It seems to be a banner year for butterflies in the south. While the big Monarch migration hasn't hit, everything else appears to be high. I'm not sure if there is a correlation, but it also seems as if pentas are having the most incredible year ever.
What a quandary for the landscape industry. It's nearly time to start planting cool-season flowers, and pentas and many other warm-season annuals are not only showing out but are adorned with butterflies.
One group of pentas that I've noticed in Georgia is the Graffiti series, mainly because a little over a decade ago I received a postcard for the California Pack Trials displaying the Graffiti Red Lace pentas. They were so beautiful; I thought the photo had been photoshopped or enhanced digitally.
When I went to the California Pack Trials, the pentas were just as beautiful and I too easily duplicated that same image. Now a decade later landscape professionals, home gardeners and places like the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens are using them in mass, much to the delight of pollinators. There are several colors and a mix in the series. I also love the Graffiti Lipstick and Graffiti Violet. The Graffiti series is brought to us from Benary Seed headquartered in Germany.
Another impressive series I've spotted in commercial landscapes this year is the HoneyCluster series from Syngenta. The HoneyCluster series comes in four colors and a mix and is a medium height. For next year there's the Falling Star series the first trailing pentas in the market.
If you love butterflies, hummingbirds and four months or more of non-stop color, you've got to try these new pentas. The leaves are shiny and attractive making for a great contrast with the colorful, star-shaped blossoms.
Blooms will be produced in abundance all summer long if beds are prepared correctly. Choose a site in full sun for best flower production. Prepare the bed by incorporating 3 to 4 inches of organic matter, and till to a depth of 8 to 10 inches. While tilling, incorporate 2 pounds of a slow-release, 12-6-6 fertilizer.
The next step may be the most crucial to happiness with your pentas. If your soil is acidic and you grow azaleas, camellias or blueberries with ease, you will need to add lime to your pentas' planting area. While preparing the soil, add 5 pounds of a pelletized lime per 100 square feet in sandy soil, or 10 pounds in a clay-based soil. This is recommended because pentas prefer a soil pH of 7. Many gardeners annually apply lime to grass or vegetable gardens, and in this case, a little will help the pentas keep their flowers all summer.
Pentas fit any style of garden. I like them in a tropical setting in front of bananas and elephant ears, but I love them in our Cottage Garden. Here we have paired Graffiti Red Lace, with Chapel Hill yellow lantana and the blue-flowered Brazilian button bush creating a perfect triadic harmony of color and all bringing in pollinators.
Releasing butterflies has become popular for some wedding venues. Here at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens our weddings have had the continuous flight of butterflies in our Cottage Garden with southern gazebo thanks to Graffiti pentas. Your home can become a butterfly and pollinator sanctuary too.
(Norman Winter is director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, and author of "Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South" and "Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden." Follow him at: @CGBGgardenguru.)
(c)2017 Norman Winter
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