Gaura, Bee Blossom, Whirling Butterfly

Growing Gaura- whirling butterfly plant or Bee Blossom

Gaura seems to be this year’s popular plant, being featured in some prominent garden speakers seminars this spring.   Gaura is native to Northern Mexico, Texas and Louisiana and thrives on heat and humidity.  And although in some areas ranchers and farmers may consider Gaura to be an unwanted invader, many gardeners will want to invite this graceful, dainty plant into their gardens.   Gaura, sometimes called Bee Blossom, is tough and virtually pest and disease free.  The airy delicate flowers of this North American native lend grace to any sunny garden.

Gaura is excellent perennial  for naturalized gardens and butterfly gardens.  It looks great tucked among ornamental grasses in sunny borders.  Gaura looks best in clumps of several plants in mixed borders. The varieties with colorful foliage are excellent for color in the border even after the flowers fade. Gaura also makes an airy filler in large containers.

Gaura begins each spring as a rosette of basal foliage, leaves can be green, burgundy, or variegated with cream and gold.  The leaves on the basal clump are long and narrow.  This clump is not very high, 18 inches at the most. 

Gaura sends up a profusion of wiry wands, or flower spikes beginning in early summer.   The leaves on these spikes are smaller and narrower than on the basal clump, the top of the spike is leafless.  The flowering spikes of gaura can reach up to four feet high in a good location.   Near the top of the wand long narrow buds will open to reveal small, four petal flowers. 

Gaura flowers dangle and dance in the slightest breeze resembling butterflies hovering over the plants.  The flowers are small, an inch or two long, and come in white or shades of pink ranging from deep, hot pink to pale shell pink.  The stamens stick well out of the flowers, resembling butterfly legs beneath petal wings to some.  Gaura flowers are loved by bees and butterflies, the reason for the common name, Bee Blossom.  

The gaura plant grows from a rhizome that is not shy about spreading through the garden.  Gaura also spreads by seeds.  Gardeners should take care to see that gaura is confined to spots where it is wanted. 

Some varieties

‘Blushing Butterfly’ has soft pink flowers over a compact plant. ‘Pink Cloud’ has an extra long and heavy flowering habit, with bright pink flowers.  ‘Siskiyou Pink’ has deep pink flowers and red stems.  ‘Whirling Butterflies’ is white with red stems.  ‘Sunny Butterflies’ has medium pink flowers edged in white. ’Crimson Butterflies’ has hot pink flowers over red foliage and red stems. ‘Passionate Rainbow’ has interesting variegated foliage of burgundy, pink, cream and gold and bright pink flowers.

Growing Gaura

Gaura is a short-lived perennial, which means you will probably have to replace it every three years or so if you have not let it spread in the garden.  Gardeners in zone 5 can grow it in a protected spot with heavy winter mulch. Above zone 5 it is reliably hardy. 

Gardeners will probably start with potted plants.  Plant the gaura in a sunny spot.   After it is established it is drought tolerant and thrives in dry areas.  Gaura is not fussy about soil type or ph.   A little slow release fertilizer in the spring as growth begins will increase flowering.

Gaura flowers for a long period of time.  Gardeners can increase the number of flowers and lengthen the flowering cycle by trimming off each flower spike down to the base as soon as it finishes blooming.  Keeping the flower spikes trimmed off also keeps the plants looking tidy.  A midsummer application of slow release fertilizer and watering when it is very dry will also increase bloom.

Gaura has few disease or insect problems and even deer don’t like to eat it.   In zone 6 and higher winter preparation will simply be cutting off old flower spikes.  In zone 5  a heavy mulch should be applied over the basal rosette after the ground is frozen.  Gaura is easily divided by lifting clumps in the early spring and pulling apart clumps of rhizomes.

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