Perk up your late summer garden with Crocosmia

When August rolls around, does your garden start to look like “Cinderella after the ball?” This time of year, many gardens are starting to need something to perk them up since most summer flowers have passed their prime.  Brightly colored crocosmia with its exotic-looking flowers can perk up any dull spot in a garden.

Crocosmia bloom from mid-summer to fall, depending on the variety.  The flowers bloom on arching stems which open one by one from the bottom up. The graceful arching sprays of blooms with sword-shaped foliage make a dramatic statement in the garden. Crocosmia are magnets for hummingbirds with their tubular-shaped flowers.

Crocosmia come in an array of fiery colors like yellow-orange-red and you even have some that are bi-colored.

Crocosmia come in an array of fiery colors like yellow-orange-red and you even have some that are bi-colored.

Crocosmias, sometimes referred to as montbretia, come from South Africa and the plants are derived from corms (similar to bulbs) that come back year after year.  Unlike many bulbs that you plant in the fall, Crocosmia are best planted in the spring.  Most like a warmer climate but you can find ones that will grow in USDA zones 5 and 6 if you choose wisely.

Crocosmia make excellent border plants, combining nicely with herbaceous perennials or even some shrubs. They are slow to start, not being as showy the first summer.  However, they make up for it over time getting better with age.

There are hundreds of varieties of crocosmia.  They differ in flowering time, color and structure.

There are hundreds of varieties of crocosmia. They differ in flowering time, color and structure.

There are a few varieties that are extremely vigorous and can sometimes be a little aggressive or invasive in some USDA zones. I have not found this to be true in our garden. If they do become too aggressive, you can pull up the unwanted ones quite easily.

Crocosmia are easy to grow. They like humus-rich soil in full to part sun. The varieties of Crocosmia that grow tall should be planted about six inches deep. This gives the plant a little more support to hold the foliage more upright. The varieties that are shorter in height can be planted about four inches deep. I water them well when planting and I rarely do anything more except the normal fertilizer that all the border plants get. These are also pretty drought-tolerant demanding very little attention, especially after they get established.

I grow three different ones and my success comes by choosing the right varieties that will take a little colder weather. Remember these come from South Africa where the weather is quite hot.

‘Lucifer’, a stunting tomato red color was the first one I planted. It is quite tall, reaching about three feet in height. It does nicely in the back of the bed, arching over some of the shorter perennials. The bright red color of the flowers draws hummingbirds to the garden as the striking flowers start to open.

After falling in love with ‘Lucifer,’ I decided to try two other ones, ‘George Davison’ and ‘Emily McKenzie’. ‘Emily McKenzie’ sets the garden aflame with bi-color blooms that are butterfly magnets. It adds a blast of orange flowers that have a broad reddish brown or mahogany colored band with a contrasting lighter orange center. It is on the shorter size, growing to about 18 inches so do not make the mistake I made and plant it at the back. Be sure to remember it can get hidden by taller plants if not placed at the front of the bed.

Crocosmia with Annabelle hydrangeas in the background.

Crocosmia with Annabelle hydrangeas in the background.

‘George Davison’ was chosen because of the eloquent description that the Brent and Becky Bulb catalog gave this exquisite plant. It is smaller in statute than ‘Lucifer’, growing to only about 15 inches tall. It has small yellow flowers that look like stars on an arching stem. They make a handsome statement in the front of the border blooming for me in August, well after the others have faded.

I have never grown ‘Solfaterre’ or ‘Distant Planet’ and I have read that both of these are cold hardy. One is a soft yellow and the other a lovely bright orange. ‘Distant Planet’, the most cold-hardy of all is said to grow from Pretoria to Peoria. It is a rarity in northern gardens to have a reliable Crocosmia in Zone 5 (colder climate) and as long as it has full sun and perfect winter drainage, it will survive the winter weather.

Another great reason to think about crocosmia is that the deer have never chosen to dine on mine. I have known a vole to eat a few of them but it seems only when they are first planted. They tend to leave them alone after they are established and have formed a nice clump.

There are a lot of varieties available but be sure to know your USDA heat zone and choose wisely when drooling over a garden catalog or on the internet. Varieties that are not cold hardy will have to be lifted in the fall after flowering since they do not like the cold. I personally have no desire to add that to my list of chores so I do grow ones that are known to do well where I live.

Betty Montgomery

Betty Montgomery

Betty Montgomery is a master gardener and author of “Hydrangeas: How To Grow, Cultivate & Enjoy,” and “A Four-Season Southern Garden.” She can be reached at [email protected].

This article originally appeared on Herald-Journal: Perk up your late summer garden with Crocosmia

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