Pentas can give your yard summer-long color

Richard Bogren, Gill, Daniel J.

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For Release On Or After 05/06/11

By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

The Louisiana Super Plant spring season is in full swing. The LSU AgCenter has previously announced Frostproof gardenia and the Serena series angelonias as Louisiana Super Plants selections for spring 2011. Now, the spotlight is on another spring selection – the superb Butterfly series pentas.

Are you looking for some great summer color for your landscape beds from now through our first killing frost this fall? The Butterfly series of pentas will give you that – and maybe even more. (These plants can survive mild winters and often return for another year of blooms in south Louisiana). Superb heat and humidity tolerance make this summer bedding plant a reliable choice for Louisiana gardeners. Expect excellent garden performance with this Louisiana Super Plant.

The series includes a variety of attractive colors, including Butterfly Deep Rose, Butterfly White, Butterfly Blush, Butterfly Deep Pink, Butterfly Light Lavender, Butterfly Lavender and Butterfly Red.

Pentas are typically called by their genus name – pentas (do not say “penta” – it’s pentas singular or plural). But you will occasionally hear the common name Egyptian starflower or see it in gardening literature.

The genus and common name comes from the five petals of the star-shaped flowers. Pentas comes from the ancient Greek word “pente” meaning five. The flowers are not large, but they’re produced in showy clusters that provide lots of color in flowerbeds all summer long. A single mature plant may produce 15 to 20 flower clusters at one time. Butterfly pentas are notable because their flowers are larger than most other types of pentas.

The flowers of pentas are full of nectar and highly attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds. No butterfly garden would be complete without pentas. In Mississippi State University trials, observations were that butterflies visited the Butterfly series more in side-by-side comparisons with other types of pentas.

Now I doubt if the butterflies were reading the signs labeling the different varieties and decided that the Butterfly pentas were for them. It is possible, however, that the larger flowers contain more nectar and so are more attractive to butterflies. At any rate, you’ll have an abundance of butterflies anytime you have pentas in the landscape, and possibly even more butterflies when you plant Butterfly pentas.

Butterfly series pentas is a seed-propagated hybrid that is also distinctive for its compact growth habit. Plants generally stay at 2 feet or shorter, making them excellent for use in beds or containers.

Should plants grow larger than desired, pentas are very tolerant of pruning. Simply cut the plants back as needed to control their size. (Pentas root easily from cuttings, and you can use the trimmings to grow more plants.) They will quickly come back into bloom again. Sometimes this is desirable in August after the summer growing season to make plants more compact and shapely for bloom from September to first frost.

Pentas do well when planted from mid-April through May, when the weather is warm and settled. Planting can continue through summer. Pentas prefer full to partial sun – that is, about 4 to 8 hours of direct sun during a day. Plant transplants about 12-16 inches apart in a well-prepared, raised landscape bed. Fertilize at planting with a slow-release fertilizer. They do not need considerable irrigation. Just water regularly to get them established, and then irrigate once weekly through the summer in the absence of significant rainfall.

You can also plant these colorful plants in containers – either alone or in combination with other plants. I put together a container with Deep Rose Butterfly pentas, the new Fireworks fountain grass (wonderful rosy red, green and white foliage) and Cajun Blue scaevola (a Southern Living plant selection). It’s in a sunny area and should provide a vibrant display all summer long.

To keep plants looking neat and encourage continued flowering, remove faded blossoms regularly if you can (this is not critical). Feel free to lightly pinch back plants through summer to encourage full, bushy growth.

In flowerbeds, plant pentas in combination with the Serena series angelonias. The colors should go together very nicely. You also could mix them with Profusion zinnias, lantanas, coreopsis, perennial verbena, butterfly bushes, agapanthus and ornamental grasses if you are looking for combination ideas.

Home gardeners and professional horticulturists alike are benefitting from using Louisiana Super Plants. Selected plants have a proven track record, having gone through several years of university evaluations and/or years of observations by landscape industry professionals. Louisiana Super Plants are “university tested and industry approved.”

Look for Louisiana Super Plants signs at your local independent retail garden center. One more Super Plant will be announced later this spring. More information on the program and plants is available online at

Rick Bogren

5/2/2011 11:00:03 PM
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