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Growing perennials from seed

M.G. Gallagher
Vail, CO, Colorado

Fall is around the corner. Watch the shrubs turn as they are our under-sung fall foliage. Lists are boring, so bore yourself with some good perennials to grow from seed (which, as a bonus, deer don’t really like):

The various yarrows are valuable additions for low-water gardens. They are a good choice for poor soil and tough conditions. In good garden soils the aggressive varieties spread fast, but not all are invasive. “Moonshine” is a popular Achillea that won’t take over your garden. Seed purchased as named varieties should be true to color, but yarrow genetically reverts fast, so gathered seed may be different than the parent plant. It also can be divided.

A nice selection of Agastaches are fine through zone 5, and my favorite Agastache rupestris, sunset hyssop is a fragrant, interesting zone 4 addition. Some different Agastaches are called “hyssop,” but are different than the hyssop of that genus. Anise hyssop, bubblegum mint, licorice mint, and most of the other Agastaches are fragrant, and some are tasty, too, since they are a type of mint.



Onions! Ornamental and vegetable onions flower. Chives do too, and spread easily.

Centaurea montanus is an aggressive, yet handsome, native. Perennial bachelor buttons grows easily from seed, and spreads, too.



Lupines are another cinch. However, I encourage planting some of our native seed in your gardens. As they are common, some seed collection shouldn’t impact the population.

Osterhout’s beardtounge is a local penstemon that occurs in only a handful of counties. In a few spots, it has become common. It is worth some conscientious seed gathering for landscapes. Sometimes, propogating natives helps preserve the population, which brings me to our designated rare penstemon ” Harrington’s. This incredible penstemon is becoming rare in Eagle County due to development. Preserving this spectacular local is a column and project itself. Harrington’s penstemon grows in only a few Colorado counties, and is not only considered threatened, it is a fantastic garden specimen. Digging up the plant is bad, and very illegal, while careful seed collection and propogation/ preservation is good. We need to wake up and protect this local plant.

Artemisia frigida is our other native “sagebrush.” This smaller, lacy sage is superior to other Dusty Miller and foreign sage at the nurseries.



Gaillardias are another good perennial for poor soil. “Burgandy” is an exceptional color. Any blanket flower is a low-water specialist that flowers for a long time.

Coral bells are hardy to very cold zones, and do well in part shade. Some Heucheras are sold for flower color, others for foliage tones.

Mallows-Malvas, Sidalceas, Alceas, and so on, all make great hot weather plants. Hollyhocks see more and more use here, but their cousins should, too. Pink mallow and miniature hollyhock are two good examples; this group is versatile and useful.

In addition to seed, our local nurseries carry potted stock. It’s good, too. I made the rounds, and there is a lot of good plants out there; our local nurseries all rock. They all deserve mention and none merit criticism. It’s a competitive business, and all the owners take pride in selling quality perennials.

There are many weeks of planting and seeding weather left. We’ll be back soon with more trees and shrubs, and more natives, too.


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