For a truly fabulous flower bed you can’t just think of the flowers. Foliage is also key. The right foliage provides a lush backdrop to help show your blooms off to the fullest. One of the best plants for interesting foliage is Dusty Miller. Its attractive silver dust colored leaves provide a good contrast to more colorful flowers you may have growing in the same space. A versatile specimen, the plant also works well in Moon gardens or neutral color schemes.
An old fashioned, tender perennial, reaching between 6 and 18 inches in height, Dusty Miller (Jacobaea maritima), also known as silver dust or silver ragwort, is native to the Mediterranean. While the plants are primarily grown for their attractive silver foliage, in the summer yellow flowers also appear. These attractive blooms can last well into the fall in certain climates.
A great no fuss, low maintenance landscape plant that is both drought tolerant and largely pest resistant, if you want to add Dusty Miller to your garden, this is your complete growing guide.
The attractive foliage and yellow flowers of the silver ragwort plant.
Different Dusty Miller Varieties
There are a number of different silver ragwort varieties currently available. The vast majority of these share similar growth habits and needs. The difference between them largely comes in the shape and appearance of their foliage. Some varieties can produce slightly lobed dissected leaves while others are fine and lacy. Take the time to find a variety that appeals to you.
Dusty Miller plants can be found in most garden centers. When selecting your plant, try to choose the healthiest possible specimes. Don’t be afraid to inspect the foliage for any signs of disease or infestation. If you want a slightly more unusual variety you may need to go to a specialist plant nursery or online plant store.
Popular Dusty Miller plants include:
- Silver Lace, grown for its fine lace-like foliage, this variety plant is hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8. Mature specimens have a spread of 7 inches in height and 8 inches in width.
- Cirrus has distinctive broad leaves with scalloped edges. One of the largest Dusty Miller varieties, it can grow up to 1 ft tall and spread over 2 ft. Cirrus is hardy in USDA Zones 7 to 9.
- Silver Dust has finer leaves than Cirrus. It is also a smaller cultivar, reaching a height and spread of around 10 inches. SIlver Dust is hardy in zones 6 to 10.
- SIlver Filigree, also known as Silver Cascade, is a good choice for both landscaping and container gardens. A small but spreading variety, Silver Filigree achieves a height of 4 to 8 inches and a spread of up to 14 inches. Silver Filigree is hardy in zones 5 to 10.
- New Look is both a reliable and productive specimen. Hardy in USDA Zones 8 to 10, the plant has a maximum height of 12 to 18 inch and a typical spread of around 12 inches.
Each variety of the silver ragwort plant has its own distinct foliage.
Mugwort of Dusty Miller?
Mugwort (Artemisia spp.) is often confused for Dusty Miller. Both plants share physical similarities, including silver leaves and dissected foliage.
Mugwort is slightly more robust than Dusty Miller, it is hardy down to USDA Zone 4. It also has a mounding growth habit. This is in contrast to the more upright growth of Dusty MIller. Finally, Mugwort has a better drought tolerance Dusty Miller meaning that it is a better choice for rock gardens.
Where to Grow Dusty Miller
Dusty Miller grows best in a light, well draining soil. A pH of 5.5 to 6.0 is ideal. Use a soil test kit before planting to assess your soil and make any necessary amendments.
Plant in a full sun position. Access to lots of light encourages Dusty Miller plants to stay compact. If planted in too shady a position these plants have a tendency to become leggy. Access to lots of light also helps the plants to keep their distinctive silver colored foliage. The foliage of plants in shady positions tend to produce fewer hairs.It is these hairs that give the plants their eye-catching silver shade.
Planting in too shady a position can cause the leaves to lose their distinctive silver color.
If you are unsure where to plant your Dusty Miller specimen remember that these plants originate in the Mediterranean. This means that they love hot and sunny climates. Trying to replicate these native growing conditions as closely as possible helps the plants to thrive.
There is no need to worry about humidity levels as long as you plant in full sun and correctly space the specimens out.
How to Plant
Harden off your transplants before planting. During this time work in any necessary soil amendments, such as compost.
When you are ready to plant, make a hole in the soil. This should be both wide and deep enough to hold your plant while it is still in its container. When placed in the hole the top of the root system should sit level with the soil.
Carefully remove the plant from its container and position in the center of the hole. Backfill the hole, being careful not to sink the plant too much as you do so. Lightly firm down the soil and mulch around the plant. A layer of mulch prevents soil from splashing onto the leaves when watering your plants. This helps to keep the foliage clean and silvery. Water well.
If you are planting more than one Dusty Miller specimen, space them at least 8 inches apart. Larger specimens require more space between them. Consult the plant information label for exact spacings.
Planting in Containers
Dusty Miller is a good choice for pots, window boxes or hanging baskets. Planted in combination with petunias, million bells, pentas, salvias and zinnias it helps to create a colorful and long lasting display.
Make sure that your chosen container has lots of drainage holes. Fill with a well draining potting soil. A handful of peat moss can also be used to slightly raise the acidity levels of the soil if necessary. Plant as described above.
After planting, place your pots in a full sun position. Repot when roots start to emerge from the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot.
Remember that plants growing in containers require more water than those growing in the ground. During the summer you may need to water your Dusty Miller plant every day. A self watering pot can reduce how often you need to water your plants.
How to Care for Dusty Miller
As we have already noted, these are low maintenance plants. Keep the soil around the plants neat and weed free, a layer of mulch helps with this, and with a little regular care they are unlikely to pose you any serious problems.
Once established in a favorable position this is a low maintenance plant.
Once established Dusty Miller is a drought resistant specimen. Plants are established when new growth is visible.
During the initial period after transplanting, try to keep the soil evenly moist. When new growth begins to develop, reduce the amount of water you give to one inch a week.
Don’t overwater silver ragwort. The plant struggles in soggy conditions. During wet weather there is no need to water.
If planted in good soil Dusty Miller rarely requires any extra fertilizer. In early spring, sprinkle 2 to 3 teaspoons of dry, general purpose fertilizer around the plant for an extra boost. Water the fertilizer in well to ensure an even distribution in the soil. This also helps to prevent scorching.
In poor soil, apply a regular dose of general purpose plant food. At the same time work organic matter such as leaf mold or well rotted manure into the soil. This improves the soil and also benefits your plants..
When planted in a favorable position there is no need to prune Dusty Miller. In shady positions the plants can become leggy. If this occurs, prune the plant back. You will also need to prune your plant to help it keep its shape and prevent it overgrowing its space.
Pruning is best done in mid summer. To prune your plant, use sharp, clean pruners or garden scissors. Prune the stems just above a leaf or leaf node. Don’t worry about cutting back the plant too much, these are resilient specimens that quickly grow back.
You can also pinch out new growth to encourage a bushy growth habit. Pinch about half an inch from new tips. This encourages new stems to emerge from that point.
Flowering from the second year onwards, some growers disregard the flowers, believing that they hold little ornamental interest. If you agree with this viewpoint, simply prune the flowers away as they develop. Alternatively leave the flowers in place for an extra splash of color. If you don’t want the plants to self seed, remove the flowers as they fade and before the seed heads can form.
How to Overwinter Dusty Miller
These are surprisingly cold tolerant plants. Some varieties can survive in temperatures colder than their recommended planting zone.
To help plants survive the winter, gradually start to reduce the amount of water you give from late summer onwards. In the fall prune the plants down to just above ground level with a sharp pair of garden scissors.
Mulch with a light covering of straw or pine needles. A horticultural fleece such as the Agfabric Plant Cover can also be used. Remember to uncover the plants in the spring, as temperatures start to rise.
Plants growing in pots can be simply moved inside in the fall.
How to Propagate Dusty Miller
You can propagate new plants either from cuttings or from seed.
If you want to propagate the seeds, allow the flowers to remain in place.
Cuttings are best taken in the spring when your plants are producing lots of new growth. Cut away a 6 inch section of healthy stem. To reduce moisture loss, cut away the leaves from the lower half of the cutting.
Plant the cutting in a small pot filled with moist potting soil. To boost the cuttings chances of succeeding you can dip the cut end in rooting hormone before planting.
Place the cutting in a warm, indirect light position. Continue to regularly moisten the soil until new growth or foliage is visible.
Grow the cutting on undercover on a sunny windowsill or in a greenhouse, until it is large enough to transplant. Remember to harden your cuttings off before transplanting.
Growing from Seed
To grow from seed you will need to allow the yellow flowers to remain on the plant. During the summer identify the healthiest specimens. These are the best plants to take cuttings or seeds from. As flowers fade seed heads form.
When you notice seed heads starting to develop, cease watering the plants. The idea is for the seeds to dry out completely on the plant.
Once they are fully dry, you can cut the seed heads from the plant. Shake the seed heads out in a paper bag, they should easily come loose. If the seeds prove difficult to remove you may need to open the pods by hand.
Store the seeds in a paper envelope in a cool, dry place until you are ready to use them.
Sow the seeds undercover around 6 weeks before the last predicted frost date. Sow in small pots or trays filled with a sterile potting mix. Before sowing, moisten the soil. Scatter the seeds across the soil surface as thinly as possible.
Cover the seeds with a light layer of potting mix.
For germination to occur the temperature around the seeds should average 70 ℉. Some propagators, such as these Seed Starter Trays, come with fitted lids. This enables you to better control the temperature and humidity levels around your developing seedlings.
Moisten the soil with a fine spray from a Plant Mister if it shows signs of drying out. Germination typically occurs within 10 to 20 days.
After the seedlings germinate, continue to grow them on undercover until they are large enough to transplant.
Common Dusty Miller Problems
Dusty Miller is a surprisingly problem free plant. This is especially true if it is planted in a favorable position and correctly cared for.
While the leaves are deer resistant, you will need to protect them from slugs and snails. This article has a range of useful and effective methods to keep slugs away from your plants.
Aphids can also target the foliage. While a few pests can be washed away with a blast from the hose, larger infestations should be treated with a neem oil solution.
Powdery mildew can also develop if the weather in certain conditions. Healthy plants can easily withstand a mild case of powdery mildew. Affected foliage can also be cut away. Alternatively, wash the leaves, cleaning away the spores. This is best done in the early morning because it gives the leaves lots of time to dry before the cool, evening temperatures arrive.
Dusty Miller is a good companion for a number of more colorful flowers.
A good companion plant for purple or blue flowers as well as red and orange blooms Dusty Miller works in a range of planting schemes, from large floral cottage gardens to simple, monotone schemes. The plants can also look effective if planted alongside ornamental grasses or as a background plant for low growing creeping annuals such as wave petunias. These versatile plants can also be used in xeric gardens, as long as they are planted well away from the water source.
With such versatility it is little wonder that the low maintenance, easy going Dusty Miller is an increasingly popular choice for the flower garden.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.