Originally created 08/12/05

Plant is colorfully rugged

Garden centers have had a good supply of one of my favorite plants, the gomphrena. Known botanically as Gomphrena globosa, this Joseph's Coat relative is native to Panama and Guatemala.

Gardeners don't realize how tough this plant is and what a staunch performer it becomes in the summer flower border. In my book, the gomphrena also has another outstanding characteristic: it is beautiful. Few pest problems, drought tolerance and blooms until frost make this plant a must for every gardener.

Because it is so tough, you can feel at ease planting it now, even though temperatures have risen. Select a site in full sun with fertile, well-drained soil.

When working your soil, incorporate 2 pounds of fertilizer per 100 square feet of bed space. I use a 12-6-6 ratio, but a balanced one that contains a slow-release form of nitrogen will do just fine. Work the fertilizer and 3 to 4 inches of organic matter, and till 6 to 8 inches.

Space plants 6 inches apart for the dwarf type and at least 12 inches apart for the taller selections. Plant them at the same depth they are growing in the container. Germination takes place in about 20 days.

With the temperatures high, make sure you keep them watered to get them established. Once the roots are established, the gomphrena becomes much more drought tolerant. It is, however, a good idea to add a layer of mulch to conserve moisture and retard weed growth.

The gomphrena comes in several colors. The purple forms are ideal in combination with yellow flowers. All colors work well with Purple Heart. Use pink, lavender or rose varieties with burgundy-leafed coleus or purple coneflower.

Gomphrena often is sold generically, but there are some superior selections. All Around is purple, tall and a good performer. The Gnome dwarf series is available in three colors and a mix.

Horticulturist Norman Winter is the author of paradise found: Growing Tropicals in your own backyard, Mississippi Gardener's Guide and Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South. Readers may write to him at normanw@ext.msstate.edu.


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