Gaura lindheimeri ‘Whirling Butterflies’

Can these be planted out now or would it be better to wait for the spring? Thank you.



It really depends on what growing conditions you have in your garden. These are borderline hardy, so while they would be fine to plant now in a sheltered garden with freely draining soil, it might be riskier in an exposed garden with soil that remains heavy or wet for any length of time in winter.



Could you please explain why you describe a plant as being fully hardy but then in brackets borderline? Surely a plant is half hardy, hardy or fully hardy? You could say fully hardy to -10c for example. I often find myself liking a plant but then deciding not to buy as it’s fully hardy (borderline).



Thanks for your feedback. I’m afraid though that when it comes to hardiness levels it is a bit of a sliding scale. We have considered using temperatures, however this can be misleading. That’s because while many plants will cope with low temperatures if the soil is freely draining, they will not tolerate the same low temperatures in soils that are heavy and wet – or if they are growing in an exposed position.



I’ve just bought 3 Gaura Lindheimeri plants from you. I can’t find any instructions on how far apart they should be planted.



These plants have an eventual spread of around 90cm, however the planting distance will vary depending on the effect you are trying to create – and how long you are prepared to wait!



Butterfly Gardening – Using Butterfly Garden Plants

By Stan V. Griep
American Rose Society Consulting Master Rosarian – Rocky Mountain District

The list of welcome garden visitors includes not only our friends, family members and “furry” friends (our dogs, cats and maybe even a rabbit or two) but also ladybugs, praying mantis, dragonflies, bees and butterflies to name a few. But one of my favorite garden guests is the butterfly. Let’s look at plants that attract butterflies so that you can welcome these flying beauties.

Starting Butterfly Gardening

If you like to see the butterflies gracefully dancing about your smiling blooms like I do, planting some flowering plants that help attract them is a great thing to do. Perhaps create a bed with butterfly garden plants as it will not only attract the butterflies but other wonderful garden visitors such as the delightful hummingbirds.

Butterflies gracefully dancing about the blooms in my rose beds and wildflower garden are truly a highlight to my morning garden walks. When our Linden tree blooms, it not only fills the air all around it with a wonderful and intoxicating fragrance, it attracts the butterflies and bees. Planting flowers that attract butterflies is all you need to do to start butterfly gardening.

List of Butterfly Garden Plants

The beauty and grace that butterflies bring to one’s garden are far greater than any garden ornament that you could ever purchase. So let’s take a look at some flowering plants for butterfly gardens that attract butterflies. Here is a listing of some plants that attract butterflies:

Flowers That Attract Butterflies

  • Achillea, Yarrow
  • Asclepias tuberosa, Butterfly Milkweed
  • Gaillardia grandiflora, Blanket Flower
  • Alcea rosea, Hollyhock
  • Helianthus, Sunflower
  • Chrysanthemum maximum, Shasta Daisy
  • Lobularia maritima, Sweet Alyssum
  • Aster, Aster
  • Rudbeckia hirta, Black-eyed Susan or
    Gloriosa Daisy
  • Coreopsis, Coreopsis
  • Cosmos, Cosmos
  • Dianthus, Dianthus
  • Echinacea purpurea, Purple Coneflower
  • Rosa, Roses
  • Verbena bonariensis, Verbena
  • Tagetes, Marigold
  • Zinnis elegans, Zinna
  • Phlox, Phlox

This is just a partial listing of some of the flowering plants that attract butterflies to our gardens, and they not only attract these beautiful, graceful visitors but add colorful beauty to our gardens as well. Further research on your part will help you to zero in on exactly what types of plants attract specific types of butterflies and other wonderful garden visitors to your gardens. This type of butterfly gardening has many levels of enjoyment to it; I am speaking from a point of personal experience. Enjoy your gardens!

A perennial tough as nails yet as delicate as sprigs of baby’s breath is always a winner in the West. In the furnace of the California desert, Gaura lindheimeri has proven its mettle against staggering conditions. During the high heat of midsummer that exceeded 110-plus degrees Fahrenheit this year, they never pause new bloom production. Their fine stems continue to nod and sway with the desert wind, unlike so many others that are easily broken and battered. Above all, they become a billowy mass of small, feminine flowers that resembling a flock of whirling butterflies.

This little known perennial species originates in east Texas, where it’s adapted to extended drought and lean soils. Gaura is a true wildflower in its home range, where early residents seeded them into gardens. It became a common sight to find white blossoms shining in the yard during the worst weather imaginable.

Yet Gaura didn’t come into widespread cultivation until the 1990s when the first hybrid, Siskiyou Pink, was introduced to California garden centers. This added a vivid red tinge to the foliage and clear bright pink blossoms. Although very popular at first, it didn’t take off like it should due to return of adequate rain years when nobody worried about water. Then the inevitable drought struck, and suddenly everyone is discovering what a great perennial this is for dry gardens.

It’s the openness of the large plant that gives it such incredible value in the landscape. Consider Gaura similar to ornamental grasses in character and density, but with great floral color. Use it the same way as grasses to fill gaps or spice up neglected hot spots.

Its long blooming season means this may be the only flower blooming during the dog days. For that reason, spread them around the landscape to ensure you have lots of interest in this difficult time. They’ll bloom till frost in most locations.

Gaura is a perfect companion for cactus and succulents. Succulents are rigid and visually static for the most part, so little animation occurs where they grow. Spot in a few Gaura for its whirling butterflies and you have a livelier scenario. Due to the transparent nature of the upper flower stems, you get glimpses of succulents through them in the garden for wonderful surprises.

In dry areas where so many plants were lost to drought, Gaura is a replacement you can count on to look great all season. It’s a true chameleon for achieving that abundant English cottage garden look with little water. However, beware of too much water as it’s their Achilles heel, so group only with drought lovers. Slopes or well drained soils are a must.

At the end of the growing season or early winter, Texans cut back their Gaura the same way we cut back dormant ornamental grasses. This forces all new growth the following season for maximized vigor and bloom. Failure to do so makes the next year’s plant become floppy with too much new growth on top of the old.

When buying Gaura, remember the tap root. Start off with a quart-sized pot so you’ll get a healthy tap root. Older plants from nursery stock may have a distorted tap root from encountering the bottom of the pot. While larger plants do fine under increased irrigation, this shortens their life span. Where water is limited, those youngsters with the tap root will out-perform them in the long run, naturally. Starting with young plants is essential in very dry locations where extreme drought tolerance is required.

Like so many native wildflowers throughout the West, Gaura is the most reliable under variable conditions. It is a perfect match for fall planting with California natives and most Mediterranean garden favorites. Above all it is the beauty of light and movement that transforms spaces around them with whirling butterflies, that never seem to land no matter how still the day.


Maureen Gilmer is an author, horticulturist and landscape designer. Learn more at

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Gaura lindheimeri is an airy addition to the garden.

Gaura was a genus of about 20 species in the evening primrose family (Onagraceae), but as a common name generally refers to Gaura lindheimeri. (Taxonomic research in the early 2000’s moved this and other Gaura species into the genus Oenothera, so the plant becomes Oenothera lindheimeri, although that name change has not been adopted in the horticultural industry).

Gaura lindheimeri growing in the wild near Humble, Texas.

This nearly shrubby herbaceous perennial native to southeastern Texas, Louisiana, and Mexico has become more popular as a garden plant with the introduction of more compact cultivars. Other occasionally used common names include appleblossom grass, bee blossom, wand flower, or white gaura. This species is hardy in zones 5-9 and was awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.

The leaves are narrow and lance-shaped.

The plant form is a basal clump of leaves from a woody tap root. The narrow, lance-shaped leaves are entire or faintly and irregularly toothed. Leaves may be wavy and some are spotted with maroon. The foliage varies in color from dark green to burgundy. The foliage dies back to the ground in the winter (except in mild climates where it is evergreen) and growth may be slow to emerge in spring. Although it is a perennial, individual plants may not be long-lived.

Once the dead overwintered stems (L) are removed new foliage emerges (C) to form a basal clump of leaves (R).

Flowers are produced on long, wiry stems.

Gaura starts blooming in early summer, producing long, branched, wiry flower stems that continue to elongate throughout the extended blooming period until hard frost.

An individual flower.

The graceful flower stems grow 3 to 4 feet tall, with clusters of small flowers opening sequentially along the open terminal panicles. Pink buds open to white flowers which slowly fade to pink. Each ½ to 1 inch wide flower has four petals surrounding eight long yellow stamens, with all the petals directed somewhat upwards. Flowers of the species are white or pink tinged, but named cultivars may have more intensely colored petals.

Gaura flowers along the flower spikes (L and C), with buds (top R) opening to 4-petaled flowers (lower R).

Flowers are readily visited by many types of long-tongue bees and bumblebees, and may also attract butterflies.

Many insects visit the flowers, including syrphid flies (L), bees (C) and Japanese beetle (R).

Flowers are followed by angular fruits.

After blooming the flowers drop off, leaving a clean stalk. The fruit is an angular indehiscent nut-like body containing reddish-brown seeds. The fruits start off green, then change to dark greyish-brown when they are mature.

Some cultivars include:

  • Ballerina™ series – very compact hybrids at only 12-18 inches, producing lots of flowers on the well-branched plants that spread up to 3 feet wide. Includes White, Blush, and Rose cultivars.

    Ballerina™ Rose flowers.

    They do not produce viable seed.

  • Belleza – this series has an upright habit, spreading to 2 feet across, with the exception of compact, mounding Compact Light Pink which is only 10-16 inches tall and 16-20 inches wide. The series includes Compact Light Pink, Dark Pink, White Evolution, all of which are listed as zone 6a.
  • ‘Corries Gold’ plant.

    ‘Butterflies’ series– was developed in Australia out of ‘Siskiyou Pink’. Includes ‘Crimson Butterflies’, ‘Blushing Butterflies’, and ‘Sunny Butterflies’.

  • ‘Corrie’s Gold’ – has variegated foliage with a creamy yellow margin on the leaves. It is not as vigorous as other types, growing only 18 inches tall and has white flowers tinged with pink.
  • ‘Dauphine’ – is extra large, growing 5-7 feet tall, with green foliage and white to pink flowers.
  • Gaura ‘Dauphine’ planted with petunias.

    Karalee® Petite Pink (‘Star Pink’) – is a shorter cultivar with deep pink flowers growing only 2 feet tall.

  • ‘Passionate Pink’ – grows to 30 inches tall and 18″ wide, with hot pink flowers. Zone 5a.
  • ‘Passionate Rainbow’ – has pink flowers and dark variegated foliage edged in pink, cream and gold. Zone 7.
  • ‘Pretty in Pink’ – has dark pink flowers.
  • Gaura ‘Siskyou Pink’ and Helichrysum petiolare.

    ‘Siskiyou Pink’ – is a tall variety (2½ -3 feet) with bright pink flowers introduced in 1994 by Siskiyou Rare Plant Nursery in Medford, Oregon. Supposedly does not self-seed.

  • ‘Snowstorm’ – was released by the University of Minnesota in 2007, but is only rated as zone 6.
  • ‘Whirling Butterflies’ – is very heavy-blooming with large white flowers on 2 foot tall plants.

Use shorter gaura cultivars in beds.

The open form of the species is good in cottage gardens, wildflower meadows, and naturalistic plantings, while the dwarf cultivars are more appropriate for sunny beds and borders. With its loose sprays of flowers and airy appearance for a ‘see through’ effect, gaura fills in well between other plants and provides movement as the flowers sway in the breeze, hovering like butterflies. The taller types may be a little too “untidy” looking for very formal gardens, but it generally mixes well with most styles. Its loose form provides

Combine gaura with many types of annuals and perennials.

a nice contrast to tall straight plants and the fine texture contrasts well with large leaved plants. It can be used as a specimen growing above a low groundcover or planted in masses. Compact cultivars make good edging plants.

Pink gaura amid prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis).

Combine gaura in prairie-style plantings with black or brown-eyed Susans, purple coneflower, asters and native grasses, or in beds with ornamental grasses, pink roses, Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) and Verbena bonariensis. Use the smaller cultivars alone or in combinations for upright form in containers.

The airy sprays of gaura mix with the flower heads of Pennisetum grasses.

They combine nicely with silver, purple and blue foliage or flowers. Gaura can be used as a seasonal planting (especially in colder winter regions where it will not overwinter reliably), mixing well with other annuals such as petunias and pentas. It is a good choice for xeriscapes as long as the soil is well-prepared.

The species can get quite large, with the long flower spikes flopping over by the end of the summer.

Grow gaura in full sun. It prefers light soils, but tolerates clay, as long as it is well-drained. Gaura is well adapted to hot summers. Once established it tolerates drought, although adequate moisture will promote better flowering. Water and fertilize sparingly to promote compact growth and more flowers. The flower stems may become leggy and flop if grown in rich soils or too much shade. Plants can be sheared in late spring, removing up to half the height of the plant, to keep plants smaller.

Gaura has few pest problems.

Although deadheading is not necessary, removing some of the flower stems will keep the plant looking more tidy, encourage more blooms and reduce self seeding. If all the flower spikes are cut back at once, it will take 2 to 3 weeks for the plants to start blooming again. Cut back the flower spikes in fall and remove all dead foliage the following spring.

Guara has few insect or disease problems, although Japanese beetles frequent the flowers in my yard and root rot may be an issue in heavy, poorly drained soils.

White-lined sphinx caterpillar on gaura.

Leaf spots, rust and mildews occasionally affect plants. It is not favored by deer. Gaura is one of many host plants of the caterpillars of the white-lined sphinx moth.

The species readily self-sows.

The species and some cultivars are easily propagated by seed sown in spring or fall, and can also be propagated by division in spring (a challenge with the large root) or from basal cuttings taken in summer. Many cultivars are vegetatively propagated only. Plants can bloom the first year from seed if started in early spring. It will also readily self-sow in favorable conditions and may naturalize in some areas.

– Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin – Madison

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