The name Dusty Miller may call to mind dark streets, alleyways, detectives in trench coats, and shady characters straight out of your favorite noir film or crime novel. Or perhaps an actual miller from days of yore covered in flour, if fantasy or historical fiction are more your taste.
While the name “dusty miller” is shared with a few other similar plants, we're specifically discussing the Jacobaea Maritima, a name that sounds much more impressive and smart (as long as the person I'm talking to has no idea how to pronounce it.).
They make excellent landscaping foliage with their beautiful silver-felted leaves and fluffy voluptuousness. They're a cinch to care for and a pleasing addition that will bring a different dimension to your flower garden.
Not convinced yet? Read on and see if I change your mind.
Dusty Miller Overview
|Common Name(s)||Dusty miller plant|
|Scientific Name||Jacobaea maritima|
|Height||Up to 3 feet|
|Soil||Well drained with compost|
|Fertilizer||General every 2-4 weeks|
|Propagation||Seeds or stems|
The dusty miller plant hails from many different places, mostly rocky coasts and cliffs. You'll find these wooly-looking plants in far west Asia, northwest Africa, and southern Europe.
It is most often paired as counterbalance with flowering plants, though they do have yellow blooms of their own. You won't usually see them, as most aficionados of this silvery vegetation will do away with the blossoms to keep the fronds as full as possible. The flowers cost the plant much of its silver.
Types of Dusty Miller Plant
Cirrus – A good choice for ground cover in Zones 8a through 10a, with white, woolly leaves that make for great contrast.
Silver Dust – The leaves are cut a bit more fine than Cirrus, and more silvery in shade. The shape of the fronds may remind you of large snowflakes. Definitely low maintenance and tolerant of drought.
New Look – The fuller individual leaves of this variety make me think of sage. It's a very productive type; the more of it you pick, the more stems you'll get.
Silver Lace – As the name implies, this is one of the more delicate-looking plants of the group. The plant itself is quite compact and rounded, a good choice if you need to know exactly what size it will grow to.
Other varieties include Ramparts, Silver Filigree, and White Diamond.
Dusty Miller Care
Dusty miller plants are so remarkably easy to care for, they almost take care of themselves. Here are a few tips to keep things growing smoothly.
Seeds can be started indoors approximately 10 weeks before the last frost. Dusty Miller seeds are very tiny and germination requires light. The seeds should be sown on top of moist soil and left uncovered. Place the container in an area where the temperatures range from 65 to 75 degrees and where the seeds can receive lots of light. Germination generally occurs within 10 to 15 days.
Make a hole the same size as the container the plant originally resided within and cover the root balls with a light amount of dry soil. To protect the roots, compact the soil with some water and add more soil as needed.
While they can tolerate low or partial light, they definitely love to bask in the sun. Let them have that centerstage spotlight in the sky and they'll sing your praises with better color and more compact growth. If you live somewhere with extremely hot temperatures, a bit of shade won't hurt.
Watering once a week in milder temperatures will be enough. Warmer temps (90s and higher) may require a dousing twice a week.
Well-drained soil is a must to prevent the root rot that might plague the dusty millers. A bit of space between plantings, about nine to 12 inches, will help, too.
This step is a must as most soils are lacking in necessary nutrients for dusty millers. If you use water soluble fertilizer, a routine that includes application every two weeks should suffice. For the slow-release kind, once each growing season is fine.
You aren't likely to need pruning. These plants are usually very specific in size and shape. (Another plus for easy gardening!) If you end up with one that likes to grow a little taller, you can always trim off the tops, leading to fluffier growth.
If you want a prettier, bushier plant, the blooms need to be removed. The flowers will suck nutrients from the plant and usually cause it to be lanky and less bushy. For this reason it's rare to see the plant in full bloom in landscaping or gardens.
You have several choices here: grow from seed, try root division, or stem cuttings. You may find yourself lucky to live in an area where the plant returns on its own every year.
Start seeds 10 weeks before your last expected frost. Sow them on top of moist soil and let the light shine on them. In temps of 65 to 75 degrees, you should see sprouts in 10 to 15 days.
Put cuttings in a moist mixture of peat and perlite, cover with plastic, and set under bright light.
I swear, this plant is resistant to almost anything: deer, fire, drought, shade. If root rot gets them, check that the soil is draining and that there is some space between the plants to allow some air circulation.
Here are a few bugs and fungi that may come from other plants in your garden.
Aphids – If you see the leaves getting wrinkly, curled, stunted in growth, or even abandoning the stems entirely, check for these tiny suckers. A little insecticide should take care of them, though a bunch of hungry lady beetles could help in this department.
Aster yellows – No known cure for this phytoplasma disease that can cause deformities. Get rid of any infected plants ASAP.
Powdery mildew – At least this one is easy to “spot,” since it leaves powdery spots on leaves, usually the lower ones. The above-mentioned aphids are notorious for transmitting this fungal disease. Take care of them if they are present, and use a fungicide for the spots. Want something a little more organic? Try spraying with milk and water at a 1:10 ratio or use potassium bicarbonate.
Goal: To answer common problems and questions about planting, caring for, harvesting, or storing this plant.
Q. Is dusty miller plant an annual or a perennial?
A. Depends on where you live and what type of plant you choose. If you have relatively mild winters, you could very well leave them out all season long and have them spring back to life in the warmer temperatures. Some have even been known to take over gardens if allowed to seed! If you live in one of the zones where they are sold as annuals, expect them to die but watch and see what happens. You may be pleasantly surprised.
Q. Is dusty miller plant an annual or a perennial?
A. (Clearing throat and standing taller) Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Oh, you've heard that one, huh? Well, in this case it's very true. Most gardeners choose this plant for the loveliness and contrast of the fronds, not the flowers. Since the blooms suck the life out of the bush and aren't in any way spectacular, most choose to sacrifice them for the good of the garden. You could always allow a few to flower and harvest the seeds for more plants later.
Well, if you were expecting more crime novel references, I'm sorry to have disappointed you. I hope that the knowledge you've gleaned about this super-easy landscaping favorite known as the “real” dusty miller has excited you enough to give them a try. Pair them with your favorite flowers and wow the neighbors with your yard.
Send me pictures and comments of your flower and dusty miller plant pairings, let me know how they're working for you.
Share this article with your fellow gardeners, perhaps a budding beginner who wants an easy-to-care-for ground-cover delight.
Thank you for reading!