Potentilla

'Red Sunset' Potentilla;
aka, Cinquefoil Bush


"Other makings of the sun
Were waste & welter
And the ripe shrub writhed."

-Wallace Stevens
(1879-1955)

   

The Potentilla cultivar sometimes sold as 'Red Sunset' was actually named 'Sunset.' It blooms all summer, at least from June to first frost, though ours was in full bloom in May, when the present photo was taken. The flowers are a rich bright orange & yellow, fading to yellow with streaks of red.

This small deciduous shrub typically two or three feet high & wide but can be a little bigger. At four feet, though, it is apt to be leggy & unappealing & will need to be trimmed back, selecting the oldest stems to remove in late winter before new spring growth begins. It prefers a bit of shade or the blooms will fade quickly especially during the hottest summer days, & it likes regular watering in humousy soil. But it's startlingly adaptable & is often used by landscapers for neglected areas. They seem to cope well with cold, drought, clay, rocky poor soil, flooding, & transplanting.

Native to temperate zones of the Northern Hemisphere including here in the Pacific Northwest in the Olympic & Cascade mountains, in colder areas of their range they will want more sun. Being more cold-tolerant than heat-tolerant, even here in Zone 8 they need need some protection in summer.

The new explosion of cultivars in many colors makes this an increasingly interesting species especially suited to the butterfly garden. When small they are a fluffy-looking bush but they age into a fountaining appearance that is even nicer, but unfortunately do not stop there & will become rangy if they go three or four years never pruned.

They're extremely long-lived shrubs as a rule, but we placed ours in a very low-maintenance garden since they're generally very adaptable. During a record hot summer, it rather suddenly & unexpectedly died. I didn't remove it right away but waited until late the following spring, as one never knows, dead-looking things do sometimes return to life, & shrubby cinquefoil can grow back even if cut to the ground. But alas, we actually did manage to kill one of the less killable subshrubs, & when we replaced it, we replaced it with a different variety, 'Pink Whisper' Cinquefoil.

   



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