Delaware’s a small state, and only contains zones 7a and 7b. This means the lowest average temperature is 0 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit depending on whether you’re in the southern or northern region. Soil types range from loamy in the piedmont valley in the extreme north, to the sandy or clay soils of the coastal plain, which is basically the rest of the state. The good news is that you can grow a range of perennials very successfully in the First State. Here are some of the best perennial flowers for Delaware.
Perennials for Sandy Soil
Sandy soil is a light, dry, and poor. It also tends to be on the acidic side and drains easily and well.
The very name of this perennial tells you it grows best in sandy soil that’s well-drained but kept moist. The plant forms mats of small, evergreen leaves that resemble moss and produces small, star-shaped white flowers in the spring. This perennial grows from 2 to 8 inches tall, which makes it a good ground cover or a plant to put in rock gardens or between pavers. Plant sandwort in full sun to partial shade, and make sure to keep it well-watered in times of drought and during the spring and summer.
This plant, famous for the tea brewed out of its dried flowers, is not fussy about soil. In fact, it thrives in soil that is poor and dry. Chamomile loves full sun, grows from 2 to 3 feet tall and produces 2 to 3 inch, daisy-like flowers from midsummer to early fall. The colors of the flowers range from pale yellow to brilliant orange, and the foliage is grayish green and wonderfully scented. Make sure to deadhead the plants for a continual bloom, then divide the plant every two years to propagate and refresh it.
3. Sea Pink
Also called thrift, this perennial thrives in sandy loam that’s well-drained. It produces clusters of rose, white or pink flowers at the top of wiry stems that rise up from evergreen leaves that resemble long grass. The plant grows from 6 inches to 2 feet in height and can be used as a ground cover or part of an herbaceous border. It does best in full sun, and the flowers bloom in spring or summer depending on the varietal. To refresh the plant or propagate it, divide it every three to four years.
Milkweed is famous as being the host and nectar plant for butterflies, including the monarch and its relatives. It likes sandy soil that’s kept dry or moderately moist. One type of milkweed, the butterfly weed, flourishes in dry soil thanks to its long taproot. Milkweed plants also need full sun.
The milkweed plant, which can grow from 2 to 3 feet with a 9 inch to 1 foot spread produces umbels of beautiful pink, rose, orange, yellow or white flowers from June to August. The flowers give way to pods shaped like little canoes. These pods burst to scatter silky seeds. Both the flowers and the pods are used in floral arrangements. The plant gets its name because it bleeds a thick white sap when it’s cut. Milkweed is easy to grow fro seed but needs about two years to blossom.
This perennial sports flat-topped clusters of white, pink or yellow flowers above fernlike leaves. Yarrow is the plant to place in an area that gets full sun but whose soil is well-drained but poor and/or sandy. The plant grows from 6 inches to 4.5 feet tall and has a similar spread. If the soil is too rich, or the climate too hot and humid the flowers, which bloom from June till September, tend to flop over. The yarrow likes its growing conditions to be on the dry side, and taller species need protection from the wind.
The yarrow grows from a rhizome and can be aggressive. The leaves are fragrant, and the flowers last a long time and dry beautifully. Both leaves and flowers are good to place in floral arrangements. The flowers also attract butterflies and are great for rock gardens, gardens by the ocean, and meadows.
6. Wild Indigo
This perennial with its blue or white flowers is a member of the pea family. It likes sandy soil that’s well drained to dry and thrives in full sun to partial shade. The plant grows 3 to 4 feet tall with a similar spread, and its flowers appear from May to June. The flowers are shaped somewhat like the butterflies they attract and grow in spires above blue-green, clover-like leaves. The flowers are followed by black pods that are used in floral arrangements. Pods are also noteworthy because the seeds inside them rattle when you shake them. Another benefit of growing wild indigo in Delaware is that it also grows well in clay soil.
Another name for this plant is false indigo, since it’s not the same plant whose leaves are used for vivid blue dye. That plant, though a relative of wild indigo, belongs to the Indigofera genus.
You can grow wild indigo from seed but it’s going to take some years until the plant is established. It’s also a slow growing plant, but once it is established it’s hard to kill unless it’s planted near a black walnut tree.
The glorious yellow or gold profusion of flowers gives this sand-loving plant its name. Though it’s native to central and southern Europe, basket-of-gold grows well in Delaware.
The plant grows from a half a foot to a foot tall with a 1 to 1.5 foot spread. The great clusters of tiny flowers arrive from April to May. Basket of gold does best in full sun in dry, sandy soil. Indeed, too much water in the soil causes root rot, and too much fertilizer makes it leggy. The plant is great as a ground cover, and it’s also nice to let the plant naturalize in your garden. The foliage is silver gray but may be hard to see beneath the masses of golden flowers.
Cut back basket-of-gold after it flowers, and replace plants that get woody. You can grow basket-of-gold from seeds or from cuttings.
8. Torch Lily
The torch lily is not a lily and doesn’t even look like one. Native to South Africa but happy to grow in the sandy loam of Delaware, its flowers are small, tubular and held on long, stiff stems that grow 2 to 4 feet above tufts of grayish green leaves. Not only this, the younger, top flowers are red and the older ones on the bottom are yellow. This makes the plant resemble its other common name, which is red-hot poker.
The torch lily thrives in full sun, and you may need to protect it from the wind. Remove spent flowers quickly, and give the plant some winter protection even though it’s quite hardy in zone 7. The flowers appear from late spring to fall and are very attractive to hummingbirds. The torch lily can be propagated from seed, but it will take a couple of years before it flowers.
Also called catchfly or wild pink, this perennial bears clusters of pink star-shaped flowers above mounds of 4 inch long lanceolate leaves. This plant also does well in sandy, well-drained loam in full sun to light shade, though sandy soil that’s kept on the dry side with some shade in the afternoons are ideal. The stems grow from 9 inch to 1 foot tall and the plant has a similar spread. The flowers arrive from April to May, last for weeks and attract butterflies and other pollinators. The plant gets its other name of catchfly because the stems are sticky and might catch flies and other small bugs.
Campion is tolerant of drought and must not be allowed to have “wet feet” which can lead to root rot. It’s a tough plant that is perfect for rock gardens. It doesn’t have too many problems with pests or diseases and shouldn’t be moved once it’s established.
Perennials for Clay Soil
Clay soil is heavy, sticky and often drains poorly but is full of nutrients. Unlike sandy soils, the particles of clay are tiny and packed so closely together that they can squeeze out the air most plants need to grow. However, there are a lot of plants that can tolerate or even thrive in clay soils.
The beautiful and hardy daylily is just the plant for clay soils. Not a real lily, it belongs to the Hemerocallis genus, and produces lily-like flowers in all colors but blue. Some have ruffly petals, others are fragrant, others have double or triple rows of petals, and others have variegated petals. Flowers range from petite to huge, and are born on long, stemlike scapes that range from 1 to 4 feet tall and emerge from long, green strap-like leaves. The plant gets its name because its spectacular flowers last only a day, but each scape has lots of buds, and the short-lived flowers are continually replaced.
The daylily not only grows well in clay soil, but its maintenance needs are famously low. They like full sun but also grow well in light shade, especially flowers with light colors. Full sunlight actually fades the colors of these blossoms. Daylilies don’t need much fertilizing, and if they are overfed, they get leggy and don’t produce as many flowers. Over time, a group of daylilies spread and become a beautiful ground cover. Daylily bulbs can be planted in the spring or fall. It’s good practice to divide clumps of daylilies every three to six years to refresh and propagate them.
11. Black-eyed Susan
This daisy-like flower with its butter yellow petals and deep brown centers is just the plant for the clay soil of Delaware’s piedmont. The black-eyed Susan grows from 2 to 3 feet in height with a 1 to 2 foot spread, and its flowers arrive from June until September. The leaves are hairy and lance shaped and grow from 3 to 7 inches long.
Black-eyed Susan is admittedly a short-lived perennial, but it is winter hardy. Besides clay soils, it also tolerates dry spells and heat as long as it gets full sunlight. You can sow the seeds directly into your garden, or put out seedlings about 1.5 to 2 feet apart after the danger of frost is over. Though the black-eyed Susan doesn’t live long, it self seeds beautifully.
The black-eyed Susan is a member of the Rudbeckia genus and is a type of coneflower. Other types of perennial coneflowers such as the orange coneflower and the giant coneflower with its prominent center cone also do well in clay soils.
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