What Info Is There on Gaura?
Desert natives that bloom all summer are special. Fast-growing pink-white or pink Gaura blooms not only in the summer, but begins its show in the spring and extends it well to the frost. Rising above a compact base of lance-shaped leaves, on tall wiry stems that move with every breeze, the delicate four-petal flowers resemble flittering butterflies.
Since the “Butterfly” flower does attract real butterflies, the observer can sometimes see white butterflies dancing around the white petals as if the flowers themselves have just taken wing – a magical thing to behold. Gaura thrives in all zones of the desert, but in the coldest areas it dies back to the ground in winter and reemerges in the spring in standard perennial fashion.
Because of its delicate texture and light color, the original pink-white Guara tends to visually fade out if planted in a more open desert space. Therefore, it looks most handsome when contrasted against a bright or dark background, such as a boldly-painted wall or a dark green shrub. Some of the new cultivars are more brightly hued and have no problem standing out in the desert landscape.
Until about ten years ago very few gardeners knew of the existence of white Gaura lindheimeri. It started out as a somewhat overlooked plant from the wilds of Texas-Louisiana-Central Mexico. However, one day in 1994 in the Siskiyou Rare Plant Nursery of Medford, Oregon, an employee found a sport of deep maroon buds opening into bright reddish-pink flowers. It was named Siskiyou Pink. Within three years Siskiyou Pink had made Gaura lindheimeri very popular on the West Coast, and the flower is now becoming a cottage garden classic throughout the United States and the world. One major reason for Gaura’s success is the fact that it grows in virtually any climate and soil and in full or part sun. Extreme heat, extreme cold, extreme humidity, and extreme dryness do not bother Gaura. In addition, this hardy plant has no particular pests or diseases, except for the occasional aphid in stem tips.
Since Siskiyou Pink emerged, the hybridizers have been busily creating new cultivars of this all-purpose gem. From the first wild Gaura that grows to about 40” tall by 24” wide, there are now many available forms, in many shades of whites, pinks, and maroons, and ranging in sizes from 12 inches tall up to 7 feet tall! Some new Gauras have more spreading habit. Some have larger, brighter blossoms on more compact stems. Others have variation in the foliage, such as dark green leaves, dark crimson leaves, grey-green leaves bordered with white, or leaves that are variegated with green and yellow. Look for such names as Whirling Butterflies, Crimson Butterflies, Sunny Butterflies, Blushing Butterflies, Siskiyou Pink, Karalee Pink, Karalee White, Passionate Pink, Pink Cloud, Old Faithful, Pink Lady, Corrie’s Gold, Douphin, and The Bride. Of special note is the extravagant 7’ tall Old Faithful, which has been described as a “geyser of refined foliage and abundant flowers’. Undoubtedly more exciting forms are being created as this article is being written.
For those who favor a romantic flower garden in the desert, Gaura lindheimeri is the perfect perennial. For a classic flower border, Gaura can be combined with other summer-blooming perennials, like Coreopsis, Chocolate Flower, Pineleaf Penstemmon, Margerita Bop Penstemmon, Russian Sage, and Cosmos. White Guara next to the giant white flowers and bold dark leaves of the Sacred Datura makes a dramatic statement. Gaura also looks wonderful planted around roses, as its airy texture contrasts nicely with the rose’s larger leaves and flowers. Pink Gauras under pink roses create a truly sumptuous display of color. Gaura also gives a rich, softening look to stones and rocks. In the fall, it can accompany the waving seedheads of ornamental native grasses, like the blue and sideoats grama grasses, for an informal meadow effect. More formally it can complement the larger Muhlenbergia bunch grasses like Deergrass, Regal Mist and Autumn Glow. This long-blooming perennial also thrives in containers. Versatile Gaura lends itself to limitless possibilities of garden design in the High Desert.
Gaura grows in either full or partial sun and in sandy, clay or loamy soil. Unlike many natives, it appreciates some richness in the soil, so digging a small amount of amendment into the planting hole will help the new plant to flourish. It requires no laborious deadheading, but a simple mid-summer shearing of the flower stalks can revitalize and extend the growing season. As with many herbaceous perennials, cutting the plant down to the ground in late winter prepares it for the new spring growth.
Should the enthusiastic gardener wish to increase his plant material, he can do so by way of seeds and cuttings. In particular, the white Gaura easily self-seeds, creating volunteer seedlings that can be dug up and potted for further growth. In addition, stem cuttings can be dipped in hormone rooting powder and inserted into potting soil to make new rootings. The best results happen when air temperatures are between 60-80 degrees F.
To establish a Guara in the High Desert garden, one standard practice is to water the new plant once a day for the first two weeks after planting, and then once a week thereafter through the first summer. New additions to the garden can be planted this way even in the middle of summer. In the second year, Gauras can be watered as little as twice a month with proper mulching. The deeper the root system, the more drought tolerant Gauras become. However, keeping an eye on plants in their second year helps to determine the right watering frequency. All of the marvelous Gauras mentioned can be viewed on the internet and ordered to be delivered by mail during the prime shipping months (usually spring). We all deserve to grow and enjoy this beautiful Southwest native that has found its place in the gardening world.
Gaura lindheimeri (Pink Gaura, Butterfly Gaura, Whirling Butterflies, Wand Flower, Bee Blossom)
Curtosey of: Alliance for Water Awareness and Conservation (AWAC)
By Janet Kornbluth