Top Ten Performers: #2 Lisianthus

Pink lisianthus, anise hyssop, pink statice, “Blue” asters and Blue Bedder salvia spikes

I fell in love with lisianthus the first time I saw them! Amazing colors and forms draw the eye, and so very romantic. Many people at quick glance assume they are roses, and they do resemble roses before they fully open (and in some varieties after opening fully!) but without those nasty thorns and diseases, and in colors roses can never achieve! In 2020 I ordered 1 packet of seed (“ABC mix”) to experiment.

The toothpick is pointing to a tiny, tiny new seedling…and it will stay that size for weeks!

Lisianthus has a much justified reputation for being a bit difficult. First of all it takes an exceptionally long growing season (120 or more days after germination) much of which must be indoors in our Zone 5 climate. The seeds are so small (like dust) that they must be pelleted which makes them more expensive, and even at that they are tiny. They need warmth and light to germinate, which make take weeks. When they do germinate, one practically needs a magnifying glass to even see them! Then they need continual care for months. Finally, when they have four true leaves and are about the size of a quarter they can be planted outdoors where they seem to just sit and pout until they finally decide to grow. Then suddenly they shoot up to knee high, and produce such glorious blooms in such luscious colors that you immediately forget how much trouble they were. It’s rather like giving birth to a child!

Rose lisianthus, double feverfew, Bonita blue asters, white hydrangea, Blue Bedder salvia, boneset filler, and airy fairy talinum.

Those first flowers convinced me I needed more….many, many more! If their wonderful appearance isn’t enough to convince you, can you imagine a 10-14 day vase life? Can colors from white to pink and rose, pale yellow to ‘Orange Flash’, deep rose to nearly red, pale lavender to deep, deep purple, unusual shades of reddish brown, or green, or blooms with picotee edges in contrasting colors make your mouth water? Or do highly doubled blooms, some with fringed or ruffled edges ring your bell? And, to top it all off, after a brief rest, given decent care they do it all again in September into October! And, with just a pile of leaves on top, a few trial plants even over-wintered here in Zone 5 and produced blooms the following summer, although the stems were only about 12″ tall they were still nice enough for dinner table bouquet use.

One of the overwintered pink lisianthus in the Cutting Garden. Not as tall but still pretty.

So, in 2021 I seeded “ABC 1 ” on Dec. 10, which germinated Dec. 21st. On Dec. 27th “Voyage Mix,” ” Soiree ”Orange Flash” and “Arena Mix” were seeded. “Arena” germinated in 7 days, “Voyage” in 9 days and “Orange Flash” in 12 days. Actually choosing which varieties to grow is the first challenge. My Geo seed catalog lists 47 different varieties! Within each variety is often a list of colors that are available separately. I chose “ABC1” because I’d had really good luck with it on my first try. “1” also has most of the colors I want (purple, Rose Rim, White, Yellow, Deep Rose, Misty Blue and Green) and the “1” indicates it is the first group to bloom. I was hoping “Orange Flash” would actually be orange, but it was white with a coral/peach edge…still very pretty and combined especially well with a lot of orange and apricot flowers. “Voyage” was selected for its very full blooms with fringed edges, and “Arena” is fully double in some colors I wanted to see (blue picotee, gold, apricot, red, white, green, purple.) As soon as they were germinated they went under lights in a cooler area of the basement. Although they like warmth to germinate, they like cool conditions for growing. Keep an eye on the root systems; up size rather than let the roots circle around the pot or plug. I was surprised that plants the size of a grain of rice often had roots over an inch long already!

Not very impressive, even after being in the ground for over a month, but if you dig down, the root systems are growing like crazy!

They were finally big enough to move into 72 plugs Feb. 7th, where they languished in luxury until April 4th, when they went into a raised bed in the potager under a low tunnel. Lisianthus can tolerate cold pretty well, and they like the well-drained condition of a raised bed. They aren’t heavy feeders, but I will state the ones grown this year in raised beds produced many more blooms per plant than those planted last year in the pitiful soil of the Cutting Garden.

Some “Voyage” lissies, rich, fully double with fringed edges! My favorites!

Because they get tall and have a bouquet of blooms at the top, it is wise to provide some type of support to keep them from falling over, or from the wind blowing them over. I use the wire hoops from the low tunnels needed in spring to make a “fence” along the inside edge of the raised bed, and an additional one or two within the bed if required. This “fence” came in handy at the end of the season when frost threatened. While the plants can withstand a freeze, the blooms cannot and even the buds may be damaged if its too cold. When frost was predicted, I threw a sheet of row cover over the fence to protect those buds, which allowed me to have blooms until November 4th! I probably could have had flowers even longer with another layer or two of protection, but everything else in the gardens was pretty much gone and I was busy planting those 3500 bulbs!

Those short first blooms are still lovely in a low bouquet for the dining table. With white larkspur, sumac leaves, talinum and white annual phlox.

Another good thing I learned is that the first bloom to open on each plant is fully formed and very pretty, but should be harvested as soon as it begins to open, or even as it first forms. The stem will only be 5-6″ long, so it’s not useful for a standard bouquet, but works fine in a low arrangement or boutonniere. If you wait until it fades and drops off, the plant will have already expended LOTS of energy to begin to produce seed. And that triggers to the plant that it doesn’t need to produce more flowers because procreation has already been achieved. If that first bloom is harvested early, many more flowers will be produced. Also, when that main stem with all the flowers is cut, cut it within 4-5″ of the soil line. You may not need a stem that long, but leaving a stalk that’s 12″ or more tall will result in several flowers with weak, short stems rather than another harvest of good flowers with good stems.

This year’s lisianthus crop is already underway. Selections include: The same “Arena” and “Voyage” mixes I grew last year. They were both wonderful. I’m doing ABC 1, and adding ABC 2 and ABC 3. I’m happy with the ABC series, but since I’m growing lots more (crossing fingers!) plants this year I didn’t want them all to bloom at the same time. Seeded at the same time, ABC 1 will bloom first, 2 a week later, and 3 a week later than that. Also ABC 2 has some additional colors than 1 (lavender, Blue Rim, Misty Pink) and 3 only lists purple, rose, and white.

Also new this year are “Gavotte Yellow” because my notes on bouquets for that time period said I needed more soft yellows. “Gavotte” is a 3-4, so it will be interesting to see if it re-blooms too late here. Only time and first freeze date will tell. “Rosita 3” got high marks from other growers. Its double rose-form flowers are slightly smaller but grow in “sprays” that have a lovely look in bouquets and arrangements, and there’s a really wide range of colors. Finally, “Roseanne Brown 1” is a fully double, no pollen shedding bloom in unusual shades of maroonish-brown (much prettier than it sounds!) I’m hoping it will go well with fall colors.

So that’s my Top Ten Pick #2. As long as I am able, I will grow lisianthus for its beauty, durability…and yes, for the challenge. Not everyone can grow it, so every time I do manage to get them to thrive I give myself a little pat on the back! Hope you enjoyed this “tutorial” on lisianthus…at least what works in my region. Pick #3 will be coming soon!


About carolee

A former professional herb and lavender grower, now just growing for joy in my new potager. When I'm not in the garden, I'm in the kitchen, writing, or traveling to great gardens.
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7 Responses to Top Ten Performers: #2 Lisianthus

  1. bcparkison says:

    Oh they are beautiful…but do I dare? HMMM.


  2. Dawn Hubbell says:

    Absolutely beautiful! I have yet to try growing lisies; their long germination times intimidate me a bit. Bravo to you!


    • carolee says:

      It’s not the germination that’s the challenge…it’s keeping them alive after that until they get big enough to plant out! They are just so tiny, and so picky about water…too much, too little and they just disappear!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. jorjagrael says:

    I will have to get those for my cutting garden.


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