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Celosia offers durable beauty
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
At a garden center recently, I saw one of the best buys in flowers just waiting for a good home. This plant was offered in feathery plumes, cockscombs or flowers resembling wheatears. You guessed it -- it was the celosia.
Originating in the tropics, the celosia produces flowers from summer through fall. Its ability to withstand drought and extremely hot temperatures should win it a Mississippi Medallion Award, a Georgia Gold Medal and every other honor in the South.
If the intense heat we have endured so far this summer sends you looking for long-lasting, tough color -- look no further than the durable celosia. A valuable source of color when summer has flowers looking tired, the celosia is also a popular cut flower. It is perfect for drying or using in floral arrangements.
As with many flowers, the key ingredient to great performance is good soil drainage. Wet, soggy soil is lethal to celosia, so amend as needed.
Select healthy, growing transplants with few buds showing, or plant seeds in warm soil. Prior to planting, prepare the bed area with 2 pounds per 100 square feet of a slow-release, 12-6-6 fertilizer with minor nutrients. Space plants 10 to 15 inches apart.
This trouble-free plant may benefit from a fungicide application during abnormally wet summers. Feed the celosia with a light application of fertilizer every six to eight weeks to keep it growing vigorously.
If drying for winter arrangements, be sure to harvest before seed-set. Then strip foliage and hang upside-down in a cool, dark, well-ventilated area.
Spot-planting does not do this plant justice. Mass plant at least nine -- 15 would be better -- in an informal drift for the most effective landscape display. Plant them in combination with other drought-tolerant flowers with similar water requirements.
Don't be afraid to mix different colors of this plant -- the result will dazzle you. The colorful, plume-like flowers are showiest with a backdrop of green shrubbery.
The wheat-formed selections give a light, airy, native-prairie look to the landscape. Combine them with plants like gomphrena and ornamental grasses.
Popular Crista, or cockscomb, varieties are the Bombay and Chief series. Fireglow was an All America Selections winner in 1964, and the multi-flora Prestige Scarlet received that honor in 1997.
In the Plumosa group, those with a feathered look -- like the Castle, Century and Kimono series -- are among the most recognized. New Look was an All America Selections winner and a Georgia Gold Medal winner. In the Spicata group, Flamingo Purple and Pink Candle are two of the best.
Don't let a little abnormal heat keep you from adding pizzazz to your landscape. Find celosia varieties at your garden center now.