Plant Spotlight: Dusty Miller
June 12, 2020
Dusty miller (Senecio cineraria) is recognized for its incredibly bright, silver-white foliage and is sometimes called Silverdust or Ragwort. Making an amazing statement in the annual garden bed or window box, this plant’s yellow flowers are an excellent pollinator attractor as well. Dusty miller is known for its leaf designs, which can be delicate and lacy or quite bold and widely dependent upon the variety of plant. Typically, this charming plant has a mounding habit and is remarkably heat and drought tolerant, with resistance to animal pests. Do not let its delicate look fool you, dusty miller is a tough little plant that can hold up to heavy wind, drought, and the first frosts in autumn relatively well; you can easily find the plants outlasting other annuals and performing into late October or early November in northern gardens and all the way through winter in southern gardens. Best yet, it’s deer and rabbit resistant.
When, Where, and How to Plant
For water saving initiatives in your garden, you can plant dusty miller in xeric gardens with similarly drought-resistant plants. Dusty miller prefers full sun, and while it will survive nicely in a drought tolerant garden, it will also grow quite well mixed with grasses, perennials, or other annuals within a traditional garden bed that has soil amended with plenty of organic matter. Germinating from seed is easy. Do not cover seeds heavily with soil as the seeds are small and need light to germinate. Damping off can happen if the soil is kept too moist.
While dusty miller is known as an annual, I have seen the plant come back year after year. Simply cut off the plant at the ground level after it crumbles down from cold weather. Be patient in the spring as it is slow to start, but plants often return by June. Feel free to cut plants back without harm if they crowd their neighbors. Root rot is a complication often seen with this plant, but mostly because it loves dry conditions and can easily be overwatered. Let the soil dry out between watering. Pests are rare, but if you see insects on the leaves, simply spray with a soapy water mix.
When building an all-white themed garden bed, dusty miller helps by adding a striking white leaf tone in the mix. Excellent as a border edging, dusty miller looks fantastic in front of grasses and boldly colored annual flowers such as zinnias, celosia, and geranium. It is lovely planted in a mailbox garden where watering access might be limited. Dusty miller looks good when planted as an edger for a night garden because its silver foliage is easily seen in low light.
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