Gardening: Gomphrena offers summer dazzle and zazzle

McClatchy-Tribune News ServiceJune 27, 2014 

LIFE HOME-ONGARDENING 1 MCT

Pink Zazzle gomphrena offers large shocking pink flowers for the landscape or mixed container. MCT

HANDOUT — MCT

You may not recognize the word "zazzle," but I predict you will like the plant attached to it. Pink Zazzle is a new gomphrena with iridescent hot pink flowers that are so incredibly beautiful they have a hypnotic effect on me. I have to go look at them every day. To be honest I even photograph them every day. We stumbled upon them quite by accident which means you may have to do the same or ask your favorite progressive local garden center to track them down.

Pink Zazzle is a new hybrid gomphrena with flowers larger than a golf ball which, prior to this, was unheard of in the world of gomphrena. If you are not familiar with gomphrena they are also called "globe amaranth" and occasionally "bachelor button."

You may have avoided these tough-as-nails flowers thinking they didn't have the pizzazz or staying power for a long hot summer, but in reality they are among your best choices. In fact the last decade has seen several marvelous new varieties.

Pink Zazzle, the newest, reaches about 16 inches tall with an equal spread. Since it is so new we feel as though we have it in a trial performance. The huge flowers are really mesmerizing.

Another one of my favorites is All Around Purple. This one reaches 18 to 24 inches with glorious purple balls. It was a Mississippi Medallion Winner and tolerates downpours and droughty periods as well. It makes a good cut flower and dried flower too. In that sense it is not an annual or perennial but an eternal.

Audray is a new series that comes in three colors -- pink, purple red and white -- and is slightly taller reaching 24-plus inches. I've watched it in Southeastern trials and it has been very impressive. If you are into cut flowers you'll love it.

Fireworks is another award winner and is simply amazing. Like Pink Zazzle, it too is a hybrid but with more typical sized flowers that are also shocking pink. The trait that makes Fireworks distinctive is the flowers are borne all growing season on plants that can reach monolithic proportions by the end of summer. In Mississippi State trials, ours reached 4-feet-plus and tolerated the absolute extremes in heat, rain and drought.

Regardless of the variety you choose to grow, select a site in full sun with fertile, well-drained soil. I have seen many fine ones in part sun, but blooms are more prolific in full sun. The soil must be well drained.

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 with 3 to 4 inches of organic matter, and till 6 to 8 inches.

This loosening of the soil with organic matter will pay dividends when rains seem to be more prevalent and drainage is mandatory. Once the drier season arrives, established gomphrena plants will become drought tolerant.

Space plants at least 18 to 24 inches apart. The dwarf Gnome series can be planted closer. Place them in the soil at the same depth they are growing in the container. It is, however, a good idea to add a layer of mulch to conserve moisture and retard weed growth.

Remove old flowers to keep the plant tidy and looking its best, as well as to keep those little, round flowers coming. Feed plants about every six weeks with a light application of same fertilizer you used in bed preparation.

I like to use gomphrena boldly versus spot planting. An informal drift or sweep of these flowers will be just as stunning as anything else you may choose. It seems to me that almost any other cluster of flowers or foliage is made more beautiful with a gomphrena partnership. I hope you'll give them a try.

Norman Winter, director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, is author of "Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South" and "Captivating Combinations Color and Style in the Garden." Follow him on Twitter at: CGBGgardenguru.

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