Artemisia – Silver in Your Flower Garden

The right Artemisia, with its silver foliage and the ability to look good in drought, can be an asset to your flower gardens or borders no matter how large or small.

These ornamentals with their beautiful grayish/silver foliage can tie together plants of varying colors.  They can be used to soften bright red and oranges. They make a spectacular statement when blended with purple or green foliage and/or colorful blooms of pink, purples, lavenders, yellows and fuchsias.

The genus, Artemisia includes hundreds of species including sagebrush, popularized in movie westerns. Tarragon, one of the four “fines herbes” of French cooking is an Artemisia as well.  But for the purposes of your flower gardens I would recommend 3 species in particular.

  1. Powis Castle
  2. Silver Mound
  3. Silver King

#1. Powis Castle Artemisia (Artemisia X ‘Powis Castle’)

A genus name with the X and a single quoted phrase as Artemisia X ‘Powis Castle’ indicates a hybrid species.  Thus, you read it: “artemisia, the hybrid species ‘Powis Castle’ “.

Powis Castle is the result of crossing two species of Artemisia.  Thus, it occurs only in cultivation and can only be propogated by cuttings.

Powis Castle can be considered a shrub.  It is my favorite Artemisia and grows in a dense mound up to 3 feet tall and 3 to 6 feet in diameter.  The foliage is like silver lacework!  And it is one of the hardiest, strongest and most beautiful of the Artemisias and is considered by many (myself included) to be one of the finest plants in cultivation.

Once you buy a plant, you can take cuttings in March and October and start as many others as you want. Although it’s a pretty tough plant, I’ve found that you can loose it unexpectedly.  Because of this, I recommend always having some new ones started.  And that doesn’t have to be a lot of work or a “job”.

Just take numerous cuttings from the tips (about 4 or 5 inches long) on a day when you are looking around or taking a walk. (You’ll want to do this when the soil is nice and moist.) Then plant the cuttings as you continue your walk.  If you later find you’ve put them in the wrong place, the new plants will be easy to transplant to just the right spot the following spring or fall.

Some of your cuttings will root and some won’t. You’ll find that some will like where they’ve been placed better than others. If you see that one doesn’t want to “take off” — just give it another year to make sure.  If you follow my suggestion, you’ll have plenty of them started so it won’t hurt for you to experiment.

If you want more details on taking cutting and starting, see my post on starting sedum.  All 3 Artemesias can be started the same as sedums.

Other things you might want to know about Powis Castle:

  • It benefits from spring pruning —cut back half way— to keep it compact. (You can take cuttings in the fall, but don’t officially prune in the fall since it seems to benefit from the added protection of keeping its branches through the winter.)
  • It will grow in part shade, but gets bigger when it has full sun. It is said to usually do well in zones 6 to 8.
  • It likes well drained soil.
  • It’s a perennial.
  • It keeps its silver foliage all winter although it will look somewhat shabby and drooped in the cold of winter.

#2. Silver Mound Artemisia (Artemisia schmidtiana Maxim) also called Angel’s Hair

This is a perennial artemisia that originated in Japan.  It forms a smaller mound (6 to 18 inches tall with a spread of 12 to 24 inches) than Powis Castle Artemisia, but its foliage is similar.

As with most Artemisia, it’s easy to grow.  It enjoys relatively infertile soil. Needs little water, but does need good drainage. It is usually recommended for zones 5 to 9.

It loves sun, but is not as heat resistant as “Powis Castle”.

It has a tendency to split apart at the center of the crown in mid-Summer if conditions are not just right, but in spite of that I think its worth a try.  I’ve grown it in years that it did not split and it was wonderful.

To get more —— I take numerous tip cuttings in March and/or October. I don’t go to a lot of trouble—–just the stick the cuttings in at various places.  Some make it.  Some don’t.  But I always have new plants in process.

It remains silvery through fall and dyes back quickly to the crown with the first frosts. Next year’s spring will start its growth again.

#3. Silver King Artemisia (Artemisia Ladoviciana or Ludoviciana) a/k/a White Sage and Western Mugwort

I was introduced to Silver King Artemisia more than 30 years ago by a friend who propagated and raised herbs and dried flowers for market.  Hundreds of bouquets of silver king artemisia hung  — drying — from the rafters in her ‘great’ room. (It’s one of the most popular dried plants for arrangements and wreath making.)

The leaves and stems of this native (to western US) species are more slender than most. It is an upright perennial that typically forms a spreading clump of non-woody stems about 36 inches tall. The clumps will spread outward 2 or 3 feet by rhizomes under the ground. If it grows out of bounds (which it will in most years) it’s easy to pull out.

It grows easily in poor and/or dry soil in full sun. Good drainage is essential to prevent root rot.

When foliage declines and stems flop in hot and humid weather, just cut it back.
It will revitalize itself. Cutting back stems in late spring to reduce mature plant height will also help.

Want more? — you can take cuttings in the spring, but I find it much easier to just pull out some stems and transplant. Many times I’ll take rhizomes out of the surrounding area and transplant them.  One day after I have long forgotten about them, there will be more artemisia.

Suggestion: Try Silver King with roses and/or white Asiactic lillies.

A note for your safety:

Of the hundreds of species of Artemisia, only about 44 are edible. Many are deadly if ingested.  Unless you have the proper training to know which is which ———just enjoy looking at them in your borders.

A note for clarity:

The more I searched for information on the Scientific Names for these Artemisias, the more conflicting information I found.  There was so much, it really got confusing. Nonetheless, I think I have given you enough information to find each plant.

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  • Hello,
    I found your information very interesting. I was very surprised to learn that “of the hundreds of species of Artemisia, only about 44 are edible. Many are deadly if ingested. Unless you have the proper training to know which is which”. I am growing a silver artemisia that a friend gave me from a field where they are growing wild. I tasted the leaves which are very bitter. He said it was the plant they make absinthe with. I plan to use it for tea and to dry the leaves for the winter months but now I am concerned about it’s toxicity since you said it could be deadly. How do I find out which of the hundreds of varieties, my plant is? They pretty much look the same.
    Thanks for any information you can provide me with.

  • Susan, I can’t be of much help to you here. There’s probably information out there on which varieties are
    edible and which are not, but I’ve never been that interested in researching it since I have no intentions of eating it.
    Until you know for sure about your variety, it’s smart to be concerned. I’d rather be safe than sorry.

  • What are the beautiful black and white flowers in this photo? Many thanks for all the info
    Already shared

  • Mary, I’m not sure what you’re seeing as black and white.
    The all white plant in the 3rd picture is Silver King Artemisia.

    In the last picture in the left lower corner is purple basil which could appear black on your screen.

    The sedum heads are pink, but maybe appear white on your computer.

    Let me know if this does not answer your question, Mary.


  • I purchased a Silver King at a garden club plant sale today. I had no prior knowledge of this plant but took a chance because I loved the foliage. The info you provided is very helpful and I can’t wait to add it to my garden in the a.m. Thank you!

  • Hi, Theresa,
    I hope you can help me with this. I am new to Austin. I just moved a Powis Castle Armetesia to a sunnier location today and it is looking pretty droopy. (it is 89 degrees). I know it was a terrible time of year to move it, but it had to be done. I am wondering if it would be a good idea to cut it back. If so, how far? I would hate to lose it. It is pretty leggy as it was in too much shade. Thank you so much.

  • Hi Evelyn,
    There’s always hope for Powis Castle no matter how scraggly it gets.

    And yes, it’s not the best time to transplant, but there’s still lots of hope.

    It’s normal for it to be pretty droopy after transplanting. It’s a shock to the plant and it will take some time to recover. I assume you watered it and then mulched it heavily. But don’t overwater or you’ll do more damage than good.

    Also, If it were mine I would take some cuttings of the new growth — maybe 4 to 6 inches long. Place in a cup of water for a few hours. Then either stick them in all around that area — or stick them in a good sized pot with potting mix. They’ll droop horribly at first — but that’s just part of the deal. Again water— but don’t over water. (Unless the pot (or soil) is dry down to knuckle depth, don’t water.) You might lose a few but some should make it and grow roots — giving you more plants.

    And yes, it might help to cut it back some. In order to suggest how much to cut, I’d have to see a picture of your plant.
    Feel free to email me with a picture.

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