Liatris flowers may not offer the gardener any fragrance, but they will satisfy three of your other senses: the purple, white, or lavender blooms provide a visual exclamation point in the garden; your ears will be buzzing with the sound of happy bees, and your fingers won’t be able to resist rifling through the fuzzy late summer blooms. Move over fussy roses and diva dahlias, because liatris thrives on neglect.
The genus Liatris belongs to the giant plant family Asteraceae, also known as Compositae. What this means to gardeners is that a liatris blossom is a cluster of many little flowers that appear to be one flower. Pollinators love this! Also known as blazing star and gayfeather, liatris plants bloom from late summer into fall in full sun gardens. The purple, rose, or white flowers of liatris plants look almost like feather boas held erect on several spikes per plant. The leaves are narrow and inconspicuous.
|Botanical Name||Liatris spicata|
|Common Name||Blazing star, liatris, dense blazing star, gay feather|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous perennial|
|Mature Size||2 to 4 feet; occasionally to 6 feet|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun|
|Soil Type||Medium, well-drained soil|
|Soil pH||5.5 to 7.5; neutral to slightly acidic|
|Bloom Time||July to August|
|Flower Color||Purple, reddish-purple, white|
|Hardiness Zones||3 to 9|
|Native Area||Moist meadows and marshes of eastern U.S.|
How to Grow Liatris
Although Liatris plant materials are sometimes marketed as bulbs, they are technically corms, and it’s hard to believe that any life can emerge from these woody little nuggets in a bag. However, these structurally swollen dormant stem parts will send up shoots followed by flowers approximately three months after a spring planting. As with all bulbous types of plants, the largest corms will produce the most impressive flowers, and you should look for corms that are at least 3 inches in diameter. Space the corms 12 to 15 inches apart, and plant them 2 to 4 inches deep.
Liatris can also be grown from seed, although patience is required: first blooms take one to two years to appear. If you want instant gratification or need to fill a bare spot in the garden, look for potted liastris at your favorite nursery.
Liatris takes very little care, but you may need to stake up the stems if planted in overly-rich soil, which can cause the plant to grow tall and floppy.
Choose a site with full sun to plant your liatris corms.
Just about any soil, at any level of fertility, will successfully grow liatris corms, although quick drainage is essential to prevent rot. Heavy clay can cause root rot, especially in winter, if the soil doesn't drain well. Liatris plants prefer a slightly acid to neutral soil pH.
After planting, water the corms thoroughly. The corms need no additional irrigation before the plants emerge. One inch of water a week during the hottest months will prevent stunted flowers and leaf scorch. Apply water to the base of the plants, or use drip irrigation, to avoid spreading fungal diseases. These plants need more water in their first year; afterward, they have very good tolerance to drought and dry soil conditions.
Temperature and Humidity
Liatris is quite tolerant of the heat and humidity of summer weather in warm climates, but it may rot if left in wet soils over the winter.
It’s fun to get new plants for nothing by propagating them. Divide plants every few years in spring. Cut tuberous roots into sections with a sharp knife, making sure each section has an "eye" or bud. Plant immediately in new space at least a foot apart for good air circulation.
Liatris is easy to start from seed. Direct sow seeds outside in fall or early spring, or start seeds inside in late winter six to eight weeks before last frost. Make sure to place seed trays under lights, and do not allow seeds to dry out. Harden off before transplanting outside in spring. Liatris also readily self-sows.
Varieties of Liatris
Out of approximately 40 naturally occurring species of Liatris, the three commonly available species include spicata, aspera, and pycostachya types. Within these species are several desirable named cultivars:
- Dotted blazing star: purple blooms endure from August until frost
- Floristan white: three-foot white flowers in July; long blooming time
- Kobold: a compact, late July bloomer; 18 inches tall with bright rose blooms
- Rough blazing star: 6-foot flowers may require support
- September glory: blooms from August to September with 4-foot purple spikes
As a native North American flower, liatris flowers are at home in wildflower meadow plantings and cottage gardens, where they will delight butterflies. Their hardiness and low maintenance also make them a welcome addition to the rock garden, where they will mingle with dianthus, penstemon, snow-in-summer, or creeping baby's breath.
Liatris flowers are popular as cut flowers, providing textural and vertical interest to casual vase arrangements as well as summer wedding bouquets. Crafters will appreciate adding dried liatris to their wreaths and garlands: Harvest the flowers at the peak of blooming, strip away the stems and leaves, and hang the flowers upside down in a dry room.
Growing From Seeds
For gardeners seeking to plant a large meadow or estate-sized garden, growing liatris from seed is a viable way to save money on a sizable planting. Liatris seeds take about a month to germinate, and the cold moist weather of early spring encourages germination. Plants grown from seed will not bloom until the second year, but you can plant a small border of sun-loving annuals, such as cleome, to disguise your liatris nursery until it comes to fruition.
Common Pests and Diseases
Liatris is nearly immune to all insects, but it can be prone to several diseases, including leaf spots, rusts, stem rot, powdery mildew, and wilt. To prevent disease issues, space the plants so that there is good air circulation and sunlight exposure.