Gardeners are always looking for landscape plants that provide interest, and they primarily concentrate on the colorful flowers. But in my experience, even the most floriferous garden plant will need some help to maintain garden beauty.
This is where foliage plants come to save the day, and coleus is usually the first choice. But Artemisia is an alternative landscape plant that doesn't get enough attention.
Known commonly as Dusty Miller, Artemisia is one of the most beautiful supporting cast members of garden plants. The gray foliage appears to be a dusty silver from the soft fuzziness of the leaves. The silvery color seems to intensify and enhance the colors of other garden plants.
There is a wide variety of Artemisia on the market. A favorite of mine in the past was Powis Castle, but this selection grows up to 30 inches tall and is very vigorous.
I recently found a new - and I think much more useful - variety: Quicksilver. What I really like is that Quicksilver only grows to about 10 inches tall with a 24-inch spread, making it a great choice for use as a groundcover or border location. I like growing it in a container where the spread shoots can start to spill over the container edge.
I really like pairing the silver foliage with anything purple. Those two colors together make for a winning landscape combo. Try combining the feathery, silver foliage with purple-leaved alternanthera, such as the Mississippi Medallion winner Little Ruby or the newer Purple Prince. A tried-and-true combination would be with the purplish-maroon Purple Heart. Underplanting the Mississippi Medallion winner All-Around Purple gomphrena with Quicksilver would give the appearance of a silvery carpet.
All Artemisia requires is full sun and a well-drained planting bed. These plants are perennial across Mississippi, and a light spring pruning to remove woody stems will ensure a tight-growing plant. The plants can be divided in either spring or fall to share with neighbors and friends. Be sure to water well to get the plants established. After that, take advantage of the heat and drought tolerance.
On the rare occasion when the plant might get unruly, simply pinch the offending shoots back to maintain the desired form. These are truly among the best low-maintenance plants we can grow in our landscapes.
Go ahead and give Artemisia a try in your landscape. I'll bet you'll always have silver growing with the green from now on.
• Dr. Gary Bachman is an associate Extension and research professor of horticulture at the Mississippi State University Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi. He is also the host of the popular Southern Gardening television and radio programs.