Liatris Spicata – How to Grow Blazing Star

Liatris Spicata Blazing Star

Simple Steps for Growing Liatris Spicata

Blazing Star is very easy to grow and care for in your garden if you place it where it likes to be.  Since it is a native perennial, it will be fairly drought tolerant.  Some varieties of Liatris have roots that can reach 10 feet deep (~3m), and Liatris Spicata is very similar.  The main consideration here is that it needs well drained soil.  But in a nutshell, Blazing Star will grow well and require almost no care if you meet the following conditions:

  • Grow Blazing Star in full sun, at least 6 hours per day for the showiest flowers.  But it will grow in partial sun (3-6 hrs/day).  But won’t get as showy/tall/full.
  • Liatris needs well drained soil, as the roots will rot in swampy/boggy soil
  • This plant may require watering during extreme drought.  If leaf edges start to get brown/crispy, then it needs water.
  • Older plants may need to be divided to keep them looking showy
  • It will grow well in zones 4-9, check your garden zone here
  • Space plants 12-18″ apart (30-50 cm), so you can pack them in tight initially
  • If growing from corms (easiest method), plant them about 3″ deep (8 cm)
  • If grown from seed, Blazing Star will bloom the second year
  • Stalks will reach heights of 4′ (1.3m) in ideal conditions, and the grassy base will reach around 2-3′

But don’t forget to check out our reference table on Blazing Star at the end of this article!

Blazing Star – Facts and General Description

Blazing Star, Liatris Spicata is a tall native perennial flower with large purple spike blooms.  As it is adapted for prairie, this plant is very hardy, beautiful, and a favorite of hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators. This plant can tolerate a wide variety of soils and conditions.  Having long lasting blooms that will show for a month make Liatris Spicata gorgeous when planted en mass.    I have multiple specimens in our micro-prairie in our backyard.

Side note*  You don’t need a huge area to start a micro prairie….and it is really helpful to your local pollinator population.

See how to start your own micro-prairie here ==>>https://growitbuildit.com/how-to-make-a-micro-prairie/

How tall/big does Blazing Star grow?

Blazing star will look like a clump of ornamental grass with 1-5 (typically) stalks shooting up.  The base, grass part will be 6″ diameter for 1st/2nd year plants, and will be up to 2′ (50-75 cm) for older, mature plants after approximately 4 or 5 years.  In ideal conditions of full sun/well drained soil, the purple flowering stalks of Blazing Star should get 3-4′ (1-1.3m) tall.

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Growing from seed

This plant is fairly easy to grow form seed.  It does require cold/moist stratification to obtain a high germination rate.  In fact studies have shown, stratifying the seed for 10 weeks (or just winter sow it in December) increased germination rates from 50% to 98%!  But other than that, it is just a kind of ‘sow and go’ plant.  You can plant these seeds on the surface of the soil, up to 1/8” (3 mm) depth – but no more.  Typically I winter sow Liatris Spicata in pots, with a heavy dose of seed (at least 5 per cell).  I also always leave just a couple of seeds on the surface, pressed in to the soil.  Then I will thin as needed, or transplant baby seedlings into other pots to get more plants.

Also, if you don’t get all of your Liatris Spicata seedlings planted out to the garden during the year, but they have been growing in pots that are at least 4” (100 mm) diameter or square, you can sometimes over-winter them.  I did this on about a dozen plants, and all the corms germinated the following Spring.

So once they go dormant, you can store them outside, say against a south facing wall of your house and just plant the corm/bulb next year.  This is a very effective method of propagation, and when you do a corm – you should get blooms that year for sure.  Doing so is basically a form of cold storage, which has been shown to be beneficial for flowering the next season.

And here is a picture of what a Liatris seedling looks like

Liatris Seedling blazing star gayfeather
Liatris Spicata Seedling
Liatris blazing star emerging in spring
Liatris Spicata shoots just beginning to come out of dormancy in early spring.
Liatris Spicata Blazing Star emerging from dormancy
Liatris Spicata / Blazing Star emerging from dormancy in Spring

 

After it is done blooming, if you want some free seed, it is quite easy obtain.  Just cut a stalk off once it is brown/dry, and kind of strip the seeds off.  If I get time, I’ll post some pictures of me doing it or a video.  [UPDATE] – see further down the article for a video on HOW TO SAVE Liatris Seeds.

Liatris Spicata, blazing star bloom close-up
Liatris Spicata just starting to bloom!

Zoomed in view of Emerging Bloom Stalk

Growing Blazing Star from corms/bulbs

Recently garden centers and big box stores have begun offering Liatris corms along with their other bulbs.  This is likely the easiest way to get nice sized Liatris for the least amount of money the first year (unless you have a friend who has some that are ready for division).

Blazing Star / Liatris Growing Requirements

I have found this plant to be hardy.  As any plant that survives on the prairie tends to be quite tough and adapted for most of North America.  My Liatris Spicata / Blazing Star have done great in clay soil, with minimal maintenance.  Actually – no maintenance.  I don’t even water them much during drought.  I’ve found references stating that roots of other Liatris can go 10’ (3 m) deep, so that might explain why it is so drought tolerant.  Liatris Spicata Blazing Star Goldfinch

So far I haven’t seen any disease on my plants, and I’ve grown them for several years.  So far the only risk I have found is rabbits.  For example rabbits will eat these plants when they are young/small.  I’ve woken up in the morning to a bunch of stubs, where yesterday I had healthy Liatris Spicata seedlings.  So you should apply liquid fence or some other rabbit repellent that can help keep them big and healthy until the Liatris Spicata blooms.

This is a wonderful plant that you absolutely should grow.  For instance, just getting to see all the birds pick seed off is worth growing 5-10 specimens.  As far as how many you should plant – I say the more the merrier since their spacing is so small.  In our front bed I have 15 plants in a densely packed circle.  This makes a magnificent display when they are all blooming.  Also, this plant blooms top to bottom, and because the stalk tends to be quite long, your bloom time is long too!  For instance, last year I think the Liatris bloomed for about 2 months.

Does Blazing Star need to be fertilized?

Blazing Star generally does not need fertilizer.  I’ve never fertilized Blazing Star after establishment.  As you can see with the pictures throughout this page, it seems to be healthy and happy.  Also, I don’t have beautiful, loamy, crumbly black soil.  These are all planted in clay with plenty of rock.  Since the roots go so deep into the soil, this plant can tap into nutrients and minerals that most plants can never reach.

SEE OTHER NATIVE PLANT ARTICLES HERE ==> https://growitbuildit.com/category/native-plants-info-facts-articles/

Does Blazing Star need to be divided?  And when?

Blazing stars will keep growing larger each year, until the plant reaches a couple feet in diameter ( approximately 1.5 m).  Once this happens, the center of the plant may be a ‘dead zone’ where no stalks will shoot up.  If you notice your plants are doing this during emergence in Spring, then it probably should be divided to keep the plant looking full, showy, and healthy.  This needs to be done just as the leaves are emerging.  Alternatively, it can be done in the fall after the plant is dormant.  So, dig up the root ball / corm, and then separate it with a pitchfork, or break it up and cut it with a gardeners knife.  I’ve used old hunting knives for this too, as I have those readily available.  Then just replant one half, or one section where the plant was.  Then you can share the other pieces with friends or neighbors, or just plant the corm somewhere else in your garden/yard.

Can Liatris Grow in Pots or Containers?

Yes, Liatris Spicata can be grown in pots/containers.  You should use larger/deep containers to get taller more healthy plants.  Preferably 12″ deep, however if you grow from seed then it is low cost to experiment.  The first year I grew Liatris Spicata from seed, I actually left about 10 plants in shallow 4″ pots over winter in Pennsylvania – all of the plants (now full corms) survived.  The main consideration you should have is that the soil is well draining.  Wet or soggy roots will likely harm or kill the plant.

Harvesting Liatris Seeds

Liatris Spicata, Blazing Star - Ready for Seed Harvest!
Liatris Spicata, Blazing Star – Ready for Seed Harvest!

You can gather Liatris Seeds in the fall, or in the spring.  We’ve got a great article detailing the process here==>

How to Save Liatris Seeds – An Illustrated Guide with Pictures

 

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Gardening uses for Blazing Star

Common uses for Blazing Star / Liatris Spicata include

  • Border perennial garden
  • Rear of flower bed
  • Center Focal Point of Flower Bed

This plant mixes well with many other perennials.  Although it slowly increases in diameter, the purple stalks generally remain upright.  I’ve had Echinacea and New England Aster flop over from heavy storms while my Liatris stood tall.  That being said, if you want a smaller flower bed, then I would place this halfway from front to back.  My reason for this is that the isolated upright stalks always allow for viewing to the back, even when there are many Blazing Star plants.  Conversely, interspersed throughout a meadow works well too, as this plant isn’t likely to flop over onto anything else.  And while the base may increase in size year over year, it doesn’t ‘branch out’ and steal sunlight from others.

Other Considerations

When designing your garden, adding some depth to Blazing Star helps create a more stunning display.  So while a row of plants looks nice, I’m partial to having a colony or forest of the fuzzy purple stalks.  I’ve planted 15 plants in a circle of about 6′ diameter.  If you don’t have much space, just having five or six plants in a circle with one in the center can lead to stunning displays.  Think of it like this, a single tree in a field can be interesting to look at, but it doesn’t compare to seeing a whole forest.  Having more plants will also bring in more beneficial insects and birds to eat the seeds.

Before I forget, hummingbirds love the nectar from this plant.  So having more will increase the frequency of hummingbirds to your garden!

Before you go;

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LOOKING TO PUT IN A NEW GARDEN BED?  Be sure to read these 1st!!

REASONS NOT TO BUILD RAISED BED GARDENS

EASIEST METHOD TO REMOVE SOD BY HAND

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NATIVE PLANT FACT SHEETS

How to Control Wild Onions in Your Yard

How to Save and Store Flower Seeds

Native Plants – Why and How They Help the Environment

 

Liatris Spicata / Blazing Star Reference Table

Common Name Blazing Star
Scientific name Liatris Spicata
USDA Garden Zone 3-10
Bloom Time June – August
Bloom Duration 6 Weeks
Color Purple
Bloom Size A stalk ranging from 6-12” (15-30cm)
Characteristics One or more stalks rising from a grass like clump
Height 2-5’
Spacing/Spread 1-2’
Light Requirements Sun
Soil Types Clay / Loam
Moisture Moist – Medium
Maintenance None
Typical Use Flower bed/garden, Rain Garden, woodland border, meadow
Fauna Associations Hummingbirds, butterflies, bees.  Rabbits will eat the foliage.
Larval Host Unknown
Sowing Depth Surface to 1/8” (0-3 mm)
Stratification 60 days cold moist stratification
Native Range United States – East of Mississippi River
Notes

 

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