For a plant that does triple duty in the garden, try geums (Geum coccineum). Also known as avens, geums start contributing to the garden in early spring with clumps of attractive, kidney- or oval-shaped leaves that form a thick ground cover for the front of the border.
Their work continues in late spring and early summer when bright, orange-red roselike flowers rise above the green foliage on wiry, branching stems. If you deadhead, flowering will continue intermittently through summer and fall. But to enjoy geums' third gift to the garden, let a few flowers go to seed. They'll produce interesting, fluffy seed heads similar to those of its native cousin, the wispy prairie smoke plant.
Common name: Geum, avens
Botanical name: Geum coccineum
Plant type: Herbaceous perennial
Height: 16 to 24 inches
Zones: 5 to 8
- Sun: Full sun
- Soil: Well drained, fertile, moist soil.
- Moisture: Water regularly. Intolerant of drought, especially when combined with heat
- Mulch: Apply 1 to 2 inches of organic mulch around plants to preserve soil moisture and prevent weeds.
- Fertilizer: Apply balanced, organic or slow-release plant food sparingly in spring.
- Pruning: Deadhead to encourage continued intermittent flowering throughout summer, or leave spent flowers in place to allow formation of attractive, wispy seed heads.
Pests and diseases
- Foliar fungus diseases like powdery mildew, downy mildew, leaf spot, and leaf smut may occur.
- Caterpillars occasionally feed on foliage.
- You may sow seeds in a cold frame in early spring, but they'll rarely come true from seed.
- Divide plants in late summer after flowering, or in spring when new foliage starts to emerge.
- ‘Werner Arends' (pictured here) is compact at 12 inches and suitable for rock gardens in cooler climates. Zones 5 to 8.
- ‘Red Wings' produces abundant semi-double scarlet red flowers in midsummer. Grows to 24 inches tall. Zones 3 to 9.
- ‘Prince of Orange' has larger 12-inch, kidney- and oval-shaped leaves with orange flowers in a slightly cupped form. Grows 24 inches tall. Zones 5 to 8.
- Place at the front of beds, borders, and rock gardens. The foliage makes a nice ground cover and is evergreen in mild winters.
- Because they're not heat or drought tolerant, geums tend to struggle in summer in areas warmer than Zone 7. Afternoon shade and consistent moisture help. Reblooming in late summer is more likely in cooler climates.
- Provide good drainage. Winter waterlogged soils can damage or kill plants.
All in the family
- The Rosaceae family includes all roses, as well as many popular garden perennials, shrubs, and trees. Family members you might find in your garden include fruit trees such as cherry, pear, apple, plum, and peach; ornamental trees like hawthorn and mountain ash; shrubs such as ninebark, spirea, and serviceberry; and garden plants like strawberry, goatsbeard, and potentilla. In the Geum genus, the native prairie smoke plant (Geum triflorum, Zones 1 to 5) earns its name from the seed heads, which form long, feathery plumes that look like prairie smoke in the midsummer wind.
Text by Robert Weaver, photo courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries