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The Sun, the Moon and the Stars

Coreopsis verticillata ‘Moonbeam’

How would you like a plant that is drought tolerant, is heat tolerant, blooms for weeks, is deer resistant, is native, and is a butterfly magnet?  Does this sound too good to be true?  Well, if you haven’t tried Coreopsis verticillata yet, then it should be on your next plant-shopping list.  Coreopsis verticillata is known by many other names, such as thread leaf coreopsis, tickseed, whorled coreopsis, and pot of gold.  But I think it should be named ‘the sun, the moon and the stars’ plant, because it offers so much in exchange for so little.

Coreopsis verticillata is a perfect little plant.  Just plant it in a sunny location and it will gratefully respond by blooming with unabashed enthusiasm, beginning in early June and continuing for weeks.  When the first flush of bloom is over, shear it back lightly and you will be rewarded with more flowers in a couple of weeks. With attention, it will bloom on and off throughout the summer.  Its fern-like foliage is delicate, but don’t underestimate the vigor of this little plant by its dainty looks.  Coreopsis is not fussy about soil conditions and does not need much water once it is established.  When other plants are wilting and looking tired from the heat and humidity, coreopsis continues to look as fresh as a cool breeze.

Coreopsis verticillata ‘Moonbeam’

The native species, Coreopsis verticillata, can become two to three feet tall and has glistening golden blooms.  However, there are also cultivated varieties, such as Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’, which was named the Perennial Plant of the Year in 1992 by the Perennial Plant Association.  Its flowers are a soft yellow and blend well with both pastel and bright color combinations in the garden.  The color of the flowers reminds me of sweet, creamy, whipped butter. ‘Moonbeam’ plants maintain a height of about two feet.  Another tried-and-true cultivar is Coreopsis ‘Zagreb,’ which is shorter and grows to about one foot tall with bright yellow flowers that look like little golden stars.

Coreopsis verticillata ‘Zagreb’

In the garden, coreopsis can be successfully combined with many other summer blooming perennials and annuals.  I particularly like the combination of the soft yellow Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’ with bright pink garden phlox (Phlox paniculata).  Or Coreopsis ‘Zagreb’ with its golden flowers can look stunning when planted with a purple-flowering plant, such as Blazing Star (Liatris spicata).  I am also fond of any coreopsis planted en- masse in front of a green backdrop, such as in front of a group of arborvitae, Thuja occidentalis.  The dark green arborvitae make the coreopsis flowers really pop.  Since its foliage is so fine, I recommend planting coreopsis in swathes or in groups so that its beauty is visible from a distance.

Perhaps the best attribute of this tough little plant is its unfailing ability to attract pollinating insects.  Coreopsis is a butterfly magnet and would be a wonderful addition to your butterfly garden.  Hungry butterflies, skippers, and other pollinators eagerly fly from flower to flower drinking the sweet nectar.  Birds are fond of the seeds that form in the summer and can be seen in autumn pecking at the seeds on the ground under the plants.  In fact, the only wildlife that is not a fan of coreopsis may be white-tailed deer.  They prefer other plants and will most likely leave your coreopsis untouched.

So the next time you are looking for an easy addition to your garden, try thread leaf coreopsis, tickseed, whorled coreopsis, or pot of gold.  Or, as I like to call it, go for ‘the sun, the moon, and the stars’ plant, Coreopsis verticillata.

by Natalie Brewer, Master Gardener.  Photos by Larry Hurley.

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

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