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Winner In The Best Supporting Role Category Goes To…

With a name like “Dusty Miller,” one may think of an actor in the lead role of a movie. However, Dusty Miller is not an actor, but an aptly named ornamental plant, content to play a supporting role among showier plants in the landscape of many home gardens.

Dusty Miller’s outstanding feature is its luminous silver felt-textured leaves, which makes it difficult for gardeners to resist. In the sunshine – where Dusty Miller grows best – its understated silvery leaves shimmer and accent any other plant, no matter how elaborate, growing around it. It plays tricks with the slimmest of sunlight rays, and casts a spotlight on those most suited to be planted with it, such as geraniums, pansies and poppies.

Because of its light-reflecting properties, Dusty Miller works its magic wherever it is planted without requiring exacting care. Standing only 12 to 18 inches tall, it requires no pruning and rarely needs grooming except to remove browning leaves. Dusty Miller can withstand drought and will multiply without encouragement.

This plant is relatively pest free except for sap-sucking aphids now and then. Spraying the plant with an insecticidal soap on an overcast day (so the leaves don’t burn), should remedy the problem.

A native to the Mediterranean, Dusty Miller can tolerate dry conditions without a problem. However, persistent humid weather induces stem rot, and heavy rain can remove the silver-leaf coating revealing the green beneath. Planting in well-drained sandy soil and in full sun, will help in maintaining healthy plants.

Several varieties of the Dusty Miller plant are available. “New Look” has woolly looking foliage that’s lobed and shaped like an oak leaf, is frost and rain tolerant, but looks green when wet. “Silverdust” remains especially compact, rarely topping 12 inches in height, making it a good choice for combining with other plants in small beds and containers.

Dusty Miller will have to be bought as a bedding plant at this time of year, but if you prefer to start from seed, sow in February in a moist, sandy, well-drained soil. Do not cover the seeds, because light is necessary for germination. Keep containers in a location with temperatures between 18 to 21 C (65 to 70 F). Transplant seedlings when their first set of mature felted leaves appear, or set out the bedding plants after the last spring frost.

Dusty Miller blooms from spring to late fall, making it one of the most striking plants a gardener can grow.

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