The Georgia Department of Transportation is teaching all of us about an old floral favorite that needs to be brought back to the garden, the cosmos. I see them along Interstate 16 starting around mile marker 98 going north and the nature scape, if you will, is amazing.
What is even more exciting is that the future of these types of floral plantings is bright. GDOT is revved up on planting pollinators along the highway system, and this should have everyone doing the happy dance.
Oddly this is coinciding with the best butterfly year I have ever seen at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens in Savannah. Here we are in early November the butterflies are uncountable, and bees are everywhere.
But let's digress back to the cosmos. Should you somehow be thinking I am referring to the orange cosmos, I am instead touting the Cosmos bipinnatus. This cosmos is native to Mexico and is related to coreopsis and rudbeckias. It is the quintessential cottage garden flower and does bring in the pollinators.
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It is so good the University of Georgia has put them in their promotional seed packs labeled "Pollinator Blend". The pack states the "pollinators will make a beeline to your garden when you plant this beautiful flower mix."
These cosmos have daisy-like flowers 2 to 4 inches wide in shades of burgundy, pink, lilac, and white with orange centers and are borne on stems of airy fern-like foliage for weeks on end during the growing season. As GDOT and UGA would testify these are easy to grow from seed. In fact, they are so easy to grow from seed you can sow succession plantings to have blooms the entire growing season especially if you want to have a bounty of flowers for the vase too.
In Georgia, we are still enjoying the blooms almost everyone will be planting next spring. You might get lucky and find nursery plants, but seeds seem to be readily available. Plant your seeds or nursery grown transplants into loose, well-drained soil. Fertility need not be high for this Mexico native. Seeds germinate in 5 to 7 days with blooms, bees, and butterflies in 8 to 10 weeks. Thin the seedlings or space transplants 12 to 36 inches apart depending on your variety.
Yes, there are varieties like the 1938 All-America Selections award-winning Sensation that tops out in the 4- to 5-foot range. You'll love it like they did 80 years ago. But if you are into the more diminutive cosmos then you might want to try the 2-foot tall Sonata which was a Flueroselect Award Winner. There are plenty of others to try as well.
Though considered an annual the cosmos gives a perennial like performance by reseeding which is perfect for the highway system and your pollinator garden too. These are tough plants so water sparingly but when you do, water deeply training those roots to go deep. Your volunteer seedlings may look a little different than what you originally planted when it comes to height, but they will nonetheless be dazzling.
Our promotional UGA Pollinator Blend seed packet has purple coneflowers, coreopsis, rudbeckias, Liatris and salvias which should make any bee, butterfly or hummingbird ecstatic. To me, the only other prerequisite might be a white picket fence. That is a little tongue and cheek, but it would sure set up a beautiful photo.
If the Georgia Department of Transportation can have success with cosmos, you can too. I hope you'll give them a try next spring. Follow me on Facebook Norman Winter "The Garden Guy,"
(Norman Winter is director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, and author of "Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South" and "Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden." Follow him at: @CGBGgardenguru.)