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Mississippi Medallions Offer Lengthy Appeal
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
The Mississippi Medallion winners are proven, season-long performers in climates where summers are tough with heat and humidity. The three 1998 winners are Zinnia angustifolia, Salvia farinacea Victoria Blue and the Natchez crape myrtle.
This year marks the first time the Mississippi Plant Selections Committee has chosen a species of plants as a winner. The Zinnia angustifolia (Z. linnearis) also called the narrow leaf zinnia or Mexican zinnia, is rock tough in hot humid climates.
The 1997 All-America winner Crystal White (zinnia angustifolia) heads up this group that is joined by other recognizable varieties Classic Golden Orange, Star White (Classic White) Gold and Orange, and a mix called Starbright. These zinnias are for gardeners who want to enjoy flowering plants all season without labor intensive care. These zinnias bloom from spring until frost and reach a height of 15 to 18 inches. These self-cleaning zinnias are virtually disease free.
They are great as border plants and informal mass plantings. They excel as individual plants in rock gardens and are perfect for cities looking for low maintenance, attractive flowers. These zinnias never look impressive in the jumbo six pack, but you will be surprised by how well they perform after planting.
For best results, you need proper bed preparation. Spade in or till 3 to 4 inches of organic matter and incorporate 2 pounds of a 13-13-13 fertilizer per 100 square feet.
As with all bedding plants, water is crucial while they are spreading roots to the adjacent soil. After they are established, water when there is less than 1 inch of rain in a week. The zinnia angustifolias prefer full sun and will perform equally well in the landscape or as a container grown plant. Use them near steps or other garden features for highest visibility at dusk when the pure white, golden-orange or yellow blooms reflect the diminishing sunlight.
They work well in combination with another 1998 winner, Salvia farinacea, Victoria Blue. Victoria Blue is reliably perennial in zones 8 and 9 and half hardy in zone 7.
Even if Victoria Blue is treated as an annual, this 24- to 32-inch tall plant with spiky, dark blue flowers is most welcome in the garden where round flowers often dominate. It is undemanding and extremely long flowering. Deadheading keeps flowers producing all season long. They are useful as a cut flower, and bees and butterflies find them a delicacy. They work well with the Mexican zinnias, shrub roses, redleafed coleus and black-eyed Susans.
The Natchez crape myrtle, a U.S. National Arboretum cross of Lagerstroemia indica and L. Fauriei, is also a 1998 Mississippi Medallion winner. This 21-foot tall, white-flowered variety has year round landscape appeal. As the tree ages, the bark exfoliates to mottled patches that are a rich cinnamon-brown color. The leaves are a dark glossy green that will turn to a golden-orange and red in most fall seasons. The tree is resistant to powdery mildew.
Use the Natchez as a specimen or perhaps to frame the front door, entry way or drive. They are also attractive planted in clusters. Plant your Natchez in full sun in well drained soil. Dig your hole two to three times as wide as the root ball but no deeper. Fill in the hole with the backfill soil and build a berm around the base large enough to hold 3 to 5 gallons of water. The berm can be removed as desired in the second year.
The Mississippi Medallion program is in its third year and is a cooperative effort of the Mississippi State University Extension Service, Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, Mississippi Nurseryman's Association and the Mississippi Plant Selections Committee. Look for the colorful Mississippi Medallion point-of-sale cards at your local garden center or nursery.