According to GRIN Taxonomy (Government Resources Information Network) and The Plant List (a collaboration between the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and Missouri Botanical Garden), Gaura lindeheimeri and Gaura oenethera are synonyms. Consequently either scientific name could be used with confidence. This member of the Onagraceae family is native to Texas and Louisiana, but it is hardy in USDA Zones 5-9.
We gardeners appreciate gaura because it flowers from spring until frost. Every morning during summer, pinkish buds open to expose white flowers along tall, wiry stems that wave in the breeze or dip and dive with the weight of bumblebees as they gather pollen or nectar from the flowers. By the following morning, these flowers will be spent and another group will open a bit farther up the stem. Eventually, all the buds open and the long stems are naked except for a few seeds that develop following the flowers.
Plant gaura in full sun to partial shade in well drained soil. If soil is very poor or needs more porosity, a bit of peat moss, cow manure, or other organic matter will be beneficial. Don’t overdo the soil amendments, however, because plants will tend to flop and become leggy if soil is too rich.
Gaura has a deep tap root that helps it survive adverse conditions. Once established, the plants can take almost anything that the climate dishes out except for water-logged soil. Once plants are established, irrigation is not necessary except during extreme droughts.
When flower stems bloom all the way out to the end and nothing but naked stems remain, cut them back to the foliage and a bit beyond. Plants will respond by putting on new growth and a new crop of flowers. Some of the plants may self seed, but do not expect the cultivars to come true from seed. Some of the hybrids, such as those in the Ballerina™ series, do not produce viable seed.
The heat and humidity of the South have no adverse effects on gaura. Plant it almost any place, including rocky ledges, near stonework or bricks, or in the most exposed spots in the landscape. The salt and wind of locations near bodies of salt water do little to deter the indomitable plant from blooming and being an attractive addition to the garden. In strong winds the wiry stems to bend and wave but the foliage that hugs the ground suffers no damage.
Few insects or diseases damage gaura. Sometimes, though, aphids line up on the slender stems. Wash the aphids off with a strong jet of water or treat them with insecticidal soap. Root rot may occur if soil is not well drained.
Cultivar Options
Several cultivars of gaura are available. Look for the Walberton’s® Fountain series available in white and soft pink. The Ballerina™ series is very compact, topping out at 12-18 inches tall in colors of white, blush, and rose. Proven Winners offers the 10-24 inch tall Gaura Karalee® ‘Petite Pink’ sporting deep maroon foliage. ‘Siskiyou Pink’, ‘Corrie’s Gold’ with variegated foliage, the Belleza series, the Butterflies series, ‘Dauphine’ reaching an amazing 5-7 feet tall, and several others offer many choices.
With all these choices and such a wide range of hardiness, a gaura can surely be found for almost every garden. Choose a cultivar that fits in your garden, and then sit back and enjoy a summer-long show year after year.
Images courtesy of PlantFiles