October 7, 2009

Larkspur and Any Other Plant: Favorite Combination

That's right, I'd plant larkspur with just about any other annual, perennial or shrub! Well, maybe not anything, but pretty close.

To grow larkspur in the spring, I have to plan ahead a few seasons for my zone 7. Fall is the time of year to sow the seeds and my larkspur packets are lined up on the dining room table waiting for the perfect day. We're still having days in the 80°F, so I'm waiting for cooler daytime temperatures.

When spring rolled around, I found that I loved larkspur so much that I didn't plant nearly enough! I was pleased with all the colors except for the deep pink that seemed to be weak and very short. I'm sure that some of my larkspur reseeded, but I bought more seeds. This year, I have seeds of:

'Galilee Blue' (violet-blue)
'Blue Spire' (deep blue)
'Lilac Spire' (lilac)
'White King' (white)

Larkspur grows between 3-4 feet high and is a slender annual, making it easy to squeeze into the garden for spring color. While recommendations are to let it reseed before pulling it, I found out that in cooler climates, gardeners deadhead it to keep it blooming. I experimented with both ways. Indeed, deadheading prolonged the blooms in my garden, although the plants were smaller.

I used larkspur inside the cottage garden fence and in the outer deer resistant garden. The deer never touched the plant. All parts are poisonous, so you need to watch your dogs and children, although a bunny did sample a bit of the foliage. That little bunny didn't die from tasting the larkspur, having met an early demise from an attack by a red-tailed hawk.

This time, I have a multi-step approach where I will sow larkspur with other spring-blooming annuals and then replace those with a second sowing of summer-blooming annuals in the same location. My vision is that the spring, then summer, annuals will keep the color going as the perennials come and go. I'd rather sow annual seeds instead of buying plants next spring. A packet of seeds for $2.95-3.95 is a bargain.

It is important to prepare the soil for annual seeds before sowing and then do not mulch on top of the seeds. Many seeds are just pressed into the ground and others require a small amount of coverage. A thick mulch will smother the seeds and prevent germination. This is also true with reseeding plants. If you mulch thickly in late fall or early winter, then you will prevent the seeds (of weeds, too) from sprouting.

What will I change to make room for more larkspur?
  1. I have already cleared irregular, diagonal swaths across the slope of the deer resistant garden to create space for sowing annual seeds.
  2. I moved 4 of the 6 spirea for a better design as they were getting lost in the middle of the border.
  3. I pulled plants that were under-performing, or that were already too plentiful to add any extra value to the design.
  4. I have added a few inches of amended soil to refresh and replenish what was lost in all of the transplanting.
  5. In other garden areas, I will randomly sow the seeds for a cottage garden look, amending the soil before planting.

What companion plants will be used?
  1. All colors of the larkspur will snake through the mid-to-late summer blooming perennials of asclepias incarnata, agastache, and salvia guaranitica to provide spring color.
  2. I am going to sow seeds of the annuals nigella and centaurea cyanus to increase the spring display of blue and white simultaneous blooms.
  3. White larkspur will be added to the butterfly garden with red blooms such as salvia greggii and crocosmia 'Lucifer'.
  4. When the spring blooms of larkspur, nigella and centaurea begin to fade, I will pull the plants and sow tall zinnia and marigold seeds in the same swaths. I will use yellow, deep rose and purple in the deer resistant garden and white and red zinnias with orange and yellow marigolds in the butterfly garden.

Nigella and centaurea cyanus will be experimental for my garden and for deer resistance. I tested the larkspur, Benary's Giant zinnias and several varieties of marigolds this year with great success in both the bloom results and the deer resistance. Not only have these annuals provided color, but the bees and butterflies are very happy with the nectar. My fascination with sowing annuals continues!

Words and photos by Freda Cameron; Location: home garden; Photos taken in spring 2009
Freelance travel writer. My current fiction writing projects include a completed manuscript and several works in progress.

By the way, my name is pronounced fred-ah, not freed-ah. Thank you.

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