A few weeks ago I wrote an article about tall annuals (a plant that comes up, blooms, seeds, and dies in a single season) along with a list of my favorites. Now, in case you prefer a plant that returns from its roots every year, I would like to mention my favorite tall perennials.

          One that I have had the longest is MULLEIN (Verbascum species). The wild one is a biennial so you need to let it go to seed to get a crop the next year. They will produce a flat rosette from seed the first summer. They have 3-5 feet yellow spikes in full sun and well drained soil, so they do not like wet feet.  In the last few years the plant hybridizers have developed a number of colors that are short lived perennials.  One interesting part is their wooly leaves.  Their flower clusters are a little daintier than the wild ones. 

          For shady areas GOATS BEARD (Aruncus dioicus) can reach 4 to 6 feet if they have plenty of water and rich soil.  They have tiny white flowers that are in long clusters above the leaves.  They do resemble a white beard as they open and then later are darker.  They do well in bouquets and can be dried for winter use.  A hot spring session will shorten their life unless there is plenty of water.  Originally they came from areas along water ways or woodland areas.  The male blooms are whiter than the females and may be up to 20 inches long.

          RED HOT POKERS, aka Torch Flower (Kniphofia species) forms clumps of thin grass like leaves whose blooms are loved by bees.  The flowers are dense spikes that can grow up to 6 feet tall.  However, mine have never grown that tall. Its blooms may be a single color but many will have two different ones such as red and yellow.  They prefer a sandy, moist but not wet, soil in full sun or a little shade. You can raise them from seed but the new blooms most likely will not be a copy of the parent plant. Or you can divide your clumps in the spring.  They do not like to be moved and refuse to bloom for a year or so if you do.  To divide just cut off part of the parent plant leaving the original in place.

          HOLLYHOCKS (Alcea rosea) are not all perennials.  Some are perennials, some are annuals, and some are biennials but they are all favorite plants from long ago.  They grow from 5 to 8 feet tall.  Our grandmothers probably carried the seed in their pockets across the prairie.  The flowers come in singles or doubles, ruffled or plain, and kids use the blooms to construct a family of dolls. The one trouble I have had with them is rust so I have eliminated them for a year or so to diminish the rust. If you start them inside they transplant easily. I like them in front of a fence to give them some support.  Bees and butterflies also enjoy them. Many colors, even black are available.

          DELPHINIUMS (Delatum) are a challenge in Nebraska as our winds or hail tend to topple them just when their blooms are tallest. A very hot summer will shorten their life.  I generally plant them in a cage with lots of compost in the soil and plenty of water.  They are generally listed as short lived perennials. Three years has been my limit and they are not as tall or dramatic in the third year. Some of my Rose friends as well as Delphinium growers favor horse manure as the best organic material. There are a number of colors but blue, purple, and pink are the most dominant. 

          FOXGLOVES have been a challenge for me as they very seldom get as spectacular as some I have seen in other yards. They can get 4 to 5 feet tall with 3 inch bells (gloves in rose, pink, purple, white or yellow colors. The Digitalis species are about 20 inch, short lived perennials or biennials from Europe , Africa , and Asia . They are the species from which the heart drug digitalis is formed so avoid chewing on them. Many of the species like partial shade and a damp acid soil.

          OBEDIENT PLANTS (Physostegia virginiana) may grow 2-4 feet tall but their spikes of blooms of 4 rows of blooms around the stem, come in white or lavender. The two colors don’t bloom at exactly the same time.  There maybe 2 weeks difference with my whites ahead.  The Obedience part comes from the blooms staying in place around the stem which makes the flower arrangers happy. I have also heard them called “false dragon head”. In partial shade or full sun the plants will spread quite well with blooms late summer when other plants are starting to fail.  They require damp soil, especially after the first season as the roots spread making a thick clump.  They are very easy to divide as the roots are very close to the top of the soil.  I take a spadeful from the edge to have a new colony. Too much fertilizer and they will flop.

Copyright 2010



          The Nebraska Master Gardener program is a horticulture related volunteer training program based in many counties throughout the state. It has been part of UNL Extension since 1976. Master Gardener volunteers are trained by UNL Extension faculty and staff. They contribute time as volunteers working through their local Extension office to provide horticulture-related information to their community. More specifically, they provide education about sustainable horticultural practices. Participants are required to complete 40 hours of training and 40 hours of volunteer service during the initial year of their involvement in the program. Master Gardener volunteers retain their certification through annual training and volunteering.
          Master Gardener training sessions are held at county offices throughout the state. Classes begin in February or March, depending on the location. A minimum of 40 hours of educational training is provided. Most locations conduct training during daytime hours, but some offer evening classes. Many counties are requiring application by January 15, 2010 . So apply now if interested.

          Class topics may vary slightly, depending on location within the state, but all classes will include information on integrated pest management, weeds, insects, diseases, plant selection (turf, woody and herbaceous plants), landscape management, soils, fertility, and morphology. The content level is focused on the home gardener, but some participants are employed in the green industry.

          For more information contact your local County Extension office or go to