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A North American native, gentian bears showy clusters of blossoms at the top of the plant in shades of white, purple, and sometimes nearly blue. The tubular flowers, which resemble large, closed buds, debut in midsummer and continue coloring the garden through autumn. Gentian is pollinated by insects, such as bumblebees, that push their way into those tight buds. In its native environment this wildflower grows well in moist woodland areas near ponds and streams.
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garden plans for Gentian
What to Pair With Gentian
Gentian pairs well with other shade-loving plants that thrive in moist soil. Add it to a shaded rock garden where it will provide both height and color. Plant it alongside astilbe, coral bells (Heuchera 'Americana'), deadnettle (Lamium), hosta, and lady's mantle (Alchemilla mollis) in a traditional shade garden. Native plant partners include lead plant (Amorpha canescens), milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), wild indigo (Baptisia tinctoria), and Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginiana).
Gentian grows best in moist, rich, cool, well-drained soil and part shade. It thrives in planting locations that receive morning sun and afternoon shade. Because this wildflower grows best in cool summer conditions, it often struggles in areas south of Zone 7. When planted in its preferred growing conditions, gentian will spread to form a colony of long-lived plants.
Gentian is tough to start from seed, because germination is erratic at best. You may be better off transplanting potted specimens into your garden. Nursery-grown transplants are sometimes difficult to find, so check with local nurseries that specialize in native plants. Water the transplanted gentian plants regularly for the first growing season to promote a strong, deep root system. Cover the soil around the plants with a 2-inch-thick layer of mulch to prevent soil-moisture loss.