Deb Babcock: A flower for night owls

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Deb Babcock

Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Thursdays in Steamboat Today.

Find more gardening columns here.

One of the first and showiest wildflowers to bloom in the springtime here is the evening primrose (Oenothera caesitosa). It's prolific along hot, dry expanses such as the Mad Creek and Red Dirt trails off Routt County Road 129 in early spring.

Found only in western North America, this perennial features four-petaled light yellow to white blooms that are up to 5 inches across. It grows close to the ground and is set off beautifully against four dark green lance-shaped leaves that lie just below the big flowers.

It's a great garden flower for those of us with poor soils. It will grow in clay, shale, talus slopes, as well as in dry meadows and along ditches. It is very fragrant, but also fleeting in appearance. The bloom opens in the evening and usually dies by mid-morning, especially on hot days. However, each plant has several blooms that open on succeeding days, keeping color alive for several weeks.

In a garden setting, especially where it has good soil and occasional water, evening primrose will cascade down the side of a berm or rock garden filling the area with beautiful early-season color. It's a wonderful plant for hanging baskets, too.

One species, the Oenothera macrocarpa spp. incana 'Silver Blade' was a Plant Select choice for high country gardens in 1999 and easily can be found in most local garden centers. Ozark sundrops, Oenothera macrocarpa (formerly called O. missouriensis), is another wonderful evening primrose for gardens in the Steamboat area. It features bright yellow flowers and glossy green foliage. It blooms for a long time, often through August.

There are 119 species of evening primrose, many of which flourish in our USDA and Heat Zone 4 environment. Some other of the species that grow well include the golden Oenothera 'African Sun' which is a wonderful plant for hanging baskets; the Oenothera berlandieri 'Siskiyou' which is a long-blooming evening primrose with pink blossoms; the deep golden Oenothera fruiticosa 'Fyrverkeri' Sundrops 'Fireworks'; and Oenothera tetragona 'Highlights' and Oenothera tetragona "Sonnenwende' both with bright yellow flowers.

Evening primrose forms a long tap root and does not take well to transplanting. However, propagating this plant by seed or division is another option to increasing your stock of this easy-to-grow perennial. Note that trademarked plants cannot be legally reproduced for sale by anyone other than the trademark holder, but propagating for your own use generally is allowed.

The plant has very few problems, root rot being possible if your soil doesn't drain well. Beware, however, if you have sage grouse that visit your garden, as this is one of the plants they love to peck at. Apparently the blooms are tasty. It's also an attractant for night-flying insects who feed on its nectar.

If you've ever considered turning part of your flower bed into a moon garden of night-blooming plants, evening primrose would be a wonderful one to include.

Deb Babcock is a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County. Questions? Call 879-0825 or email: gardeners@co.routt.co.us

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