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The Night Shift

By Judy Sedbrook, Colorado Master GardenerSM, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Denver County

With the setting of the sun, the nocturnal garden awakens and the night shift takes over.

Many plants bloom exclusively at night. Many more wait to release their heady scent until evening. White flowers and plants with variegated foliage glow softly as they reflect the moonlight. To those who work all day, the garden can be a peaceful refuge in the evening.

For others, the work goes on. The bright blooms of some plants and the heavenly scent of others attract nectar-feeding moths and bats. These are the pollinators that work only after dark. Other bats, also drawn to the night-blooming garden, are there to prey on insects. They can each consume 600 mosquitoes per hour.

Why not join the night shift and plan your garden around the time when you can most enjoy it? When planting a garden that will shine at night, be sure to include varieties from each of these categories:

 Night Flowering Plants

  • Evening Primrose: (Oenothera) With sweetly-scented blossoms of soft white, pink and bright yellow that open in the evening, this fast-spreading perennial is hardy in zones 5-9.
  • Moonflowers: (Ipomoea alba) This night-blooming relative of the morning glory perfumes the garden as its large 5 to 6 inch white flowers open at dusk. A quick growing climber with large heart-shaped leaves.
  • Angel's Trumpet: (Datura innoxia) Huge 6 inch white flowers appear from midsummer until frost on this viney annual, opening at night and remaining open well into the following day. They have a delicious fragrance, especially in the evening. Grows 3 to 4 feet tall and wide with an abundance of blue-green foliage. Warning: this plant is poisonous and should be kept away from children.
  • Night Phlox: (Phlox "Midnight Candy) During the day, flowers on these upright growing plants are tightly closed. As dusk comes on, they open releasing a honey/almond/vanilla fragrance.
  • Evening Stock: (Matthiola incana ) Small pink or purplish flowers are not showy, but emit an intoxicating fragrance at night. Grows to one foot with lance-shaped leaves.
  • Four O'Clocks: (Mirabilis jalapa) Sweetly fragrant and colorful trumpet-shaped flowers, open in late afternoon releasing a jasmine-like perfume. Found in the gardens of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, the bushy plants grow 24 inches tall and are an annual in our climate.
  • Nottingham Catchfly: (Silene nutans) With a scent that is reminiscent of hyacinths, flowers open on three successive nights before fading. They are native to England.
  • Night Blooming Cereus: (Selenicereus) Known for its large, fragrant, night-blooming white flowers. This cactus, not hardy below 55F, can be grown in containers and brought indoors for winter.
  • Daylilies: there are many daylilies that bloom at night including Moon Frolic and Toltec Sundial.
  • Yucca: (Yucca filamentosa) The flowers of this plant are open all day but at night the blossoms lift and release their soapy fragrance. They are hardy in our area (zones 4 to 9).

Night Fragrant Plants

  • Flowering Tobacco: (Nicotiana) A lovely annual with long, trumpet-like blooms valued for their intense evening fragrance.
  • Night Gladiolus: (Gladiolus tristus) has creamy yellow blossoms that have an intense spicy fragrance at night.
  • August Lily: (Hosta) Waxy, trumpet-shaped flowers appear on 30 inch stems and each is 5 inches long and 3 inches wide. The scent is of pure honey.
  • Fragrant Columbine: (Aquilegia fragrans) Creamy white flowers have a rich honeysuckle scent.
  • Pinks: (Dianthus plumarius) The pale pink flowers have a rich clove scent.
  • Fairy Lily: (Chlidanths fragrans) A few yellow, fragrant flowers bloom from each stalk in mid-summer. Not hardy in our zone, bulbs must be taken up and stored during winter.

Vines

Evening-fragrant perennial vines can also provide beautiful coverage for walls, fences and trellises. These include Climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala petiolaris), Sweet autumn clematis (Clematis paniculata), and Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) all of which are hardy in zones 4 to 9.

Shrubs

Mock Orange: (Philadelphus coronarius) A fast growing shrub growing to 10 ft. that is loaded with fragrant, white, orange-scented blossoms in late May to early June. Hardy to zone 4.

White Blooms and Reflective Foliage Plants

  • Purity' Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus 'Purity') - annual that does well in dry, infertile soil
  • 'Armour White' Verbena (Verbena x hybrida 'Armour White') - annual, likes full to partial sun; excellent spreading plant for beds, edging or containers.
  • 'Alba' Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea 'Alba') - perennial with tall clusters of tubular white flowers.
  • Summer Hyacinth (Galtonia candicans) an annual grown for its fragrant, long (36"), white flower spike.
  • 'Bride' Impatiens (Impatiens wallerana 'Bride') - annual that can be grown in full shade to partial sun.
  • 'Alba' Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis 'Alba') - a perennial for the shady garden, prefers moist, well-drained soil.
  • 'Moonraker' Cape fuchsia (Phygelius x rectus 'Moonraker') - annual that is attractive to butterflies and bees, good in hanging baskets.
  • 'Perry's White' Oriental Poppy (Papaver oreintale) - perennial that is white with a maroon base, prefers sun and well-drained soil.
  • 'WhiteSwan' Camellia (Camellia japonica) - annual in our climate, good patio container plant.
  • White Forsythia (Abeliophyllum distichum ) - perennial shrub, flowers in spring.
  • 'Alba' Columbine (Aquilegia flabellata ‘Alba') - short-lived perennial with delicate white blooms
  • 'Whitelace' Dianthus (Dianthus spp.) - perennial, tolerates sun to part shade, a great plant for alkaline soils.
  • Silver Artemesia (Artemesia schmidtiana) - perennial, drought tolerant and thrives in full sun and poor soil, a good xeriscape plant.
  • Lamb's ears (Stachys byzantina) - perennial, winter hardy and drought tolerant, forms dense mat of silver-white leaves.
  • Silver sage (Salvia argentea)- a Plant Select perennial, silver foliage and white blooms
  • 'White Christmas' Caladiums (Caladium x hortulanum 'White Christmas') - an annual grown for its large, white leaves. A good container plant.
  • Variegated cannas (Canna) - annual with silvery white and green pinstriped leaves; yellow, orange, red or pink tropical blooms.

Vegetables and Herbs

Candidates for the night garden are not limited to plants in the flower garden. The vegetable garden can be a moonlit and fragrant attraction as well. Some plants you may want to try are:

  • Silver Thyme
  • 'Alba' Eggplant: has white egg-shaped fruits
  • 'Casper' or 'Boo' white pumpkins
  • Basils
  • Mints
  • Oreganos

Photograph courtesy of Judy Sedbrook.

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010