A few years ago I found a new plant growing in the back of my butterfly garden. It was about three feet tall and had red blooms. Butterflies, hummingbirds and pollinators seemed to love the plant so I left it alone. The next year it came up again and a visitor identified it as Jupiter's Beard. I have no idea how it got this odd name.
This year, to encourage the blooming, I have been deadheading the blooms before they go to seed. This practice also keeps the plant from taking over my yard; it can be invasive. Although I have not done so, I read that you can cut the plant back by a third in midsummer. The pruning will spark a burst of energy, and the plant will continue to bloom until the weather turns cold. After I deadhead it, the plant does seem to send up new flowers almost immediately.
Jupiter's Beard (Centranthus ruber) is sometimes called red valerian. It is drought tolerant and does not like wet roots so it needs to be planted on well-draining soil. Some varieties have pink, white or (rare) blue flowers but the red-blooming variety is the most common. And the plant seems to never stop blooming.
Jupiter's Beard is a perennial plant native to the Mediterranean areas of Europe and Asia. In my yard, the clumps seem to get larger each year. Sometimes the center stems die out but you can easily remove those dead branches and compost them.
I've read that the plant can be easily propagated from cuttings and I intend to try that. If it doesn't work, I know the seeds will sprout wherever they land. Another nice feature is that the plant blooms the first year it grows. Some perennials take a few years to flower.
During the recent horrible heat wave, the Jupiter's Beard seemed to fare well. Blooms died back, but the plant itself kept growing. Several plants in my yard, including those that get regular water, got burned. All the moisture was sucked out of the leaves. I noticed damage to my old maples and a very old camellia. The soil must be very dry for this to happen.
If you decide to grow Juniper's Beard, I suggest you just buy some seed and scatter it where you want the plant to grow. Dig the seeds in a bit so they won't be eaten by birds or scattered by wind. Sometimes I lay newspaper on top of seeds and water enough to keep the paper moist. With this protection, the seeds germinate well.
But if you want to be more precise, you can start Jupiter's Beard seeds in a sterile seedling mix. Put the mix in a grow pan, moisten well and then spread the seeds in the pan. Press them into the soil and keep the soil moist. Start the seeds six to eight weeks before the usual last frost and then transplant the seedlings after that date. Water well as they settle in to their new home.
Library Talk: UC Master Gardeners will host a talk on “Danger and Romance in Your Garden” via Zoom on Thursday, October 6, from 7 pm to 8 pm. Many favorite landscape plants are also poisonous. Learn about these dangerous beauties at this free talk. Register to receive the Zoom link.
Food Growing Forum: Join UC Master Gardeners of Napa County for a free forum on “Cover Crops in Depth” on Sunday, October 9, from 3 pm to 4 pm, via Zoom. Register to receive the Zoom link: https://napamg.ucanr.edu/?calendar=yes&g=9191.
Guided Tree Walk: UC Master Gardeners of Napa County will host a guided tree walk at Napa's Fuller Park on Tuesday, October 11, from 10 am to noon. Meet at the corner of Oak Street and Jefferson Street. Space is limited to 12 guests. You must pre-register and each guest must register separately.
Las Flores Learning Garden: Join Napa County Master Gardeners for a workshop on “Fall Garden Cleanup: Pruning and Planning for Winter in Your Garden,” on Saturday, October 29, from 11 am to 1 pm, at Las Flores Community Center, 4300 Linda Vista Avenue, Napa. Dress for gardening and be prepared to join in hands-on learning opportunities. Space is limited. REGISTER HERE.