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Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Tuesday - April 23, 2013

From: Lewisville, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Planting, Pruning, Soils, Herbs/Forbs
Title: Problems with Blackfoot Daisy from Lewisville, TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I planted a row of Melampodium leucanthum (Blackfoot Daisy) last spring at the front of the front yard, next to the sidewalk. It's full sun, east facing, unamended black clay gumbo soil. I put mulch down around them, watered them until they got established, then only watered the section as needed (It's a bed full of drought-tolerant plants that blooms well without much extra water). They seemed to thrive, the estimated 1-2' diameter turned out to be closer to 3'. I thought they were happy. Then after a couple of freezes in December/January, dead patches showed up. When I went to trim them back, I found that it was the inner sections of the branches that were "dead" while there was still green leaves and flowers at the ends. I think the area drains well, it's at the bottom of a small slope, with the house at the top of the slope. The other plants in that section are a Cenizo, salvia greggii, Lady in Red salvia, Mystic Spires salvia, and two different lantanas. It's not a section of yard that I've ever had a problem with retaining water. I chose the Blackfoot Daisies because they were supposed to be drought tolerant, native, and perennial; and looked like they'd be happy where I wanted to plant them. Was I correct? What do I do about the "dead" sections? The leaves are definitely dead but evidently the branch isn't. But, it's not in a spot where I can really leave them as is. Thanks for your help!

ANSWER:

Here is a previous Mr. Smarty Plants answer on some of the things that could cause problems in Melampodium leucanthum (Blackfoot daisy) (as well as another plant). We don't know that any of them apply, but you could at least compare the description of what the plant requires with the conditions in your garden and see if any of the problems apply to your situation.

Beyond that, our first suspicion is your soil type. From this USDA Plant Profile Map, we learned that the Blackfoot Daisy is not even native to Denton County. If you follow the plant link in the first paragraph to our webpage on this plant, you will see these growing conditions:

"Growing Conditions

Water Use: Low
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry
Soil pH: Acidic (pH<6.8)
Soil Description: Dry, rocky, calcareous soils. Rocky, Gravelly Sandy, Limestone-based, Caliche type
Conditions Comments: Blackfoot daisy is a sturdy, mounding plant, that will flourish in rock gardens. It is heat and drought tolerant. Good drainage is essential to its success. In late winter, older plants can be cut back halfway to keep them compact. Rich soil and abundant water will likely produce many more flowers in the short-term, but may consequently shorten the lifespan."

None of the soil description sounds like black clay gumbo, does it? This is often referred to as a desert plant and it really does not tolerate water on its roots. Clay soils are very fine particles which catch and hold water, swelling to exclude air, thus trapping roots in more moisture than they like. Also, notice that blackfoot daisy likes part shade (2 to 6 hours of sun a day) as well as full sun (6 hours or more of sun a day.)

Initially planting of the Melampodium leucanthum (Blackfoot daisy) in soil that had been amended with some decomposed granite, sand or even compost would have helped alleviate the effects of the clay. Usually we recommend that perennials be trimmed back in late winter, anyway, so we suggest you trim back all the suspect foliage and give it a chance to start over. We don't think the frosts materially hurt it because you are in USDA Hardiness Zone 8a, and the Blackfoot Daisy can tolerate temperatures lower than that. Spreading a little compost in the area could help because it will decompose down into the soil and help to break up that clay.

 

From the Image Gallery


Blackfoot daisy
Melampodium leucanthum

Blackfoot daisy
Melampodium leucanthum

Blackfoot daisy
Melampodium leucanthum

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