Thursday, February 28, 2013

Dusty Miller

Dusty Miller is a favorite annual plant in North Central Texas for several reasons.  It is hardy, often living longer than just one season, and is tolerant of frost.  Most flowers look even better when grown in the company of plants that provide strong contrast in color and texture.  This is exactly what you get whenever you plant dusty miller.  

The frosty, grey leaves flatter bright reds and deep pinks and purples, making them appear sharper.  They also amplify blues beautifully, as well.  They are true go-with-everything plants, and they also do an amazing job of separating masses of different-colored flowers.  When used as an edging, dusty miller makes a bed look as if it is trimmed with lace.  However, it needs contrasting companions to look good and does not work well when planted alone.  Dusty miller's silver-grey leaves provide contrast to flowering plants for the entire growing season.  However, it is not known for its own flowers.  Small clusters of yellow flowers develop on year-old plants; however, they usually are removed.

Their average size is from 8 to12 inches tall and equally as wide.  Their growth rate is considered medium.  They have deeply-cut, grey leaves covered with fine, felt-like hairs.  Their lifespan is usually 7 months, although occasionally they will live up to one year. 

It is difficult to name a flower that does not partner well with dusty miller, but some make such fantastic bedfellows that they should be high on your list of choices.  Select plants that are quite different from dusty miller.  Try them as an annual accent for a perennial garden featuring such colors as purple (such as Homestead Purple Verbena) and hot pinks (such as Dragon Wing Begonia).  Use the begonias as the tallest plant in the grouping.  They grow about two feet tall and bloom from spring until the first frost of fall.

Dusty Miller requires light shade to full sun.  It grows best whenever the soil never becomes completely dry after the establishment period.  It requires more water whenever grown in containers.

For the garden, plant dusty miller in any fertile, well-drained soil that has been enriched with organic matter.  Use only good-quality potting mix for containers. 

Set out your plants in early spring after the hard freezes have passed.  Space them about 8 inches on center, measuring from the center of each plant.  They can be planted closer in containers.  Fertilize them at planting time with a timed-release product.  Whenever buds rise up on overwintered plants, you may want to clip them off.  The flowers are not showy, and plants that have bloomed usually deteriorate quickly.

In very warm, rainy years, dusty miller may be troubled by root rot diseases.  Root knot nematodes also can stunt the growth of this plant.  NOTE:  All parts of this plant are poisonous if eaten.        

An example of the color contrast mentioned above is pictured below.

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