Artemisias are a family of landscape plants perfect for Texas gardens. They originated in hot, dry regions and have minimal water requirements. They also tolerate poor soils, making them a good candidate for the problem spots every gardener seems to have. To top it off their pale green feathery foliage will make a nice contrast to neighboring plants with dark glossy leaves.
Artemisias are generally trouble-free plants. Their strong scent discourages insects, probably the basis for their use indoors as insect repellant. They hold their own in the searing heat of summer and are hardly disturbed by freezing temperatures. Let’s take a quick look at six artemisias you can grow:
The most well-known landscape artemisia is ‘Powis Castle’ (Artemisia arborescens x absynthium). This hybrid of uncertain origins is a gray-green woody sub-shrub that will grow in a wide range of poor soils and tolerates benign neglect. All that is required is annual pruning to keep this herb in reasonable shape.
‘Silver King’ western mugwort (Artemisia ludoviciana albula) is an artemisia hybrid bred from artemisias native to the Western U. S. It’s popular for its relatively compact form and lacy silver leaves. Its strong roots make it useful on slopes and areas requiring erosion control. Unfortunately, those same roots tend to spread easily into unwanted areas. Mow ‘Silver King’ artemisia in the fall to encourage compact growth in spring.
Southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum) is a hardy perennial. Its feathery leaves have a fragrance somewhere between lemon and tangerine. This sweet-smelling herb grows two to four feet tall in full sun to partial shade. In late summer it sends up thin spires with tiny yellow flowers.
‘Silver Brocade’ artemisia (Artemisia stellariana) is another low growing artemisia for garden borders or ground cover. The blue-grey to white leaves are lobed and somewhat wooly. It grows one to two feet tall and about twice as wide. Sources claim it is deer and possibly rabbit resistant.
One of the most upright member of the artemisias is white mugwort (Artemisia herba-alba or A. lactiflora). It has fragrant white blossoms with leaves more green than grey. It’s also one of the few with attractive flowers, producing large branched sprays of creamy white flowers in late summer. This is most likely the species of artemisia mentioned in the Bible and translated into English as “wormwood.”
Gardeners in humid areas may prefer to grow beach wormwood (Artemisia stellerana), one of several plants know as “dusty miller.” This dense, silvery plant thrives in sandy dry soil with full sun. It is low-growing (4-6 inches) with yellow flowers clustered on spikes. As the name implies, beach wormwood tolerates the humid sandy conditions common to coastal regions.
If you have water hungry green shrubs you’d like to replace with something more drought tolerant, try growing artemisias. Their gray-green foliage and stimulating aroma are an excellent addition to any garden design.