By Eddie Ayers, County Extension Agent
Before the cold turned them brown, I was getting questions about the flowers planted in the road median between Blue Ridge and Ellijay. As it turns out the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) is teaching all of us about an old floral favorite that needs to be brought back to the garden: cosmos. This year they were planted in medians and roadsides all across the state.
If you have ever wondered, “Do those specialty license plates pay off?” The answer is yes, and of course, on display. What is even more exciting is that the future is bright for these types of floral plantings. GDOT is revved up on planting pollinators along the highway system, and this should have everyone doing the happy dance.
But let’s go back to the cosmos. This is not the orange cosmos, instead it is the Cosmos bipinnatus. This cosmos is native to Mexico and is related to coreopsis and rudbeckias. It is the quintessential cottage garden flower and brings in the pollinators. It is so good that the University of Georgia has put them in their promotional seed packs labeled the “Pollinator Blend.” The pack states that pollinators will make a beeline to your garden when you plant this beautiful flower mix.
These cosmos have daisy-like flowers 2 to 4 inches wide in shades of burgundy, pink, lilac and white with orange centers, and they are borne on stems of airy, fern-like foliage for weeks on end during the growing season. As GDOT and UGA would testify, these are easy to grow from seed. In fact, they are so easy to grow from seed, you can sow successive plantings to have blooms the entire growing season, especially if you want to have a bounty of flowers for the vase too. You might get lucky and find nursery plants, but seeds seem to be readily available.
Plant your seeds or nursery-grown transplants into loose, well-drained soil once the soil temperature reaches 60 degrees. Fertility need not be high for this Mexico native. Seeds germinate in five to seven days with blooms, bees and butterflies in eight to 10 weeks. Thin the seedlings or space transplants 12 to 36 inches apart depending on your variety.
Yes, there are varieties like the 1936 All-America Selections Award Winner ‘Sensation’ that tops out in the 4- to 5-foot range. But if you are into the more diminutive cosmos, then you might want to try the 2-foot-tall ‘Sonata,’ which was a Fleuroselect Award Winner. There are plenty of others to try as well.
Although considered an annual, the cosmos gives a perennial-like performance by reseeding, which is perfect for the highway system and your pollinator garden too. These are tough plants, so water sparingly but when you do, water deeply, training those roots to go deep. Your volunteer seedlings may look a little different than what you originally planted when it comes to height, but they will nonetheless be dazzling.
If GDOT can have success with cosmos, you can too. I hope you’ll give them a try next spring.