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9 Different Types of Blazing Star Flowers

9-different-types-of-blazing-star-flowers

Take a close look at the 9 different types of blazing star flowers, how they differ from one another, their unique characteristics, and a few gardening pointers concerning blazing star flowers.

If you want “blazing stars” in your garden, plant some Liatris.  Members of the Asteraceae family, Liatris species are known as meadow or prairie flowers.  But they grow in a variety of other landscapes, too.  Liatris is a native plant of North America and is especially prevalent in the southeastern United States.

The blazing star plant gets its moniker because of its tall, brilliant blooms, which take the form of white, pink, or purple flowers that look like bottle brushes.  The genus Liatris is known for its rounded bracts and tall flower stalk.  Unlike most other flowers, they bloom from the top down.

Throughout North America, you’ll find more than 40 different Liatris species.  Here are some of the most popular varieties and cultivars.

Table of Contents

Types of Blazing Star Flowers

Liatris spicata

  • Herbaceous perennial
  • Sun/shade needs: Full sun
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Hardiness zones: 3-8
  • Height: 2-4 feet
  • Spread:  3/4 inch-1.5 feet
  • Flowers: Red-purple
  • Bloom time: July-August

Notes: Liatris spicata is native to the eastern United States. These blooms can tolerate drought and clay soils.  This type of blazing star flower is recommended for a rain garden, although it will look great wherever you plant it.  If you’re looking to attract pollinators to your green space, you’ll be happy to know that this low-maintenance species is a magnet for birds and butterflies.

Kobold (a cultivar of Liatris spicata)

  • Perennial
  • Sun/shade needs: Full sun
  • Water needs: Low to medium
  • Hardiness zones: 3-9
  • Height: 2.0-2.5 feet
  • Spread: 1/2 inch
  • Flower: Pink
  • Bloom time: Can begin in early summer but is common in mid-summer to early fall; blooms last 3-4 weeks or more

Notes: These are popular as a garden border, and for those who grow flowers with the intention of cutting them for drying or indoor decor.  These low-maintenance plants are known for displaying attractive foliage, even when they are not flowering.  This cultivar can adapt to a variety of conditions, including humidity and drought.  But it’s best grown in average soil.   It will also draw pollinators to your garden.

Floristan White

This is another type of Liatris spicata

  • Perennial
  • Sun/shade needs: Full sun
  • Water needs: Average
  • Hardiness zones: 4 to 8.5-9W
  • Height: 3-4 feet
  • Spread: 16-20 inches
  • Flowers: White
  • Bloom time: Early, mid, and late summer

Notes: This flower can survive in a variety of soil conditions.  Popular in eclectic and prairie gardens, its white flower attracts pollinators (bee or butterfly) but is also resistant to deer.

Liatris aspera

  • Herbaceous perennial
  • Sun/shade needs: Full sun
  • Water needs: Dry to medium
  • Hardiness zones: 3-8
  • Height: 2-3 feet
  • Spread: 1-1.5 feet
  • Flowers: Purple
  • Bloom time: August-October

Notes: This brilliantly colored plant is native to eastern North America.  It’s able to tolerate shallow, rocky soil and can survive in dry soils in drought conditions.  It’s an effective pollinator, attracting butterflies and birds, including hummingbirds.  This is the variety to plant if you want a monarch butterfly to frequent your garden.

Rough Blazing Star

This is a type of L. aspera that’s shorter than most other Liatris varieties.

  • Perennial
  • Sun/shade needs:  Full sun
  • Water needs: Low
  • Hardiness zones: 3-8
  • Height: 2-3 feet
  • Spread: 12-15″
  • Flowers: Lavender, Pink, Purple
  • Bloom time: August, September

Notes:  An excellent source of nectar, it’s not surprising that these flowers bring pollinators to their domain.  They tolerate drought conditions well, and you can find them in thin woods, dry plains, and prairies.

Liatris scariosa

  • Herbaceous perennial
  • Sun/shade needs: Full sun
  • Water needs: Dry to medium
  • Hardiness zones: 3-8
  • Height: 2-4 feet
  • Spread: 1-2 feet
  • Flowers: Reddish-purple
  • Bloom time: August-October

Notes: This plant hails from the central and eastern United States.  A low-maintenance addition to your garden, it can handle dry, shallow, rocky soils and drought conditions.  In fact, this hardy Liatris flower can survive some degree of erosion, although it’s recommended that gardeners provide the best growing conditions possible.

Liatris pycnostachya

  • Herbaceous perennial
  • Sun/shade needs: Full sun
  • Water needs: Dry to medium
  • Hardiness zones: 3-9
  • Height: 2-5 feet
  • Spread: 1-2 feet
  • Flowers: Lilac-purple
  • Bloom time: July-August

Notes: Like other varieties of Liatris, this one is capable of surviving in dry soil and drought conditions and can tolerate clay soil.  Native to the central and southeastern United States, these low-maintenance flowering plants are recommended for rain gardens.

Savanna blazing star (Latrias scariosa nieuwlandii)

  • Perennial wildflower
  • Sun/shade needs: Full sun
  • Water needs: Low to moderate; this flowering plant will not do well if there is too much moisture.
  • Hardiness zones: 3-8
  • Height: 2.5-5 feet
  • Spread: 1-2 inches across (flower head width)
  • Flowers: Purple
  • Bloom time: Late summer into early autumn

Notes: You can find this type of Liatris plant in west-central and northeast Illinois, as well as other parts of the Midwest.  In Illinois, it’s rare enough to be included on the state’s list of threatened plant species.  Despite its tenuous status, it is surprisingly adaptable, more so than many other Liatris spp.

Although it prefers full sun, it can adapt to partial shade and clay soils. This plant flourishes in well-drained soil with an average level of nutrients.  People like to plant this flower in rock gardens.  One caveat: While it attracts butterflies to your garden, it’s also a popular appetizer for rabbits and other wildlife.

Dotted Blazing Star (Liatris punctata)

  • Perennial
  • Sun/shade needs: Full sun
  • Water needs: Low to medium
  • Hardiness zones: 4-9
  • Height: 1-1.5 feet tall
  • Spread: 8-12 inches
  • Flowers: Pink, purple
  • Bloom time: August, September, October

Notes: This flower is a favorite among bees, butterflies, birds, and hummingbirds.  At the same time, it’s virtually deer and rabbit-resistant.  It also holds up well in drought conditions, probably because the roots can reach up to 14 inches down into the soil, where they can access water and nutrients that would otherwise be out of their reach.

How to Grow Blazing Star Flowers

Now that you know the basics about the best growing conditions for various types of Liatris, let’s take a closer look at how to cultivate them.

Why Liatris Needs Full Sun

In all its forms, Liatris needs full sun to really take off.  Too much shade, and it won’t bloom well.  Even in partial shade, it’s more vulnerable to disease.

Soil Conditions

Well-drained soil is best, although these plants aren’t especially finicky about the dirt they grow in.  The soil doesn’t have to be a particular pH level, either.  What’s key is that there is not too much moisture.  The plant’s corm or tuberous roots will thrive as long as they don’t get too wet.

How to Plant Liatris

In warmer climes, you can plant Liatris seeds in early spring, or in the fall.  Seeds take 45 days to germinate.  Although it may seem counterintuitive, they should be exposed to cold for 2-3 months before warm weather sets in.  If you’re growing the plants from seeds, don’t expect them to bloom anytime soon.  They won’t produce any flowers the first year.

Sometimes, it can be tempting to over-water new growth.  When it comes to Liatris, Liatris needs moist soil, but it shouldn’t be too wet.

Another way to cultivate these is by starting with potted plants, which you can transplant in late spring.  Plant them two to three feet apart.

What makes this flowering plant especially low-maintenance is that it essentially sows on its own.  It spreads through underground roots, too.  You’ll probably see its growth slow down every two or three years.  If you want to keep it growing steadily, you can divide it.  (More on that in a later section).

If your plants take a while to start growing in the spring, you may want to use an all-purpose fertilizer to help them along.  (Be sure to follow the directions on the package, as over-fertilizing can be harmful).  But if the soil is reasonably rich, you won’t need to do this.  Some varieties actually don’t do as well if the soil is too nutrient-dense.

Pests and Diseases That Can Affect Blazing Star Flowers

Blazing star has something in common with other native plants: it is resistant to deer.  However, that doesn’t automatically guarantee that deer won’t come nibbling at your blazing star stalks.  It just makes it less likely.  If you have some tenacious deer that are determined to make a meal out of your garden, plant other deer-resistant flowers along with Liatris.  Some suggestions are Russian sage, purple coneflower, or Shasta daisy.

As mentioned earlier, Liatris isn’t especially susceptible to disease.  But there are some potential problems you may want to be on the lookout for.   Hot, humid conditions may eventually cause your plants to succumb to leaf spots.  With this condition, leaves develop yellow, brown, or blackened spots.  Plants may also be susceptible to rust.  As the name implies, rust is characterized by red or orange spots.  Once they appear, it’s only a short time before they spread.  Powdery mildew is yet another issue gardeners sometimes have with blazing star flowers. You’ll know this is attacking your garden when you see while the film on the leaves.

To reduce the likelihood that your plants will fall prey to these diseases, be sure to plant them at least 12 inches apart.  It’s important to allow plenty of air to circulate freely between them.  When blazing star plants become too crowded, it’s time to divide them so you can keep them as healthy as possible.

When watering them, don’t use overhead sprinklers.  Instead, moisturize the soil with drip systems or soaker hoses.  Remember that wet leaves spread disease, so work in the garden when foliage is dry to reduce this possibility.

If you spot any leaves that look diseased, rake them up and throw them away as soon as you can.  Cut the plant back in the fall so diseases have less room to manifest during the winter.  If a disease has already taken a considerable toll on your plants, spray them with a fungicide formulated to treat the specific problem.

Tips for Dividing Liatris Plants

When you have especially dense blazing star growth, you can divide it to thin it out.  Dividing promotes plant health by ensuring that there is plenty of space between them.  Liatris is easier than most other plants to divide.  Here are the basics.

  • When shoots emerge in early spring, dig up the root systems (corms).
  • With a shovel, pruning saw, or gardener’s knife, cut the corm into two to three pieces.
  • Replant the corm in the same soil depth that you planted your blazing stars in initially.  Choose a location where your new growth will have some room to breathe.

Here are more detailed pointers for successful plant division.

To divide your plants, you will need the following tools.

  • Small gardening shovel or trowel
  • Spade or shovel
  • Garden knife or pruning saw (Some people prefer pruning saws when cutting corms).
  • Gloves
  • Potting soil or topsoil to back-fill the original hole you dug
  • Compost (recommended but not required)

Before dividing, remove any leaves or surrounding debris away from the plant you want to divide.  Then, you can see just how large your plant has grown, and you can make a more educated decision about whether it really is time to divide it.

The day before you plan to divide, moisturize the soil.  Water the plant and the surrounding area, unless the ground is already moist.  If it’s late fall or early spring, you can go ahead and bypass this step.  When in doubt about whether to water, it’s probably not a bad idea to rejuvenate the soil with some H2O.

  • Use the Shovel to Dig Out the Plant.  Begin 2-3 inches outside the plant.  Digging at a 45° angle, go around the plant’s perimeter.  Once you’ve done that, it should come out in one big clump, which you can easily lift from the ground.
  • Get Rid of Excess Soil.  When the corm mass is out of the hole, use your small shovel or trowel to remove the large clumps of dirt that are clinging to it.  If the soil is moist and loose, you can use your fingers instead of the gardening tools.  Getting the extra dirt out of the way allows you to easily locate the main part of the plant.
  • Divide the Plant.  You can use the saw or garden knife to accomplish this step.  You may need a shovel for extra-large plants.
  • Plant the Corm Pieces.  Choose a good location for planting.  You can, of course, plant one of the corm clumps in its original spot, provided the soil is healthy and there are no diseased plants in the vicinity.  You can select one or more choice areas for the remaining root masses.  If you’re re-planting in the original hole you dug, you may need some topsoil to fill it up.
  • Consider Adding Compost.  Interestingly, with L. spicata, you can skip this step.  But with other varieties, you may want to distribute compost around the transplanted roots.
  • Water the Transplants.  Make sure you hydrate your Liatris (or other plants) after transplanting.
  • Be on the Lookout for New Growth.  When enough time has passed and the weather warms, you’ll begin to see new plants emerge.

Now that you know how to divide, here are some tips on when NOT to do it.

Don’t divide perennials when they’re in bloom.  At this point, they are directing all their energy toward growing.  And on that note, don’t divide them right after they bloom either, as this is when they are working on forming seeds.

Even if the plant has been blooming for some time, and is not yet dormant, it should not be divided.  It will almost certainly succumb to transplant shock to such a degree that it will die.

Rule of (green) thumb:  If the leaves measure less than 3 inches tall, you can cut the corm.  Otherwise, wait until a better time (early spring or late fall) to divide.

How to Know If Division Is Successful

If your efforts to divide your Liatris are successful, you’ll eventually see the fruits of your labor.  But what does that look like and how long does it take?  As the corm sections take root, your new growth may take the form of small red foliage that emerges from the top of the root mass.  Otherwise, you’ll need to wait until the mercury reaches 50-60° F consistently.  At that point, tiny green shoots should begin to appear.

Cutting Blazing Star Flowers to Optimize Blooming

Cutting flowers back is another good way to keep them healthy.  Here are some pointers for pruning (also known as deadheading) Liatris.

First, make sure you have the right tool.  A good pair of gardening shears should be adequate to get the job done.  Especially if you are cutting diseased leaves from the plants, keep in mind that fungus and bacteria can survive on garden tools for a long time.  So, it’s best to sterilize and sharpen your gardening implements before each use.

Mid-Season Deadheading.  Pruning at this time of year will quickly stimulate new growth.  Flower spike blossoms open from top to bottom.  By the time the bottom blossoms open, the ones at the top have reached the end of their lifespan and are therefore no longer visually appealing.  You can cut off these top, spent portions.  You can also wait for all the blooms to fade, at which point you can chop off the whole flower spike all the way down to the top of the foliage.

Pruning while blooming is still in progress can prolong blooming time.  If faded flowers remain on the stalks, the blooming season will end earlier to make way for seed formation.

After mid-season pruning, your Liatris will probably bloom again in a short time.  To optimize their growth and health, water and fertilize them.  Use a high-phosphorus type that’s labeled as a “bloom booster.”  You’ll need a half-strength application.  Water the plants immediately after fertilizing, as plant food applied directly without being diluted can burn the roots.

End-of-Season Pruning.  Pruning Liatris at the end of the season will enhance their growth the following year.  Do this in the fall, when there’s no more blooming going on and all the flower spikes no longer look vibrant.  When all the blossoms have faded, cut them back, all the way to the top of the foliage.  Gather up the cuttings and discard them.  If you leave them on the ground around the plant, they are likely to attract pests.

Why Blazing Star Flowers Are Great for Your Garden

One of the top reasons for planting Liatris is its appearance.  These flowers really live up to their name.  They’re a member of the sunflower family, so under the right conditions, some varieties have been known to reach heights of five feet, allowing these shining stars to towering over other flowers.  Gardeners like to harvest and display this cut flower in vases all over the house, too.  The plant’s long bloom time lends itself well to this purpose.  You can also hang the flowers upside-down to dry them for scrapbooking and other decorative uses.

This is also a much preferred plant because of its hardiness and adaptability.  Liatris can grow even in poor soils, although average soil is best.  But it can hold up even when water is scarce.  Plus, it’s highly resistant to deer and pests.

FAQs

What is a corm?

A corm is a bulb mass.  Like a bulb, a corm is an underground stem that yields roots and the stalks or stems for the flowers.  The Liatris corm increases in size as the plant ages.  In time, these corms will reach their maximum size and wither.  You’ll know when that has happened because there won’t be any new foliage.  That’s when it’s time to divide the plants.

Why are early spring and fall the best times to divide plants?

These are optimal dividing times because it’s at these times of the year that Liatris (and other plants are either fully dormant or nearly so.  That’s the best time to dig roots up and plant them in a new location, as it causes minimal disruptions to the plants.  Additionally, cooler temperatures in late fall and early spring mean less heat load for your Liatris.  That translates to lower water needs, so plants are less susceptible to dehydration.  And since cooler temps allow the ground to retain moisture, the soil will be easier to dig up.

Are blazing star flowers considered invasive?

No.  Blazing star plants are not classified as weeds and are not considered invasive.  They generally are not known to spread far from where they are originally planted.  if they do, spreading happens slowly and is minimal.  With prolonged growth, blazing stars can become crowded, but they won’t “take over” your garden or pose a threat to surrounding greenery.

What should you plant with blazing star flowers?

Planting a variety of flowers will attract more pollinators to your garden, which will help your plants reproduce.  Blazing star flowers look especially attractive with other tall, flowering plants flourishing around them.  Clustered ground cover in the front of your flower bed will make your growth look even more attractive.  Here are some “companion plants” that grow well with Liatris.

  • Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’)
  • Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)
  • Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
  • Boltonia asteroides

Can you grow Liatris in pots?

Yes, you can grow Liatris in pots or containers.  Use loamy soil or sand, and keep the pots well-drained.  Like their counterparts that set their roots deep in the ground, potted Liatris need to be kept in full sunlight outdoors.  You can plant blazing star seeds in flats outside in late fall so they can over-winter.

Or, you can combine the seeds with slightly moist, sandy soil in a plastic bag.  Keep the seed-filled bag in the refrigerator for two months, then plant the seeds outside in pots when there is no longer a danger of frost.

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