Many of you will no doubt be handing out treats like candy corn this Halloween and, if I may suggest, you need some Candy Corn in the garden too. Of course, the candy corn in the garden isn't for your sweet tooth but to add an incredible array of color and texture that will beautify your landscape.
While it doesn't satisfy your sweet tooth, it does offer a tasty treat for pollinators like hummingbirds and butterflies. This shrub that most of us use as either an annual or returning perennial offers much to the backyard wildlife habitat. Dozens upon dozens of tubular flowers are borne along each of the long stems. The flowers that reach 1 to 2 inches in length start out a cheerful bright yellow maturing to orange-red.
Botanically speaking the Candy Corn also called Mexican Giant Cigar Plant is known as Cuphea micropetala. It is native to Mexico and with good winter drainage offers more cold hardiness than many realize. Many gardeners find it to be a returning perennial in zone 7b and worth every penny to grow it as an annual in colder regions.
You probably already grow a variety of cupheas in the gardens as annuals like Mexican heather and firecracker flower. So to add Candy Corn makes sense and it spreads your bloom season out. Here at the Coast Georgia Botanical Gardens, we find ours to start blooming in early September offering a beautiful fall display and peaking at the height of butterfly season.
Since our Candy Corn cupheas are at peak now, you most likely will be planting yours next spring. Select a site in full sun and plant in well-drained soil. The Candy Corn can easily reach 3 feet tall and wide so plan on spacing plants 18 to 24 inches apart, planting at the same depth they are growing in the container. Apply a good layer of mulch, water to get established and then enjoy.
In early summer, pinch growth as needed and more branching will follow. Feed in mid-summer and again in early fall with a light application of a balanced, slow-release fertilizer. These species are drought tolerant, but watering during prolonged dry periods will pay dividends come fall.
Plan on using them informally in the garden rather than lined up like soldiers. They work well with other hummingbird plants like the firebush, and Gold Star esperanza. In our Mediterranean, we feature them with the fall blooming Mexican bush sage, agave, and day blooming cestrum. In our Sun Garden, we have them in a sea of orange and yellow with esperanza, color guard yucca, thorn-less opuntia cactus and tall, yellow blooming thyrallis.
If you are thrilled when a hummingbird comes to your feeder, then you will be ecstatic when they come to the Candy Corn plants you have placed in the landscape. Even though much of the country is under the grip of the first cold front of the year make plans now to locate a source for Candy Corn and other cupheas in your landscape next spring.
(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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