Year of the coreopsis

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By David Graper

SDSU Extension Horticulture Specialist

Reprinted from the National Garden Bureau –

In the language of flowers, coreopsis means “always cheerful,” and these delightful natives of the Americas live up to this designation in glorious fashion. Equally, at home in naturalized prairie settings or manicured landscapes, coreopsis provide a lovely sunny presence wherever they make their home. Although typically seen in colors of yellow and gold, many species also contain red, bronze and burgundy colors and have been commonly used as dyes in native fabrics. The flowers were also boiled into teas by the natives of North America before the introduction of coffee. In recognition of the importance of the genus, Florida and Mississippi have named coreopsis as their state’s wildflower.

Some history of coreopsis

As many as 80 coreopsis species can be found naturalized in the Americas with 38 listed in the lower forty-eight states. A member of the Asteraceae family, which covers a broad collection of daisy-like flowers commonly called composites, coreopsis flowers are made up of two primary elements; the showy ray of colorful petals that surround a typically bronze or brown center of disk flowers. Unlike its cousins in the Sunflower group (Helianthus, Heliopsis, and Helenium), botanists opted to name our cheerful floral friend with reference to the appearance of its seed rather than the beauty of its flowers. Hence, the common name ‘Tickseed’ which derives from the Greek ‘koris’ meaning bed-bug and ‘opsis’ meaning appearance and referring to the resemblance of the seed. Regardless of the less-than-endearing botanical designation, coreopsis carries on with its “always cheerful” show of abundant, colorful flowers in the spring and summer garden!

Key species and cultivars

coreopsis can be hardy to USDA zone 3 (C. verticillata, C. tripteris) and range into the extreme heat of Florida and the Southwestern states (C. floridana, C. tinctoria). Many of the species are self-seeding and considered annuals (C. tinctoria) however the most common perennial coreopsis include Whorled tickseed (C. verticillata), Lobed tickseed (C. auriculata) and Large Flowered tickseed (C. grandiflora). The variety ‘Early Sunrise’ (C. grandiflora) was designated an AAS Winner in 1989 and remains among the best-selling coreopsis for garden use. Other important varieties include ‘Moonbeam,’ ‘Zagreb’ (C. verticillata) and ‘Nana’ (C. auriculata). Coreopsis species have been heavily hybridized for decades to improve plant flowering, flower size, and disease tolerance. ‘Sunkiss’ (C. grandiflora), the Big Bang™, HARDY JEWEL and UpTick series (C. x hybrida) are among the most significant new introductions and represent dedication and years of effort by plant breeders. There are dozens of commercially available cultivars varying in height from 6” to 3′ and covering a broad color range from the traditional yellow to caramel, bronze, red, gold, rose and cream-white. They can be incorporated into nearly any area of the garden where the height and color are needed.

Care and cultivation

Gardeners have had success cultivating coreopsis for centuries. This is due in large part to the care-free growing nature of the genus. The J.T. Lovett Company of Little Silver NJ listed C. lanceolata as “one of the finest hardy plants grown” in their catalog of 1891 adding “a bed of it in full bloom is a sight indeed!” Today, coreopsis is in the top ten genera of cultivated perennial plants. Coreopsis commercially available in today’s retail outlets prefer sunny locations with well-drained soils as these are typically derived from the northern and prairie species. Varieties in C. verticillata are known to expand their territory by underground rhizomes and should be renewed periodically unless the gardener wants them to take over the space allotted altogether. Coreopsis are considered to be long-day obligate plants which mean they need a day length greater than 12 hours (typically 13 – 14 hours) to produce flowers. One notable exception is C. auriculata ‘Nana’ which flowers under a shorter day length. Most cultivars will re-bloom when old flowers are removed. This can be accomplished by removing individual spent flowers or by shearing the plant to 50% of its original flowering height. Re-blooming will occur within a few weeks. Due to their abundance of flowers, coreopsis is a pollinator magnet attracting bees and butterflies to their blossoms and birds to their seeds. They are also resistant to deer feeding and considered drought tolerant. Coreopsis in the garden does benefit from fertilizing in the spring to encourage new growth. Although we believe coreopsis to be a garden plant, they are equally at home in containers and will provide all the show and interest as a container plant. Consider varieties in the C. grandiflora and C. x hybrida group for container use.

Given the beauty, resilience, and popularity of coreopsis, it is entirely fitting that the National Garden Bureau has designated 2018 as the Year of the Coreopsis

Barking up the right tree!

By John Ball

SDSU Extension Forestry Specialist

Too often, we view winter as a “dull” season for landscaping but it does not have to be this way. Evergreens, of course, can provide winter interest in the home landscape, but too many South Dakotans (and a good many Minnesotans) make almost their entire landscape evergreen. A good rule-of-thumb is to have no more than about a third of your home landscape in evergreens, either trees such as pines and spruce, or shrubs such as arborvitaes and junipers. What else to plant for winter interest? Here are some suggestions.

Three-flower maple (Acer triflorum) is an attractive small tree (15 to 25 feet at maturity) that is known for its autumn foliage color – dapples of red and oranges – and it’s reddish brown exfoliating bark. This is a tree truly at its best from October to April! The tree is adapted to much of the state.

River birch (Betula nigra) is a birch noted for its bark that really is not quite what you expect from a birch. The bark is not white, but a light cinnamon-brown that peels in wide strips. The bark of a mature river birch is more furrowed than peeling but it is still an attractive tree. The mature height is about 30 to 40 feet and it can tolerate our winter cold but not our alkaline soils so best planted on a soil that has a neutral pH (near 7.0).

Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) is a rarely planted tree due to its large nut and slow growth but everyone is missing out on a real beauty. The tree has attractive grayish-brown bark in youth that develops long, thin curved plates as the tree matures. You will enjoy the bark, the squirrels the nuts so it sounds like a nice bargain. The mature height of the tree is about 30 to 40 feet in South Dakota and soils with a neutral pH are best.

Amur chokecherry (Prunus maackii) bark is a shiny cinnamon brown that exfoliates from the trunk. This is also a very hardy tree and is frequently used as the small tree row in shelterbelts. It is also tolerant of alkaline soils, at least to a pH of 7.5, but will not perform well on poorly drained soils. This small tree, about 15 to 20 feet at maturity, is hard to beat for winter interest.

Mark your calendars

Dakota Prairie Master Gardeners will be there! Hand County Farm and Home Show will be happening at the Miller armory January 12th & 13th, 2018. Master Gardeners will be in their booth to answer your horticulture questions. They also have kids projects, plinko game for adults, garden handouts and more! The doors open Friday at 3:00 and Saturday at 9:00.

Coreopsis verticilata. Courtesy photo
Coreopsis ‘Pineapple Pie’. Courtesy photo
Amur chokecherry. Courtesy photo
Shagbark hickory. Courtesy photo
Coreopsis tripteris fall color. Courtesy photo
Coreopsis UpTick Gold and Bronze. Darwin Perennials photo