Flop! (in the name of love)
There is an article in the April issue of Fine Gardening entitled “Big Blooms That Don’t Flop”. Actually on the cover it says “36 Big Blooms That Don’t Flop”, but the article only lists eight plants. The editors at Fine Gardening shouldn’t feel bad about this mistake, I’ve done the same thing several times. You start writing a post about the top 1o flowers for compacted soil in total darkness and as you write you realize there are no flowers that grow in compacted soil in total darkness, but by then you’ve already written the post title and you forget to go back and change it.
Anyhow, I am keenly interested in the subject of flopping plants. On the one hand, I like plants that are very tall and plants with big blooms (or masses of smaller blooms). These plants tend to flop, or at least lean at an acute angle. And when I see plants flopping or leaning, I have an uncontrollable desire to get them to straighten up. This is one area where my generally informal, relaxed style of gardening is not so relaxed.
As a result, I spend a lot of time staking, propping up, and cutting back. There is an arsenal of stakes and hoops – up to and including 10′ lengths of rebar – hanging out in my garage right at this moment, which will be deployed as the season progresses.
In my experience, almost all big plants flop, and I have just accepted this as a fact of life. Naturally, the tendency to flop varies with conditions. I get a lot more flopping because the soil in my front garden is fertile with an a very high organic matter content. This makes plants accustomed to a leaner soil particularly prone to flopping.
You can try more compact cultivars but often these will still need staking. For example, the straight species swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) grows to about 5′ in my garden and needs staking. The cultivar ‘Ice Ballet’ grows to 3-4′, and also needs staking, though it can make do with a shorter stake.
To some degree you can control flopping by cutting back, and as I mentioned this is something that I do. However, to really keep plants upright over the long haul you often have to cut back more than once, and I am reluctant to do this as it can delay blooming more than I would like.
There are very few medium to tall perennial plants in my garden that are consistent non-floppers. There are the daylilies (Hemerocallis), such as the cultivar ‘Eye-yi-yi’. And there is ‘Northwind’ switchgrass (Panicum virgatum).
I have little to no experience with the non-floppers listed in the Fine Gardening article. These are goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus), ‘Cleopatra’ foxtail lily (Eremerus x isabellinus), ‘African Queen’ trumpet lily, ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ bugbane (Actaea simplex), ‘Turkenlouis’ oriental poppy (Papaver orientale), ‘Arizona Sun’ blanket flower (Gaillardia), ‘Luna White’ Hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos), and sedum ‘Beach Party’.
The only one of these I have grown is bugbane (though I think a different cultivar). Unfortunately I put it where it did not get enough moisture and it died during a dry summer. As to these others, there are several I’d be interested in trying out if the opportunity arose. Also, my neighbor has goatsbeard and it is indeed a handsome plant of upright character.
Do you have a permissive attitude towards flopping plants? Are there any in particular that you admire for flop-resistance?