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.

I heart foliage! July Foliage Follow-Up


This month for Foliage Follow-Up I’m wearing my heart on my sleeve — well, on my garden anyway. This is one of my favorite combos in the front garden right now: feathery, chartreuse bamboo muhly grass (Muhlenbergia dumosa); spiky, star-shaped ‘Burgundy Ice’ dyckia; and lace-textured white skullcap (Scutellaria suffrutescens ‘White’). My deer show no interest in any of these, but I sure love them.

So what leafy love is going on in your July garden? Please join me for Foliage Follow-Up, giving foliage its due on the day after Bloom Day. Leave a link to your post in a comment below. I really appreciate it if you’ll also link to my post in your own — sharing link love! If you can’t post so soon after Bloom Day, no worries. Just leave your link when you get to it. I look forward to seeing your foliage faves.

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

Mexican oregano and a tall, dark, handsome partner


Each year I replant a purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum) next to the Mexican oregano (Poliomintha longiflora) in the streetside garden. I love the rich color echo between the Mexican oregano’s lilac flowers and the grass’s dark leaves, which look good late-spring through fall and even, bleached by frost, into winter.

This year I’m trialing a new variety (for me) of dark-leaved ornamental grass: Pennisetum purpureum ‘Vertigo’ from Proven Winners, also known as Pearl Millet. So far it seems like purple fountain grass on steroids, with deeper purple coloring, a wider leaf, and a plumped up form. This baby is expected to get big, maybe even 6 feet tall.


Proven Winners sent three of these grasses to me in quart-size containers in April, and they’ve responded to all our spring rain with quick growth. They’re shots of dark drama in my mostly silvery green, silvery blue, and dusty green garden — in other words, a good accent plant. The only downside I know of, compared to purple fountain grass, is that ‘Vertigo’ won’t bloom, so no dusty pink bottlebrush flowers this fall. The upside is that its sterility keeps it from being an aggressive spreader in warm climates like mine.


The Mexican oregano is providing plenty of flower power right now. Its scented branches are absolutely laden with tubular flowers that attract hummingbirds and sphinx moths.


Mexican oregano also looks pretty fab with the key-lime-pie-colored ‘Margaritaville’ yucca, but that’s another story.

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