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Coreopsis Perennial Flower: Big Bang Red Shift

This photo is the copyright of Sunny Border Nursery.Most Coreopsis perennials have difficulty surviving winter regardless of the hardiness zone they grow in. Imagine the excitement when a new cultivar was introduced this spring to change that. Red Shift, part of the Big Bang series, promised to be winter hardy. And there was more: The flowers would be large and eventually would bloom in red. And there was still more: The color of this plant would shift from cream to red as the season changed from summer into fall. All that buzz made me grab several pots of this plant when I found them at the nursery. Apart from its other attributes, a red Coreopsis is a rare find.

In early summer, the flowers open in a creamy yellow. Each bloom has a gold button center that is ringed with ruby-red where the petals meet the gold. As the plant matures, the color shifts. On later-opening flowers, the red ring streaks towards the outer tips of the petals. Finally, in cooler weather, newer flowers appear with another color shift that turns them ruby-red. Because this is a long blooming plant, it is possible to have three different versions of the colorations on one plant at the same time. So unique is this phenomenon that no two flowers of this perennial ever look alike. The above image from Sunny Border Nursery aptly illustrates all of the variations.

I am so pleased with the Red Shifts that I planted. This perennial is more than just eye-catching. Every flower bed is enhanced by its presence. In most cases the plant blooms reasonably upright. Unfortunately, the one that I saved for myself was a bit leggy and kneeled towards the sun after it was planted. Being the eternal optimist, I would like to think that this occurred because the plants at the nursery were too crowded and had begun crawling in search of light. Those growing in my clients’ gardens are more upright but not soldier-like. Most Coreopsis plants are sun worshippers; one expects that they will bow to reach for the sun. However, this plant will grow upright and sturdy if the gardener follows the suggestions added in the modifications to this article that appear below.

This new variety will grow 30 to 36 inches in height with an 18 inch spread. As Coreopsis go, the flowers are huge, measuring 2 inches across. This is a floriferous plant, a heavy bloomer from early spring until fall. Of course, dead heading improves the continuity of bloom. The plant is hardy from zones 4 to 8 and I can hardly wait until spring to test its touted hardiness. It prefers sun, a well drained soil and is drought tolerant. It attracts butterflies as well. Above all, its unusual color variations allow it to blend easily into most gardens. I didn’t expect red to work in my English style gardens, but it did. The cream coloration made it happen.

December 3, 2009. I have just received an e-mail from the breeder of this plant, Darrell Probst, offering  additional information about winter hardiness and stem sturdiness. Winter hardiness is directly related to the number of rosettes that will have formed at the base of the plant in the fall. The more rosettes, the better the plant will be able to sustain the winter. Regarding the stems: the more sun and the fewer rosettes that it starts out with in the spring, the sturdier the stems will be. In the spring, thin out the rosettes at the base. The remaining ones will be sturdier and will bloom the longest.

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