How to Plant, Grow and Care For Blazing Star Flowers
Blazing star plants are beautiful, easy-to-grow native wildflowers. Blazing star flowers are excellent for attracting pollinators and look great when grown in any perennial wildflower setting, including cottage gardens, butterfly gardens, and even rock gardens. In this article, gardening enthusiast Liessa Bowen will discuss the proper care and maintenance of these spectacular plants.
Blazing star flowers, also known as gayfeather, is native to the eastern United States and can be found in prairies and moist meadows. This plant is a lovely addition to a perennial garden landscape. It thrives in full sun with medium-moisture soil. The flowers are especially attractive to pollinators like hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees.
Also known as Liatris spicata, this wildflower is a member of the aster family. There are dozens of species within the genus Liatris, which can be found throughout North America, from Canada south to Mexico. Several commercially available cultivars offer garden-friendly attributes such as compact growth and extra-showy blossoms.
This upright plant is 2 to 4 feet tall and produces clusters of straight stems lined with thin green leaves. Flowering stalks develop at the terminal ends of mature stems. The flowers are densely packed clusters of purplish, fluffy-looking blossoms, opening from the top down. They bloom from mid to late summer.
This spectacular long-lived wildflower will add some spice to your landscape year after year. Let’s dig into how to plant, grow, and care for your own beautiful blazing star plants.
Blazing Star Plant Overview
Plant Type Herbaceous perennial
Native Area Eastern United States
USDA Hardiness Zone 3 to 8
Sun Exposure Full Sun
Soil Type Rich, Well-drained
Plant Spacing 6 to 12 inches
Suggested Uses Pollinator garden, Cottage garden
Plant With Other Flowering Perennials
Bloom Season Mid to late summer
Flower Color Pink, Purple, White
Attracts Butterflies, Bees, Pollinators
Problems May require staking
Resistant To Drought, Heat, Poor soil
Height 2 to 4 feet
Before settlers inhabited the central and eastern United States, blazing star flowers bloomed throughout the tallgrass prairie. In its natural habitat, this plant grows alongside many native wildflowers and grasses, such as big bluestem, compassplant, milkweeds, and purple coneflower.
The many different Liatris species are specialized for different regions, climates, and moisture tolerances. Liatris spicata is widespread and native to the entire eastern portion of North America, from Canada, throughout the central and eastern United States, and continuing south into Mexico. Other Liatris species have much smaller ranges, with a few even considered rare or endangered.
The more common varieties have become popular garden plants. They are widely grown for their showy flowers and wildlife benefits. Since gaining popularity as a garden plant, several attractive cultivars have been developed and may be commercially available through specialty markets. Cultivars are not necessarily “better” than the native varieties, just different.
Blazing star is a fairly low-maintenance plant and easy to grow. It can be grown from seed but takes a little time to reach maturity, flowering 2 or 3 years after germination. This is a clump-forming perennial, and after a few years, mature plants will form dense clusters of individuals that can be divided and propagated.
These plants grow best in a location with full sun. Soil should be of average quality, medium moisture, and well-drained. Once established, plants will be tolerant of drought. They can even be grown in containers and raised beds if you’re short on space. Avoid overwatering or allowing your plants to sit in poorly drained wet soil because they are prone to root rot if grown in continuously wet conditions.
In the first year, you will see erect leafy stalks lined with thin green leaves. By the second year, a healthy plant will grow larger, develop more leafy stalks, and start to produce flowers. The flowers grow at the top of the mature leafy stems.
In mid to late summer, the flower spikes bloom, beginning at the top and working down to the lowest flowers. The flowers are typically pinkish-purple, although there are also white cultivars, and appear as feathery bursts of color, like mini sparklers, aptly described by the name “blazing star.” After flowering, dense, fuzzy-looking gray seedheads form, adding to the long-lasting ornamental appeal.
This wildflower is relatively easy to propagate. It can be started from seeds or by division of established clusters. You can also find young plants at nurseries that specialize in native wildflowers. Do not dig plants from the wild. Find a reputable grower or share plants with a gardening friend or neighbor.
If you have a gardening friend growing Liatris, ask to collect seeds from their mature plant or buy seeds from a reputable grower. Seeds are not viable for long after collection. If you have fresh seeds, try to use them within a year after gathering or purchasing them. Seeds are small, oblong, slightly ridged, and firm. They are roughly cone-shaped and gray in color.
Before planting your seeds, you will have the greatest chance of success if you stratify them first. This means you treat them to replicate natural conditions to signal the seeds that it’s time to grow. Blazing star needs cold stratification to germinate. Seeds can be stored in the refrigerator for approximately 3 to 4 months before planting. The refrigerator mimics winter, and the seeds will be ready to sprout when re-warmed.
After refrigeration, sow your seeds in soil-filled trays or small pots. Cover seeds with a dusting of fresh soil – do not bury them – and then keep the soil moist and warm until the seeds sprout, about 3 to 6 weeks later. As the seedlings grow, keep them in a warm sunny location and keep the soil moist but not wet. When the seedlings are about 6 inches tall, they can be transplanted into the garden.
If you live in a cold climate, you can also scatter them in your planting area at the beginning of winter, and they will receive a natural stratification, but you will have less control over this process. Keep an eye on the area where you scattered your seeds. Tiny new grasslike plants will emerge in the spring when the weather starts to warm.
You can purchase young Liatris plants or grow your own. Choose healthy and robust seedlings if you buy plants from a nursery or garden center. When the seedlings are ready to plant, you must first prepare your garden plot.
Seedlings should be large enough to handle and should be transplanted into the garden in the spring or fall. For the first few weeks after transplanting, water your seedlings regularly to be sure they don’t completely dry out.
Division of Corms
Blazing star grows from tuber-like corms. They will look a bit like lumpy potatoes, and if they are in an active growth phase, they will have green stems emerging from the top of the corm. A dormant corm will be firm and brown, with very little or no fresh green growth. If you are buying corms, choose those that look firm and healthy. Any soft, mushy, moldy corms should be discarded.
The quickest way to propagate your plant is by division. Larger clusters can be easily divided. Ideally, early spring is the best time to divide and plant corms. Late fall would be the next best option. Try to avoid dividing them during their most active growing phases or while flowering.
All you really need for this process is a cluster of blazing star and a shovel, although I would also recommend wearing gardening gloves. Dig generously around the entire base of your plants that you want to divide. Dig deep enough to lift out a hearty mass of soil and root matter. Shake off some of the soil to look at the hard, brownish corms.
Loosen the soil around the corms and divide them. Each one can produce a new plant, which will, in time, multiply and form more corms. You can re-plant them at the same depth as where you found them. You can cluster them into small groupings or plant them individually, knowing that individuals will continue to multiply.
The first thing you should do before planting Liatris corms or young plants is take some time to prepare the site. Loosen the soil around your planting site to around 6 inches deep. If you need to add any soil amendments, now is the perfect time to mix in some sand to help with drainage or mix in a bit of organic compost to enrich your soil with natural nutrients.
Do not use soil with added fertilizers. Liatris don’t need fertilizer and grow better without it.
When you are ready to plant corms or transplant seedlings, choose a cool, overcast day if you can. This will cause the plant much less stress than planting on a hot, dry, sunny day. Early to mid-spring is ideal for setting out new plants and corms.
Set the corms into the loose soil, about 4 inches deep. Try to set the corms in the proper orientation: the top end may have some green sprouts, and the lower end may appear to have roots extending from it.
If you are planting multiple corms close together, allow 6 to 12 inches of space between corms. Then re-cover the corms with 3 to 4 inches of soil and gently pat the soil back into place.
Water your newly planted corms to get them started, but be careful not to overwater. You won’t need to water continuously after planting as this will encourage rot. Depending on the soil temperature, if you planted dormant corms, it will probably take a couple of weeks before you see any sign of growth above the soil surface.
How to Grow
Thanks to its wildflower nature, this plant mostly fends for itself.
Like most wildflowers, this species grows best in full sun. It will tolerate some light, dappled shade, but shaded plants will not grow or bloom as strongly as those grown in full sun. If you don’t have a full sun location, plant your Liatris in the sunniest spot possible.
Liatris does best with dry to medium-moisture soil. During the active growing months, plants will benefit from about 1 inch of water per week.
Once established, they become quite drought-tolerant and probably won’t need supplemental watering except during extended droughts. Be very careful not to overwater your plants. Liatris corms will rot if grown in wet conditions.
Blazing star isn’t too picky about soil quality. Plants prefer average-quality soil that is very well-drained. Soil should have good organic content but doesn’t need to be overly rich. In fact, extremely fertile soil may cause plants to grow too tall and top-heavy and increase their chances of flopping over.
Climate and Temperature
Liatris can be readily grown in USDA climate zones 3 to 8. You can leave these perennial wildflowers in the ground year-round within these zones.
Plants die back completely after frost, go dormant through the winter, and re-emerge the following spring. They are also quite tolerant of summer heat and humidity. Just be careful about wet soil throughout the winter. Prolonged wet conditions will cause the corms to rot.
One great thing about growing this wildflower is that you will not have to worry about fertilizing it. This plant does well with average-quality, well-drained soil rich in organic matter. This wildflower should thrive without any additional soil nutrients if you have this type of soil. Otherwise, you can amend it with compost.
Blazing star is a low-maintenance plant. It rarely needs additional watering, does not need supplemental fertilizer, and thrives on being left alone. If clusters of plants grow too dense, you can dig and divide the corms every few years and thin them to improve looks and air circulation.
In the fall, you can leave the ornamental seed heads standing on the plant for as long as you want. Seed-eating birds, especially goldfinches, will enjoy eating the seeds. When the birds pick over the seedheads and the plants flop onto the ground or start to look unsightly, you can remove them, making way for fresh spring growth.
Blazing star is a versatile and easy-to-grow plant. You can expect Liatris spicata to reach up to 4 feet tall and bloom during summer. If you are growing a different Liatris cultivar, your plant may be smaller and more compact; it may have a different flower color, but it will still have the same basic form and needs.
Liatris makes an excellent addition to any pollinator garden, bird-friendly garden, or cottage garden. Because of its taller stature, plant it in the center of the garden with other plants of similar or slightly smaller height so you can enjoy the tall flowering spikes, and it won’t block your view of any smaller plants you are trying to grow.
If you want to be creative with your plants, you can add a blazing star plant to a rock garden, where it would make an excellent stand-alone specimen. To maximize your garden color, try grouping several wildflowers with similar bloom times for a mid-season burst of color. For an extra-long season of garden color, you can also place your summer-blooming blazing stars with other plants that bloom in the fall months.
Liatris spicata ‘Kobold’
Liatris spicata ‘Kobold’ is a popular cultivar that stays smaller and more compact, with long intensely-blooming stalks. The pinkish-purple flowers grow very densely along the stalks, like a brightly colored bottle brush! This variety typically grows 2 to 2.5 feet tall.
Liatris spicata ‘Floristan White’
Liatris spicata ‘Floristan White’ is a white-flowered variety. This plant grows 3 to 4 feet tall with pure white flowering spikes. Plant this variety next to the similar-sized but purple-flowering L. spicata for dramatic color contrast.
Liatris spicata ‘Alba’
Liatris spicata ‘Alba’ is another white-flowered variety. This one stays quite compact, reaching only around 18 inches tall. This plant is small enough to be incorporated into borders and edges where it can be fully seen and enjoyed.
There are plenty of excellent companion plants to grow with your blazing stars. Companion plants will grow well together in similar conditions. They can help attract pollinators, add colors, extend the blooming season, or add variety in size, shape, and texture. The following list includes just a few fine examples of companion plants for Liatris.
Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
Blooming concurrently with blazing star, purple coneflower is an excellent companion plant. Like blazing star, purple coneflower has pinkish-purple flowers and attracts an abundance of butterflies, bees, and birds. Grow these wildflowers together in a pollinator garden.
Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)
Great blue lobelia has large-flowered spikes of pale purplish-blue flowers and blooms in mid to late summer. This plant grows up to 3 feet tall and likes medium-moisture soil. Grow lobelia and blazing star together in a native wildflower garden.
Bee Balm (Monarda didyma)
Many bee balm hybrids would be excellent companions for blazing stars. This plant blooms throughout the summer and is a vigorous grower reaching 3 to 4 feet tall.
New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)
New England aster is a fall-blooming aster that can grow to 6 feet tall. Fall-blooming asters can make good companion plants for blazing stars because when the blazing star comes to the end of its bloom cycle, the asters are just getting started, so you will have a prolonged season of beautiful color.
Blue Fescue (Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’)
This ornamental grass provides an attractive long-season foliage appeal. Blue fescue is low growing, reaching only about 12 inches tall, so this grass can be planted in front of the taller blazing star plants and won’t interfere at all with the visibility of your Liatris.
If you want to create any sort of wildlife-friendly garden, including a pollinator garden, bird garden, butterfly garden, hummingbird garden, or simply a native wildflower garden, Liatis is an excellent choice. This plant benefits many beautiful and interesting animals and beneficial insects.
Blazing star is a top-choice plant for pollinators, birds, and wildlife-friendly garden plantings. Butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds are all attracted to the flowers. After blooming, goldfinches and other seed-eating birds enjoy foraging on the seeds. Liatris is the host plant for Liatris flower moths.
Unfortunately, this flower is not deer or rabbit-proof. It may not be a favorite for browsing mammals, but rabbits will nibble at your blazing star plants. You can protect blazing star plants from hungry bunnies by placing a wire mesh tube cage around the base or growing it within a fenced enclosure.
Pests and Diseases
This native plant is relatively free from pests and diseases. Deer typically do not bother these plants, although the deer and occasionally rabbits may nibble on them a bit to taste.
Blazing star also is generally not bothered by insect pests. It can develop some bacterial and fungal diseases, but these are uncommon.
Too much water and consistently wet soil conditions can cause the corms to rot. Once your corms have rotted, there is nothing you can do to save them.
Fortunately, root and corm rot is simple to prevent. Just be sure to grow your plants in well-drained soil and do not overwater them. Avoid heavy clay soils and saturated or boggy soils.
Powdery mildew is a fungal infection. A white or grayish coating on the leaves is a possible sign of powdery mildew.
This can arise from prolonged exposure to humid conditions and poor air circulation. Give your plants adequate sunlight and spacing to improve air circulation to help ward off powdery mildew and other fungal diseases.
This bacterial or fungal condition causes dead spots to appear along any of the leaves. The best way to deal with fungal infections like leaf spot is to try to prevent them from occurring in the first place. Avoid overcrowding and give each plant plenty of room to grow in full sun.
Healthy plants are most resistant to a variety of diseases. If you have plants that are badly infected with a fungal disease, trim and discard heavily infected portions, do not compost them or leave them lying in the garden as this can help spread the disease.
Frequently Asked Questions
My Blazing Star flower stalks are falling over. What can I do about that?
Blazing star develops rather top-heavy flower heads. If, during mid-bloom, your plants are falling over, simply set a thin stake into the ground next to your plant and loosely tie the flowering stalk into an upright position. Plants grown in full sun and average-quality soil with be sturdier than those grown in partial shade or heavily fertilized soil.
How long does it take a Blazing Star to begin blooming?
If you start your plants from seed in the spring, they should start blooming in their second year. If you plant mature corms in the spring, your blazing star may start blooming in the first summer after planting. If you are starting with a nursery-grown young plant, there’s a good chance it will start blooming during the first summer after planting.
Will Blazing Star become invasive in my garden?
Blazing star will grow well and naturalize in ideal conditions. Clusters will expand by creating new corms each year and these flowering plants produce copious numbers of seeds each year. Liatris doesn’t, however, have a reputation for becoming invasive. In natural conditions, most seeds will not sprout and those that do can be easily hand pulled if they are not wanted or needed. Corms can be easily divided every few years, as desired, to reduce the size of the clusters. Liatris is a long-lived wildflower, but is unlikely to become invasive.
The blazing star is a wonderful and versatile plant. It is low-maintenance and easy to grow. The beautiful flowers are eye-catching and loved by humans and a vast assortment of pollinators. If you have a sunny spot in your garden and are looking for a native wildflower to fill the space, any variety of Liatris would be the perfect choice. Grow it with some other native wildflowers for maximum ornamental effect and a long season of colorful blooms and garden beauty.