By Julie Christensen
For a low-maintenance, fast-growing perennial, try speedwell, also known as veronica. This long-lived perennial has much to recommend it. It is hardy in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 3 through 11, which encompasses most of the U.S. It grows in full sun, but tolerates partial shade. It grows in most soil types, so long as the soil is well-drained. It prefers moderate moisture, but tolerates dry soils. Best of all, speedwell blooms from spring to autumn. How many perennials can you say that about? Let’s learn more about how to grow speedwell.
Speedwell is a ditch flower, growing along roadsides and in fields throughout Europe and much of the United States. Its name means, “speed you well.” In Ireland, sprigs of speedwell were pinned to a traveler’s coat to ensure a safe and speedy journey.
Speedwell most commonly grows as an upright, spreading plant with small clusters of petals formed on tall spikes. These plants grow 1 to 3 feet tall and come in purple, blue, pink or white. Another type of speedwell, prostrate speedwell, is a low-lying ground cover, ideal for rock gardens or scrambling over a wall.
Speedwell Growing Tips
Plant speedwell from nursery transplants in spring, after the last frost. Amend the soil with compost or peat before planting. Speedwell tolerates both acidic and alkaline soils, but doesn’t do well in wet areas. Compost improves drainage. Plant speedwell in full sun for best blooms and set the plants 18 inches apart.
Spread 2 inches of wood chip mulch over the soil to conserve moisture. Water speedwell in the summer during dry weather; otherwise, it rarely needs additional watering. Fertilize speedwell in the spring with a balanced, all-purpose fertilizer. In fertile soil, speedwell may not need additional fertilizing. Light-green leaves or slow growth indicate a nutrient deficiency.
Deadhead, or remove, spent blossoms throughout the summer to encourage more blooms. Stake taller varieties to prevent breakage in high winds. Dig up and divide speedwell every 3 to 4 years to encourage vigorous growth. To keep the plants looking tidy and reduce the spread of disease, cut the stalks to 2 inches above the ground after the first frost.
If you prefer, sow speedwell seeds in the fall in a cold frame or directly in your garden. Speedwell needs a period of cold weather to germinate. This process, known as stratification, softens the seed coat so that it splits quickly in the spring when moisture and warm temperatures arrive.
Pests and Diseases
Speedwell is, for the most part, free of pest and disease problems. In fact, the most common problem is one of too much attention. In soggy, overwatered soils, speedwell develops edema. Roots can’t receive oxygen and the plant dies. This problem is easily solved by planting speedwell in loose, well-draining soils and avoiding overwatering.
Powdery mildew might infect speedwell in late summer in hot, dry weather. This fungal disease causes a white growth to form on the leaves and stems. The disease is unattractive, but rarely fatal. Plant speedwell so air circulates freely around the plant and remove any diseased portions.
Spider mites occasionally feed on speedwell. You might notice white silk strands or white or yellow spots on the leaves. Severe infestations can turn the leaves brown. Treat spider mites by spraying plants with an insecticidal soap or oil. Apply these products on cool, cloudy days because applications made on hot, sunny days can burn plants. Cover the leaves completely and make several applications, spaced 7 days apart.
Speedwell is such a carefree plant that you’ll have success with almost any variety you try. Speedwell is even known to be deer- and rabbit-resistant. Below are a few tried-and-true varieties.
- ‘Dick’s Wine’ is a prostrate ground cover, growing no taller than 9 inches. Flowers are rose.
- ‘Goodness Grows’ is a compact variety, growing only 8 to 12 inches tall. It produces deep blue flowers.
- ‘Icicle’ is an unusual and elegant variety with white blooms. The plant grows 18 inches tall.
- ‘Red Fox’ grows to 12 inches tall with pink flowers.
- ‘Sunny Border Blue’ reaches 20 inches high and produces deep bluish-purple flowers.
- ‘True Love’ produces spikes of pink blooms and continues flowering long after most varieties have faded.
For more information on growing speedwell, visit the following sites:
Speedwell: A Good Choice for Low Maintenance Perennial Gardens from Ohio State University.
Genus Veronica (Speedwell) from Fine Gardening
When she’s not writing about gardening, food and canning, Julie Christensen enjoys spending time in her gardens, which include perennials, vegetables and fruit trees. She’s written hundreds of gardening articles for the Gardening Channel, Garden Guides and San Francisco Gate, as well as several e-books.