Daniel Gill, Merrill, Thomas A. | 6/29/2007 11:51:51 PM
By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
One of the great joys of gardening is discovering new and attractive plants that thrive in our climate – although the trial and error commonly involved in finding these plants often leads to disappointments.
It’s particularly nice to find a new plant that has a proven track record but is still not widely planted. In such a case, you can be adventurous and yet feel confident in success.
An outstanding summer bedding plant called angelonia (Angelonia angustifolia) falls precisely into this category. The introduction of angelonias is one of the best things to happen to Louisiana flower gardens in the past few years.
Showing the outstanding heat and humidity tolerance that is so critical to success in our area, angelonias are tender herbaceous perennials that generally are grown as annuals. They are bushy plants with narrow, dark-green foliage and spikes of attractive flowers in various colors, primarily shades of purple, pink and white.
Several improved strains are available these days. At around 2 feet tall, those known as Angelface are more upright, compact and produce lots of flower spikes in a variety of colors. Other strains currently available include the AngelMist series and Carita series. Both come in a wide selection of colors on vigorous, bushy plants that flower heavily. AngelMist cultivars produce larger flowers on compact plants around 2 feet tall, while cultivars in the Carita series generally are somewhat taller than other strains.
The newest angelonia strain is Serena. Growing only 12 inches to 18 inches tall, Serena angelonias are among the most compact. The strain provides an excellent selection of colors, including Serena Lavender, Serena Lavender Pink, Serena White and Serena Purple.
Many of these strains and cultivars of angelonia have been tested in trials at the LSU AgCenter’s Burden Research Center in Baton Rouge. Their performance through the summer has been so good that I can recommend them for your garden without hesitation.
Angelonias will grow best in well-prepared beds amended with organic matter and a light fertilizer application – just as you would do for other bedding plants. Since they thrive in heat, it is best to wait until late April to plant them, but you can add them to your gardens anytime during the summer.
Part sun to full sun (six to eight hours of direct sun daily) will produce stocky plants with plenty of flower spikes. But you need to avoid areas that are shady.
Since there are a variety of heights and growth habits available these days, check the label of the plants for height when you make your selections. Taller cultivars are excellent for the back of flower beds, while shorter and cascading types are suitable for planting toward the front of the bed. All angelonias are outstanding container plants – either alone or combined with other plants. In fact, nicely designed mixed plantings in containers are all the rage these days.
Flower production continues all summer until the first frost. Some types tend to cycle in and out of bloom, but new flushes of flower spikes reliably occur throughout the summer. If plants do temporarily stop blooming, it’s an excellent opportunity to prune them back, if needed. As we do with many tender perennials grown as annuals, it generally will be a good idea to prune early-planted angelonias in August after several months of growth. This will make the plants shorter, fuller and more attractive as they continue to bloom into November and early December.
At that time, the plants generally would be removed to make room for planting cool-season flowers. Since these plants are perennials that have a chance of surviving a mild winter and growing and blooming another year, however, if you mulch the bases with several inches of pine straw and temperatures don’t go below the mid- to low 20s, they should make it if left in the bed. An alternative would be to lift the plants, pot them up and keep them protected during winter.
With their upright spikes of flowers, angelonias combine effectively with many commonly used summer flowers. Match lavender and purple angelonias with pink and white pentas and Pink Frost ornamental sweet potato. Darker purple cultivars would look good with yellow New Gold lantana, White Profusion zinnia and blue Summer Wave torenia. Angelonias also make excellent cut flowers.
Angelonias are readily available at area nurseries and may be planted now. Water two or three times a week while the plants get established during mid-summer heat. Once established, however, angelonias are somewhat drought-tolerant and hang tough during hot, dry weather. They also have no major insect or disease problems in our area. Honestly, what more could you ask for?
Get It Growing is a weekly feature on home lawn and garden topics prepared by experts in the LSU AgCenter. For more information on such topics, contact your parish LSU AgCenter Extension office or visit our Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com. A wide range of publications and a variety of other resources are available.