. In fact, too much manure or fertilizer can make the plant floppy.
Gaura plants don't suffer from too many insect pests, but when plants are stressed by excessive drought or overcrowding, they may be vulnerable to aphids, flea beetles, or whitefly outbreaks. You can make your flower garden less welcoming to these pests by removing dead plant matter that insects use to overwinter at the end of the growing season, keeping your flowerbeds weeded, and attracting parasitic wasps with a companion planting of sweet alyssum.
If you want to propagate your gaura plants, just wait for the following season, when new seedlings will emerge from these self-seeding plants. Division is tricky due to the long tap root, and plants shouldn’t need dividing to stay vigorous.
Gaura Garden Design Tips
The airy texture and form of gaura plants make them lovely accent plants in the mixed perennial border. Plant masses of them in the wildflower garden, where they will demonstrate how they got the nickname “whirling butterflies” as they dance in the breeze.
Gaura plants may flop over in the garden, and while staking is always an option, you can use supportive companion plants that will keep the flower spikes out of the mud. Rigid, upright flowers like yarrow, 'Autumn Joy' sedum, or liatris have similar growing conditions and blooming times. A trio of butterfly weed, globe thistle, and gaura is a stunning, yet tough-as-nails winning combo in the dry garden that will bring the pollinators by the score.
Can’t get your gaura plants to overwinter reliably because of soggy soil or below average temperatures? The long flowering season and compact growth habit of gaura make it a worthwhile investment as a container plant.
Best Gaura Varieties
- Corrie’s Gold: The gold in this plant refers not to the flowers, but to the marvelous variegated foliage. Flowers are white tinged with pink.
- Crimson Butterflies: Bright pink flowers on red stems hover above burgundy foliage. Partner with blue or green flowering plants for a head-turning combination.
- Passionate Rainbow: As if the pink flower wands weren’t enough, the foliage is also edged in pink.
- Siskiyou: Most common in the trade; named for the Siskiyou Rare Plant Nursery in Oregon which bred it.
- Sparkle White: A Fleuroselect Gold Medal winner