A splendid plant with stunningly large foliage in a rich burgundy color can really make a splash in the shade. If that isn't enough, ligularia adds in spires of bright golden blooms for contrast. Coming in a range of different heights, ligularia makes a bold statement, even without blooms.
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With giant, coarse-textured leaves, ligularia is a fantastic foliage-heavy plant in shade gardens. The large leaves are often kidney-shaped or, in some cases, loosely triangular and often toothed around the edges. As the leaves emerge, many varieties show off rich burgundy coloration. Depending on the variety, this coloration may stay throughout the season or it may fade to a deep green. Along with the foliage, ligularia has interesting blooms. There are generally two types of blossoms, either tall stalks of numerous small blooms reminiscent of a bottlebrush, or loose stalks of erratic, larger, daisy-like blooms. No matter the form of the flowers, the petals are always a bright golden color that is quite striking against the deep, dark foliage.
Related: Deer-Resistant Shade Plants
Ligularia Care Must-Knows
The most important thing to know about growing ligularia is that it requires constant moisture. In warmer climates especially, ligularia needs supplemental water throughout the summer to prevent it from wilting. When you are looking for a home for ligularia, make sure to plant it in moisture-retentive soils or even alongside water gardens. These plants prefer rich, organic soils—in anything less, they would greatly benefit from an amendment of added compost.
It can be a little tricky siting ligularia for sun exposure. Ideally, plants should be placed in part sun for the best overall growth. It is important to note that, unless they are in constantly damp soils, there is a very good chance that they will wilt almost daily in areas with hot summers. Ligularia can also take full shade (preferably dappled), but much of the burgundy in the foliage will be washed out to a deep green, and blooms will be sparser. Very tall flowering varieties will also likely flop in too much shade, or the blooms may stretch toward the sun. So, depending on what your overall goal is for ligularia, sunlight needs may vary.
Despite their constant need for water, these are truly stunning plants even if grown strictly for the size of their leaves, which add a wonderful counterpoint to the soft, fine foliage of plants like ferns. Other than requiring supplemental watering, ligularia do need much more maintenance. They can be divided in spring as new foliage emerges, but dividing is not necessary for optimum growth.
While there hasn't been any terribly new and exciting developments in the world of ligularia lately, there are some fairly recent introductions to note. There are 150 species in the ligularia family, which makes for great potential for new advancements in the future. Some of the particularly interesting varieties have dissected foliage and others have amazing color-changing leaves. Keep an eye out, as there could be some neat new plants on the horizon.
More Varieties for Ligularia
'Britt Marie Crawford' ligularia
One of the most commonly planted ligularia with great purple coloring and a good display of blooms each year. Reaches 3 feet tall. Zones 4-8
Ligularia Companion Plants
Daylilies are so easy to grow you'll often find them in ditches and fields, escapees from gardens. And yet they look so delicate, producing glorious trumpet-shape blooms in myriad colors. In fact, there are some 50,000 named hybrid cultivars in a range of flower sizes (the minis are very popular), forms, and plant heights. Some are fragrant. The flowers are borne on leafless stems. Although each bloom lasts but a single day, superior cultivars carry numerous buds on each scape so bloom time is long, especially if you deadhead daily. The strappy foliage may be evergreen or deciduous.
Globe thistle is one of the most elegantly colored plants around. It has fantastical large blue balls of steel-blue flowers in midsummer, which would be enough. But making it even more lovely are its large, coarse, grayish-green leaves, which set off the flower beautifully. If you can bear to separate the blooms from the foliage, globe thistle makes a great cut flower, lasting for weeks in the vase. It also dries well. It's bothered by few pests or diseases. If it likes its conditions, it will reseed fairly readily. If you want to prevent this, deadhead flowers shortly after they fade.
The inflated buds of balloon flowers are fun to pop. And they make great cut flowers. Cut them in the bud stage, and sear the base of the stems to prevent the milky sap from seeping out and fouling the water. Most commonly available in blue-violet, balloon flowers also come in pink or white, as well as shorter forms that are better suited for rock gardens and containers. In fall, the foliage of balloon flower turns clear gold, so don't cut the plant down too early—enjoy the show! They tolerate light shade but not wet feet or drought.
Add a pool of sunshine to the garden with a massed planting of black-eyed Susan. From midsummer, these tough native plants bloom their golden heads off in sun or light shade and mix well with other perennials, annuals, and shrubs. Tall varieties look especially appropriate among shrubs, which in turn provide support. Add black-eyed Susans to wildflower meadows or native plant gardens for a naturalized look. Average soil is sufficient for black-eyed Susans, but it should be able to hold moisture fairly well.