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Tropical Ixora Produce Top Color All Summer
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
One of the best flowering performers in my garden these last two hot, dry summers has been the ixora. From late spring through the first of August and counting, ixora produces almost nonstop bold, colorful flowers. If the color alone isn't enough, the deep green, glossy foliage serves as the perfect contrast for these large clusters of color.
The ixora is in the family known as Rubiaceae, making it related to the coffee plant and the gardenia. It has been around for years but in fairly small quantities.
There have been many more in the marketplace this year. As usual, they have been sold generically, but varieties like Nora Grant, Maui, Super King and Taiwan have turned up at garden centers. Many more hybrids are available and they will show up as the demand warrants.
Ixora coccinea, the most popular species sold, is known as "Jungle Geranium" and "Flame in the Woods." Rather than being a tropical annual, it is an evergreen shrub native to Sri Lanka, Sumatra and the South Pacific. The colorful flowers are borne in large clusters and come in bright shades of yellow, pink and red.
They have been for sale in small 4-inch containers all the way to 2- and 3-gallon sizes. The price for the large sizes have been very reasonable in most parts of the state. In fact, the prices will make you want to plant them in the landscape for the long summer season. Three to four large 2- or 3-gallon plants will fill up 6- to 8-feet of bed space.
If you buy a smaller size to grow up as a tub specimen, choose at least a 10-inch container and fill with a good, light potting mixture. Plant at the same depth it is growing in the container.
Fortunately for gardeners in Mississippi, the ixora prefers acidic soils which are pretty widespread throughout the state. Even so, you will still want to incorporate 3- to 4-inches of organic matter during bed preparation.
During the growing season, feed container-grown plants every two weeks with a complete fertilizer for acidic plants that contains minor nutrients. Feed monthly during the winter.
In the landscape, feed about every four weeks with the same fertilizer. The minor nutrients are important to keeping healthy foliage. The biggest complaints from growers are leaves that develop a chlorotic color. Regular fertilization will take care of this.
Keep them well watered and mulched during the summer. If you want to keep yours, remember to take it indoors before freezing weather. Once indoors, cut way back on water and fertilization. Don't forget that the leading cause of death to houseplants is over- watering.
Ixora's foliage and flower give it the ability to be combined in the garden with other tropical plants. This year I am growing mine in a smaller bed with the saddle-leafed philodendron, philodendron selloum, which also deserves to be planted in landscapes beyond the Coastal counties. They would also look nice with upright elephant ears, bananas and cannas.
The ixora may be an extra good buy right now as we are entering that transition time before fall plantings. If you find them, you can still get a couple of months enjoyment from them before worrying about moving them to cold-weather protection. Next spring, you will be off and running with a larger plant.
Try the ixora, and you may find it is one of your favorite tropical plants, too!