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On Gardening: Peacocks showing up in landscapes dazzling with color and texture

Norman Winter, Tribune News Service on

Published in Gardening News

Peacocks are showing up in the landscape this year and causing many of us to become fixated on their beauty. As you might expect, The Garden Guy is playing semantics with you. I am talking Peacock kale. The innovative commercial landscaper industry in my area has caught on to the monolithic size and beauty these plants exhibit.

I have always been the kind of guy who enjoys planting en masse when it comes to ornamental kale but Peacock White is so large and intricate that it can be the centerpiece of a bed or container with companions planted around it. I say white which has become the color d' jour in Columbus, Ga. but, it also comes in Peacock Red.

When it comes to these workhorses of the cool-season landscape, they normally get regulated to spot-planting, maybe three in a cluster and this may be just perfect with Peacock. If your bed is large or perhaps you are using other varieties of flowering kale and cabbage, the look can be so much more dazzling if we simply let our hair down and use them aggressively in the design process.

Bed preparation will pave the way for the maximum sizzle of your design. Select a site in full sun with fertile, organic-rich soil. If the planting area consists of tight, heavy clay, amend with compost or humus to loosen. Flowering kale and cabbage just seem to languish in compacted soil and you'll no doubt miss the opportunity to achieve this large size I have been touting.

While preparing the soil, incorporate two pounds of a slow-release 12-6-6-fertilizer with minor nutrients per 100 square feet. Set out nursery-grown transplants 12-to-18 inches apart and add a layer of mulch. In northern regions, you have wonderful opportunities to plant in early spring.

This time of the year it is not uncommon to find transplants that look leggy because they have lost their lower leaves. This is no problem you can plant them deeper with the first set of leaves just above the soil surface. This is a practice we often do with tomatoes and even late-spring marigolds. Keep in mind this is fatal however to most other plants.

Don't underestimate the layer of mulch after planting, it will help stabilize soil temperatures and conserve moisture. Flowering kale and cabbage are very cold hardy and usually normally come through the winter unscathed. If record-low temperatures are forecasted, these plants can be completely covered with pine straw until the weather warms.


As you are designing your bed, you will want to incorporate some cool-season color with height to make the bed interesting. My favorite tall companions are dianthus like Rockin Purple Rockin Rose Magic and the new Rockin Red.

Snapdragons are also another great choice but I just like the added leaf texture that dianthus offers as well as the way the flowers cluster. Taller cool-season foliage like Cardoon, a globe artichoke relative, is another great companion offering a great backdrop with its soft grey jagged foliage.

There are a lot of great varieties of flowering kale and cabbage, but I promise you if you can find them you will be more than thrilled with the Peacock variety.

(Norman Winter, horticulturist, garden speaker and author of, "Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South" and "Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden." Follow him on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy.)

(c)2020 Norman Winter

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