Gay feather – Liatris spicata

Dense spikes of feathery flowers. The mauve-pink flower spikes resemble the red hot poker, but gay feather is a lighter, more pastel-coloured border plant. Reliable and prolific, this plant is a cheerful addition to any summer garden.

ANNUAL CALENDAR

SPRING

March-April:

Buy and plant (or divide and replant) gay feather in its flowering position for the summer. Avoid knocking the young shoots off when planting, or later when weeding the border.

Look out for the first signs of slug activity.

SUMMER

July-September:

Flowering starts. Water plants if the soil seems dry.

They enjoy moist places in summer, so you cannot overwater.

Remove dead flower-heads immediately, to encourage more buds.

AUTUMN

October-November:

Mark gay feather positions with a cane or similarly visible item.

Remove and compost dead foliage.

WINTER

December-February:

Make sure that plants are not sitting in saturated soil. If they are, dig them up and, when any chance of a frost has passed, move to a drier position.

IMPORTANT

In winter the plants die down completely, leaving only the tubers. To avoid hoeing off the delicate shoots just as they appear in spring, mark their position clearly with a cane.

BUYING

When buying gay feather, look carefully at the tuberous roots to ensure that they are firm and fleshy. Reject any which are soft or showing signs of mould. Be very careful not to damage any growing shoots.

POPULAR VARIETIES

‘Kobold’ (’Goblin’): This, brilliant mauve-pink vari-, ety is the most popular. It, has broader spikes with, more flowers than the, species Lialris spicata. ‘Silver Tips’: Taller, grow- ing to 1.5m, it produces an abundance of lavender flowers. ‘Alba’: Broad spikes with striking white flowers

Gay feather is a colourful summer perennial, ideal for giving height to the front of a border. It thrives in all conditions with the minimum of care.

A member of the daisy family from north-eastern America, gay feather has pink-purple flowers, borne in August and September in dense spikes which are up to 40cm long.

It is an excellent plant for giving structure to the border .The foliage is mid-green and grass like.

Where to plant

Gay feather will thrive for many years if it is grown on ground which is not waterlogged in winter, although it does like moisture-retentive soil.

Buy plants in autumn or spring and add compost or well-rotted manure before planting. Plant gay

ATTRACTIVE FOLIAGE

Gay feather has very attractive, smooth leaves which are well worth displaying. Try not to disguise the plant behind others. Give it plenty of room to show off its shape as a specimen, or grow against contrasting forms such as daylilies and coreopsis, where its foliage will be displayed to maximum effect.

Feather in full sun or partial shade in fertile, well-drained garden soil. Place each plant 30cm apart. This gives it enough room to develop healthily without becoming crowded. It will grow up to 1.5m.

Plant care

Water in dry spells and remove flower spikes when they have faded. Remove any dead leaves which remain in the winter and compost them. In the spring, before the young shoots appear, mulch the plants: put a 5-10cm layer of organic material around the plant to retain moisture.

Propagating

As clumps get to three or four years old they may become untidy and need dividing up and replanting. In March or April dig up each clump with a fork and select the healthiest sections to replant. Either give away or compost any you do not need.

Growing from seed

If you want to grow plants from seed, sow outdoors in March in a nursery (temporary) row. Transplant plants when large enough, later in the autumn or following spring.

Gay feather

SITUATION

Full sun in any border. Tolerates partial shade. Combines well with many other late perennial plants, especially ones with contrasting shapes and colours of leaves. Try bergenia or artemisia.

SOIL

Needs a moisture-retentive but not waterlogged soil. Add manure or compost when planting or replanting. If waterlogging occurs the plant may rot.

CARE

Mulch (cover ground) in the spring and deadhead (remove) the spikes as the blooms fade in late summer. Divide every 3-4 years as clumps become straggly and unkempt.

PLANT HEALTH

The young shoots may be eaten by slugs and snails, especially in a cool, damp spring. They hide in damp places in the day, coming out at night to eat tender young shoots and leaves. Slime trails are a good clue. Control by keeping rubbish and debris away from plants.

Look for the culprits at night and destroy them. If they are a serious problem use metal- dehyde slug pellets. Use sparingly and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines.

Diseases are rare.

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