Plants To Give Away: A Look at Some of the All-Time Favorite Pass-Along Plants
By Steve Huddleston
Steve Huddleston is the senior horticulturist at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, co-author of Easy Gardens for North Central Texas, and president of his own landscaping company.
Pass-along plants are plants that we pass along to friends, neighbors and family members. They can be plants of nostalgic significance – plants that we grew up with and that evoke special memories. They are often fragrant. They are easily propagated and given away as bulbs, seeds, cuttings or divisions. In many cases, they are scarce in commerce. Let’s take a look at some of the all-time favorite pass-along plants.
Autumn Sage, Russian Sage and Zexmenia
These three perennials bloom spring through fall and exhibit great drought tolerance. Autumn sage and zexmenia are native to Texas; Russian sage is native to the Himalayas and western China. Autumn sage blooms in colors of red, pink, white and coral, and the flowers attract hummingbirds. All three are easily divided, and autumn sage and zexmenia also reproduce from seeds.
This spring-blooming perennial grows from rhizomes that need to be divided every 3 to 5 years. When you divide iris in September, you will have plenty of rhizomes to give away. Bearded iris grows 18 to 36 inches tall in full or part sun and well-drained soil. They are quite drought tolerant.
This bulb, a Southern favorite, produces strap-like foliage about 2 ½ feet tall. Plant in sun to part shade in well-drained soil with the neck of the bulb 1 to 2 inches above the soil level. The trumpet-shaped flowers appear in May/June and emit a nice fragrance.
This harbinger of spring does best in full sun and in well-drained soil. The two best kinds of daffodils for north central Texas are tazettas and jonquillas. After the foliage dies down naturally, lift and divide bulbs and then share with friends.
Hardy Red Amaryllis
Hippeastrum x johnsonii grows from a bulb that produces strap-like foliage 18 to 24 inches tall. The beautiful, trumpet-shaped red flowers appear in spring. This bulb tolerates heavy clay soil. Divide every 3 to 5 years in the fall, and re-set the bulbs with the neck of the bulb slightly above ground level. When you divide, you will have plenty of new bulbs to give away.
Alcea rosea is about as old-fashioned as you can get. Hollyhocks are the perfect plant for cottage gardens or for the back of a mixed border. Plant in full sun in well-drained soil, and watch them grow 5 to 7 feet tall. Flowers can be single or double; the single-flowering varieties look more old-fashioned and charming. Colors are typically red and pink; double-flowering varieties also come in yellow. Treat hollyhocks as an annual. At the end of the season, collect seeds and give to friends.
Thomas Jefferson grew this vine at Monticello. Talk about a heritage plant! It grows to about 10 feet in full sun in any well-drained soil. The leaves are green on top but purple underneath. The stems and seed pods are purple, too, and the flowers are lavender-pink and attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Giving away the seeds is the perfect way to perpetuate this pass-along plant.
Mealy Blue Sage
Salvia farinacea Henry Duelberg looks like regular mealy blue sage on steroids; it is a very robust plant that blooms and reproduces prolifically. The many seedlings that germinate make perfect pass-along plants. Henry Duelberg gets 3 ½ feet tall, produces spikes of blue flowers April through November and attracts butterflies.
Southern Wood Fern
This herbaceous, perennial fern grows 2 feet tall in full to light shade and performs beautifully in north central Texas. Once established, it even demonstrates considerable drought tolerance. It combines well with the dark green foliage of hollies and yew and looks great with caladiums, fatsia and Turk’s cap. This fern forms clumps that can easily be divided in fall or early spring.
Lycoris radiata blooms in September atop leafless stems. The bright red, spidery-like flowers planted in mass will stop traffic. Plant in large drifts in beds; it’s especially effective coming up through ground cover to add another layer of interest. Foliage emerges in the fall and dies down in spring; right before it does, dig the bulbs for transplanting or for giving away.
Phlox paniculata looks charming in a cottage garden or mixed border. Plant in full sun in soil that has been enriched with organic matter. Plant toward the back of the border since this perennial gets 3 feet tall. Huge heads consisting of phlox-like flowers adorn the plant all summer; the flowers are fragrant, too. John Fanick is a Texas Superstar plant with light pink flowers and maroon centers. Divide this perennial in fall or early spring and give starts to friends and neighbors.
Leucojum aestivum blooms in early spring and naturalizes very well in north central Texas. It grows well in our clay soils, too. The dainty white flowers hang downward and have a green dot at the tip of each petal. Plant in sun to part shade and in large “drifts” as opposed to single rows.
Sweet Autumn Clematis
This native of Japan is a fast-growing vine, easily covering a fence within a season. Plant in full sun in any kind of soil. In late summer/early fall, it will reward you with a bank of ivory blossoms that have a most wonderful fragrance. This vine spreads by runners and seedlings; either can be dug and offered as a pass-along plant.
This herbaceous perennial is native to Texas, grows 3 to 5 feet tall in full sun or shade and attracts hummingbirds to its bright red flowers all season long. Although Turks’ cap grows in full sun, it looks perkier in shade and does very well in shade gardens. New starts come from dividing in the fall or spring or from little seedlings that pop up around the mother plant.
These are just a few of many plants Texas gardeners can pass along to friends, neighbors and relatives. Others include oxblood lily, fall aster, Philippine lily, old-fashioned petunias and daylilies.
If you don’t have some of these plants, get them, and then offer them as pass-along plants to others!