Plant This: Turk’s cap


Death Star-adapted plants tend to be small-leaved and airy, the better to retain precious water. But our native Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) defies that expectation with vaguely heart-shaped leaves the size of a napkin scrounged out of your car’s glove box, and just as crinkled.


For the foliage alone, which the deer ignore in my garden, Turk’s cap would be worth planting. But the twisted, tomato-red flowers that blaze among the leaves from late spring through fall make Turk’s cap one of my favorite perennials for shade or part sun. Hummingbirds adore these blossoms, and you’ll see them zipping around for a drink all summer long.


Turk’s cap will grow in either sun or shade, although it can look wilted by the end of the day in full sun. For that reason I prefer to give it afternoon shade. If you garden under live oaks, as I do, you’ll find Turk’s cap thrives in those conditions. This photo was taken in Tucson, Arizona, showing that Turk’s cap can be grown west of its native range.


Flowers give way to small, red fruits around Thanksgiving, which birds enjoy. It dies to the ground after a hard freeze, and I usually leave the stems standing until my mid-February cut-back, when I prune them to about 6 inches. This year I’m finding a lot of Turk’s cap seedlings in my island bed out front, but they pull easily.

In my garden, Turk’s cap grows to about 4 or 5 feet high and 3 to 4 feet wide, and it pairs nicely with bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa) in sunnier spots and inland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) in shadier ones. It’s said to be root-hardy to zone 7b.

If the standard red Turk’s cap is old hat for you, you might enjoy trying other cultivars, like the pink ‘Pam Puryear’, also called ‘Pam’s Pink’, or the hard-to-find and harder-to-grow (at least for me) white Turk’s cap. There’s also a variety from Mexico called ‘Big Momma’, whose red flowers are larger and showier.

Note: My Plant This posts are written primarily for gardeners in central Texas. The plants I recommend are ones I’ve grown myself and have direct experience with. I wish I could provide more information about how these plants might perform in other parts of the country, but gardening knowledge is local. Consider checking your local online gardening forums to see if a particular plant might work in your region.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Plant This: Peter’s Purple bee balm, a pied piper for hummingbirds


The plant getting the most attention in my garden right now is ‘Peter’s Purple’ bee balm (Monarda fistulosa ‘Peter’s Purple’), a 4-foot tall perennial with pincushiony, lavender-pink flowers atop long stems. I bought my original plant 5 years ago from Plant Delights (High Country Gardens carries it too) and have since shared divisions with neighbors and gardening friends.


Nearly every garden blogger in Austin is growing it, thanks to our plant swaps, and I hope it’s available in local nurseries because this is a terrific plant for central Texas. Hybridized here in Texas and tested by Dallas Arboretum, this bee balm doesn’t get powdery mildew in our hot, humid climate, the way other bee balms can.


Just give it sun or part sun and set it loose. It grows well, with established clumps growing wider each year, and it also spreads readily by seed. You can divide it easily at any time of year. I give it once-a-week water in summer, but I suspect it may be able to go longer without, especially in part shade. It blooms for a couple of weeks, and I let it go to seed before cutting it back. In Austin, rosy-hued stems and leaves can hang on all winter.


Hummingbirds love it. Can you spot the hummer in this picture and the one below? Since I’ve planted divisions all around my garden, I imagine the hummers must be well-fed right now.


Plant ‘Peter’s Purple’ bee balm and watch it lead hummers to your garden too.

U.S. hardiness zones: 6-9

Note: My Plant This posts are written primarily for gardeners in central Texas. The plants I recommend are ones I’ve grown myself and have direct experience with. I wish I could provide more information about how these plants might perform in other parts of the country, but gardening knowledge is local. Consider checking your local online gardening forums to see if a particular plant might work in your region.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Plant This: Gray globemallow lights up the garden


Its frosty, felted, gray-green leaves hint at its exceptional heat and drought tolerance, and they’re very pettable too. But when gray globemallow (Sphaeralcea incana) opens clusters of cupped, orange blossoms atop its silvery branches, it becomes a beacon of blooming beauty.


Fire and ice! Gray globemallow is native to the southwestern U.S., including West Texas, so it needs good drainage, lean conditions, and plenty of sun to thrive. This a plant for your hot, dry, caliche-soil garden. And because the leaves are hairy, deer tend to ignore it.


Flowering is best in spring and fall, while summer is pretty quiet and can be a good time to cut it back hard if you want to keep it more compact. It grows 3-4 feet tall and wide, maybe bigger if you never prune. Gray globemallow is cousin to the airier, less-woody, green-leaf globemallows that also grow well in sunny, dry locations.

So don’t be afraid to go gray. If you have a tough spot that’s blasted by the Death Star, gray globemallow may be the right plant to light up your garden too.

Note: My Plant This posts are written primarily for gardeners in central Texas. The plants I recommend are ones I’ve grown myself and have direct experience with. I wish I could provide more information about how these plants might perform in other parts of the country, but gardening knowledge is local. Consider checking your local online gardening forums to see if a particular plant might work in your region.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.