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Get Growing: ‘Mercury Rising’ or ‘Red Satin’?

Red coreopsis is among the latest breeding innovations in summer perennials. A decade ago a new hybrid ‘limerock Ruby’ was all the rage. However, it was quickly evident that the hoopla was based on erroneous information. ‘Limerock Ruby’ was supposed to be winter hardy to Zone 5, our area, but it proved to be tender and now is acknowledged to be hardy only to Zone 8.

A year ago at Sunny Border Nursery in Connecticut, I saw another new hybrid touted to be hardy in our area, ‘Mercury Rising’, a hybrid of Coreopsis rosea. I decided I really had to have it in my garden. Then, Peter Flynn of Bay State Perennial Farm in Whately alerted me to ‘Red Satin’ a hybrid of the threadleaf coreopsis, C. verticillata. I wanted to try that, too.

So this spring I planted both of them. Both have been blooming merrily for more than a month.

I knew that ‘Mercury Rising’ is one of the new introductions by Darrell Probst in his ‘Big Bang’ series of hybrid coreopsis. Until I searched the web, however, I didn’t know Probst also bred ‘Red Satin’. Both varieties were released to the trade in 2012 but for some odd reason, ‘Mercury Rising’ has gotten most of the press.

Which do I like best?

Frankly, I’m not sure. Their burgundy or ruby color is almost identical, although ‘Mercury Rising’ has a larger central yellow disk. It is their growth habit that distinguishes them.

Flynn is correct that ‘Red Satin’ is more erect and less floppy in the garden. This is undoubtedly due to its species, Coreopsis verticillata, compared to the C. rosea background of ‘Mercury Rising’. Previously, I hadn’t realized there are half a dozen coreopsis species, many of them American wildflowers from the Midwest. Their common name is tickseed.

The floppiness of ‘Mercury Rising’ is a blessing and a curse. I like plants that “weave” among others and that coreopsis is deliberately planted next to Salvia ‘Caradonna” with upright blue-purple flowers so that the red daisies twine through the erect salvia.

‘Red Satin’ is planted next to a double Shasta daisy and in front of pale yellow snapdragons. I like the color combination and the daisy echoing the daisy in shape.

The color of ‘Red Satin’ seems to hold better in the horrible heat we have endured. The blossoms of ‘Mercury Rising’ tended to bleach on the edges. (One online nursery says they get frosted in the heat and another notes they get cream or white streaks in the fall.)

It is easier to deadhead ‘Mercury Rising’, for each flower has a longer stem rather than clusters of short stems. However, I only did this in order to have a “clean” plant for pictures. Since both varieties are sterile, meaning they don’t set seed, it isn’t necessary to do any deadheading for the vigor of the plant.

I’ll withhold final judgment until next year when I see how well they overwinter and how vigorous they are in the spring. Are they truly hardy to Zone 5 or will they emulate ‘Limerock Ruby’? Will they spread? Will they die out? Will they bloom earlier in their second year? Will they bloom all season?

Both plants are reportedly deer resistant and so far I haven’t seen any depredations by the blasted woodchuck who took some new bites out of ‘David’ phlox this week. He may have been avoiding the fox urine cotton balls near the asters since I haven’t seen new damage on them. ‘David’ needs some cotton balls.

NOFA: The annual three-day conference of the Northeast Organic Farming Association is next weekend at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Register online today and save 10 percent on the fees. There are 200 workshops on topics ranging from seed saving, composting, fall brassicas, mushroom foraging or log growing, edible forest gardens, organic lawn care, herbs, rain gardens, permaculture, school gardens, figs, bees, backyard chickens, renewable energy and genetically-modified foods. The keynote address on Aug. 9 at 7:30 p.m. is by Atina Diffley who wrote “Turn Here Sweet Corn: Organic Farming Works.” There are separate programs for children and teenagers, a farmers market and tours of area farms. The basic fee is $175 for three days or $81 to $106 for a single day. After today, the fees increase by 10 percent. For more information and to register online go to www.nofasummerconference.org.

TREEGATORS: It is essential to keep newly-planted trees and shrubs well-watered during their first two years in the ground. This can be a huge challenge, especially in areas far from an easy source of water. Treegators are a marvelous invention initially used by professional landscapers and municipalities to irrigate new plantings. These green irrigation sacks are wrapped around the tree trunk and zippered into place. They can be filled with a hose and then the water slowly seeps out through the porous bag into the root system. They do look ungainly, but they are effective.

Perhaps you have noticed them on local plantings such as the Amherst Town Common? I first saw them in North Carolina, Vermont and Montreal nearly 10 years ago. Recently a parishioner at Grace Church in Amherst lent three of these odd-looking green sacks to facilitate watering trees planted last year in the Garth, the garden behind the church. They have been a wonderful help during the recent heat wave. Treegators cost $20 to $30 each and are available locally at such stores as Hadley Garden Center and Home Depot. They are also sold online.

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