Desirable plants that grow like weeds in SE Idaho

GardeningHeidi(5)April 28, 2014

I want to try a new approach! Instead of trying to improve my existing soil, I'd like to plant desirable plants that literally grow like weeds (thrive in poor soil, need little care, and are virtually impossible to eradicate). I've noticed that my mint and my irises both do this. Even though the soil's not great, they just go gangbusters with all the sun we have! What other desirable plants (either edible or beautiful) would do the same?

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gjcore(zone 5 Aurora Co)

Herbs might work such as oregano, thyme, lovage, garlic chives, chives, st. john's wort, tarragon, parsley. clary sage, feverfew... If you let them go to seed, except tarragon which doesn't set seed, you'll get plenty of volunteers.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2014 at 5:09PM
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How about: passion vine, purslane, moss rose, nasturtium?

As long as cilantro and amaranth can grow there, you would get lots of volunteers every year from them also.

There may be Idaho wildflowers that would thrive in that kind of soil also.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2014 at 5:12PM
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ZachS. z5 Littleton, CO

I would also look into native plants, though, often times you'll have to wait a little while for them to flower. We have a lavender bush that has grown like crazy. I planted it years ago as a small nursery start in unamended clay and it has just gone to town, I don't even water the gosh darn thing!

    Bookmark   April 28, 2014 at 10:05PM
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Thank you all so much! I bought some nasturtium seeds last night, and I'm looking forward to expanding my herb garden--including the addition of a lavender bush-- this year!

    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 9:58AM
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ZachS. z5 Littleton, CO

Be aware that the lavender can get to a pretty decent size, and requires some maintenance. The one we have we just let go for years and this year I cut out all the dead looks pretty haggard now and probably could have been kept looking nice if we had taken care of it.

I am debating whether to take the whole thing out except the bees go absolutely bonkers for it, and I like bees.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 3:09PM
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Oh, wow. That IS huge! And I can tell that the ground around it seems pretty rough. Impressive! Does it produce a pretty usable yield? I've wanted lavender for a long time, so I'm excited to try this! Probably won't put it where I planned to, though, since it'll get too big for that spot. Thanks for the illustration!

    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 3:16PM
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ZachS. z5 Littleton, CO

I never have harvested anything from it, though it puts up lots of flowers, so I could probably get something useable. I just let it flower and go to seed every year, never even thought of using it for anything.

I don't think it grows fast, that plant is probably 8-10 years old, and you can probably prune it back to keep it maintained, just, like I said, I never have (and now it looks like hell because of it haha).

But other then that, we have those cobblestones all around the yard and we have it's babies pop up between them now and then, so, I am pretty sure it's very undemanding soil and water wise.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 3:45PM
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These are all great suggestions! Question about self-seeding annuals--does one typically thin them or just let the various seedlings run their course and let the strong prevail?

    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 4:59PM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

Hi Leggs,

Welcome to RMG!

Here are some pics that might help you more with the lavender. This is how I handle them since I prefer small, compact plants, but I've see where other people just let them grow into BIG "shrubs," the couple times I've heard of that it was more Midwest or east coast areas.

These pics cover a whole year so you can see the evolution!

The first one is May of '09, after they had been cut down sometime over winter and were starting to grow out again.

The second one is July of '09 when they were blooming. These are all pretty small plants because they were all seedlings that came up naturally in the previous year or two.

The third one is May of '10 when I was getting ready to cut them down from the previous summer. Usually I cut them down sometime in the fall or over the winter, but didn't get it done this time.

The next one is May of '10, the same day, right after cutting everything down. When I'm cutting down small lavender plants I usually go thru and cut the large stems off individually, then I kind of give them a "haircut" over the top to even out the smaller stems. When I have bigger plants (which I do now), it would take a couple days each to cut them down that way, so I just take my good gardening scissors and cut the whole thing down pretty much even over the top, rounding the sides down a little bit, and since they "flop" around the edges a lot and I don't have that much room for them, I cut all the lower "flopping" stems off all the way to the base of the plant.

And this is just a closeup of the ones in the corner on the left side of the sidewalk after they were cut down, the same day!

And here are a couple pics of them in July of '13, just last summer. You can see that the original plants have gotten bigger, and more seedlings have come up around them.

After a few (3-6) years the center will start to die out, as it has with Zach's, and sometimes you can get it to look halfway decent again by cutting it back several times as it starts to grow out each time to force new growth in the middle, but with as many as I have coming up I just "dispose of them" when they get old and woody and start to die out in spots. I cut/pulled several of the old ones in the 2013 pics out just a few weeks ago when I was cutting them down this year since I didn't get it done over winter again! I have LOTS of new seedlings coming along to replace them!

None of the plants in any of those pictures were actually planted, they all came up as seedlings. As near as I can tell the original plant that had been put in by the previous owners was already dead when I moved in here, and I believe that plant was where the rock you can see between the existing plants in the second pic is. There was a slight depression there, and I'm pretty sure that's where the roots of the original plant had rotted! So you can see how easily it reseeds--IF you can get a first plant started successfully. Some people have trouble getting a plant to grow, and I suspect that's because they overwater. The seedlings you see in my pics are coming up thru the rock mulch, and under that there's (why do people use this stuff!) landscape fabric--and under THAT is some extremely heavy clay! They do get water at times when I'm watering the roses or hibiscus, but there are also a lot of times the very small seedlings get little or no water for weeks at a time. As near as I can tell, they absolutely thrive on neglect!

If you want to try to start one I recommend putting it in around when your "last average frost date" is, so it has as long as possible to establish a good root system this summer. Then just let it be and wait for seedlings to start coming up after it's bloomed the first couple times! Once you get seedlings coming up naturally you should be set for life! (If you decide to try to start some from seed, I'd recommend winter sowing it this coming winter.)

English Lavender, Lavandula angustifolia, is the only reliably hardy one, stay away from the French and Spanish lavender, and any other permutation!

Regarding if you'd get enough to use, YES! I wouldn't cut anything off of the original plant for the first year for sure, and until you have several seedlings coming up, you'd always want to leave some of the flowers on to go to seed. But you can cut them down anytime, when they're "fresh," or after they dry, and the scent is SO strong you need to be careful to not use too much of it for whatever you want it for! I did discover (when I was making a "sachet" for a friend who loves it) one time that when you cut it fresh and dry the flowers, they do not retain their color. I was hoping they would!

For your "survival of the fittest" question, with self seeding things I like I just let them come up wherever, and pull them out if they go somewhere I don't want them. I've never had this problem, but if something was coming up SO thick that none of the plants were doing well, I might pull some of them out to thin them a little bit. Don't think that would be a problem very often.

A couple other perennials that will probably do well for you for what your describing (poor soil, LOTS of sun) are

Hollyhocks, Alcea rosea - reseeds a lot! (have some pics of this one)

Agastache, a/k/a hyssop, hummingbird mint, licorice mint, etc. Some of them reseed, but not "violently" in my experience.

Russian sage, Perovskia - I don't think it reseeds!

Helianthus maximilianii, perennial sunflower - spreads invasively, don't know if it reseeds!

ALL of those are big plants, but they thrive in poor soil with little care.

Any of the succulents should work for you. They won't reseed, but they spread, some faster than others. There are LOTS of different kinds!

Delosperma Lavender Ice, 'Psfave', iceplant

Delosperma basuticum 'White Nugget', iceplant - comes in yellow too, 'Gold Nugget'

Sedum 'Angelina' - turns kind of pinky-orange in winter

Sedum spurium 'Tricolor' - turns very pink over winter

Sempervivum, hen & chicks - there are hundreds of varieties!

I don't have them, but pussytoes, Antennaria, should do well for you, it's a low, groundcover kind of thing!

Some of the "straight species" coneflowers would probably do well, like (both are CO natives):

Echinacea angustifolia -- Western Coneflower

Echinacea pallida -- Prairie Coneflower, Pale Purple Coneflower

A few more Colorado Natives:

Gaillardia aristata -- Native Blanket Flower

Ratibida columnifera -- Prairie Coneflower, Mexican Hat

Rudbeckia laciniata -- Lace-leaf Coneflower, Golden Glow

Verbena bipinnatifida -- Dakota Verbena

Zinnia grandiflora -- Prairie Zinnia

And probably any of the straight species, native type Penstemons would work well too.

If you have any questions I'll try to get back to answer them, but I'm really busy right now so can't promise that!

Digit is up in your general neck of the woods and maybe he'll see this and have some suggestions. He hasn't been around for a few days, and I know he's REALLY busy with his kazillion flower and veggie seedlings at this time of year!

When you have time go over to the Who's Here in 2014 thread and tell us a little more about yourself!

Gotta go! Happy spring!


    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 8:06PM
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Wow! What a post! Thank you! You're making me wish that I had MORE sunny, poor soil. LOL.

Lavender (and maybe hollyhocks) are on my list for sure now, and I'm looking into some of the other beautiful things you described as well. Are any of them particularly long (or repeatedly) blooming? My space is kind of limited, so it'd be nice to get the longest bloom-time for my buck. Thank you again! I can tell how much time and thought you put into the post, and I really appreciate it! I learned so much!

    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 11:13PM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

I wasn't sure how much space you had! When I think of SE Idaho I think of (close to) Big Sky Country, so when I first saw your post I was thinking of a large property! If you have a "regular" city-size lot some hollyhocks will work for you (you'll be pulling out seedlings every year), but you probably want to stay away from the other "big" things I listed above! Hollyhocks bloom for a pretty long time. They start blooming on the bottom of the stem and keep blooming higher and higher up. If you're gonna buy plants you'll probably run into the "doubles" (look more like carnations than hollyhocks), and I recommend staying with the "old fashioned" single ones, I think they'll do better in unimproved soil--but not positive about that!

If this is a city lot and you're planning to water every week or two, I think Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm' might work really well for you. It's the "reliably hardy" black eyed Susan, and it blooms for a long time, especially if you keep it deadheaded.

With the lavender, I usually get two blooms a summer out of it. Just depends on how early it starts the first time--and if I get around to cutting it down early enough when it starts to look ratty. When it's past it's best bloom I cut them down a second time during the summer, and there's usually time for it to come back and give me another bloom that's as good as the first one. In the pics above it's that second bloom that I'm cutting down in spring! Every now and then I'll "encourage one to die" by cutting them down that frequently, but with all the seedlings I have by now I'd rather take that chance and get the second bloom!

With your iris, then the hollyhocks, lavender, and black eyed Susans, if you throw in some of the herbs you're interested in and then maybe add some of the lower succulents around those things, you should have a good start if you don't have a lot of planting space!

The hen & chicks don't bloom (they do occasionally but it's not pretty!) but you get the interest from the different sizes and colors, and they turn darker/different colors in spring/early summer (the pics above are when they're at their prettiest!). They're a little "less colorful" by mid-summer and fall!

Here's another one I have that I recently posted on another thread that's in it's Spring Glory right now! It'll be plain green by mid-summer! It's fun to watch them change!

Sedums don't bloom for a long time, but, again, you get the interest from the different color and shapes of the foliage, and how it changes color over winter when it gets cold!

Iceplants bloom for varying periods, the lavender one above for a pretty long time, the white one maybe about a month.

If you're willing to water--and since your iris are doing well, Shasta Daisy, 'Becky' will probably work well for you too! Just another one to consider. I definitely recommend 'Becky' over all the other varieties! (Mine was originally planted in some pretty nasty clay!) Blooms for a long time if you keep it deadheaded!

Have fun planning,

P.S. If you want to send me a SASE, I'll send you some hollyhock seeds! If you start the plants this sumer they'll bloom next summer! PM me if you want to do that! Include your email address in the body of the email if you do, 'cause something seems to have changed on GW and you can't see the sender's address anymore unless it's in the message--as near as I can tell!

    Bookmark   April 30, 2014 at 1:23AM
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I don't know how your climate is compared to the climate closer to Denver.

With that, I have a few more recommendations in addition to the excellent ones above.

May Night salvia blooms for me from late May through October if I deadhead the flower spikes after blooming. If you let the seeds ripen, you'll still get another flush of blooms, and you'll also have a pretty good chance of getting it to self-seed. There are some other plants in the sage family that are pretty, very tough, and cold tolerant enough for you.

Zauschneria (California fuschsia) is a fairly tough plant. Skybird found it invasive. I have it in a difficult spot, and it is starting to spread. It is a fairly low-growing plant that blooms from mid-late summer onward.

Yarrow can be very sturdy, aggressive, and pretty. Again, it has a long bloom time. I like the dead flowerheads in the wintertime, but that is no doubt the reason I now have yarrow seedlings in a few other places in my yard.

Agastache, some penstemons, catmint, callirhoe (poppy mallow), violas, perennial poppies, daylilies, ornamental grasses, ornamental oregano, ajuga... Many of those are tough plants that require very little care once established. They tolerate poor soil and difficult conditions. Some reseed, some spread, some do both.

Lilacs and some roses are good possibilities for blooming shrubs that will thrive with neglect in your climate. Rose of Sharon (althea) is another possibility. (Some varieties of althea can reseed easily and have the potential to be invasive.) I like plants like Apache Plume and Rabbitbrush, too.

You might want to check out the plants listed in the Plant Select Plant lists, look at the offerings from High Country, and so on.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 2:36PM
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