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Purple Knight offers beauty with character
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Late winter cold snaps are enough to make a gardener want to have a groundhog killing, but it would be better to channel our frustrations toward planning this year's landscapes. Therefore, I want to call your attention to a new, must-have plant for 2003.
"Beautiful," "striking" and "tough-as-nails" are just a few of the adjectives horticulturists are using to describe Purple Knight alternanthera after landscape trials. Purple Knight is guaranteed to take gardening to new levels of enjoyment.
Alternanthera may sound familiar since Purple Knight is related to the old-fashioned alternanthera known as the Joseph's coat. That is where most similarities stop, as Purple Knight is like a thoroughbred racehorse yielding its dark purple foliage from late spring until frost.
Purple Knight is an environmentally friendly plant with no serious pests or diseases. Rain by the buckets, winds to make you seek cover and heat that would force you indoors are no match for Purple Knight. This means the Purple Knight provides beauty without the fuss and worry associated with other plants.
Purple Knight ordinarily reaches 16 to 20 inches in height. I planted it with that expectation, and it virtually covered up my salvias, purple heart and society garlic. It reached every bit of 36 inches with an equally impressive spread. But believe me, I was not the least bit upset with its tenacious performance.
When you get yours this spring, space plants 18 to 24 inches apart. The dark purple foliage blends wonderfully with flowers like the Tidal Wave petunia, particularly the silver and hot pink selections. For the complementary color scheme, try yellow, orange or gold flowers like New Gold lantana or the French dwarf-crested marigolds Bonanza or Janie.
Purple Knight is at home in tropical gardens where gardeners can use them as understory plantings to bananas or elephant ears, or grown with cannas, coleus and caladiums.
Those with a cottage-style garden theme will want to use them with bold drifts of perennials like the black-eyed Susan, Shasta daisy, purple coneflower or blue salvia. I grew some last season with ornamental grasses and the result was very pleasing. The choices of companion plantings are limited only by your imagination.
Purple Knight will perform effortlessly for a long season, giving incredible beauty to the landscape. A little water during periods of drought, light applications of slow-release fertilizer in late spring, summer and early fall and you will have the green thumb.
If at any time during the growing season you feel the need to give a light pruning to shape or confine a little, do so. Purple Knight will never miss a beat in the landscape. Make your cut just above a set of leaves.
Purple Knight alternanthera is just one of several hot purple plants for this new gardening season. Don't forget the ornamental millet Purple Majesty, which is an All-America Selections Gold Medal winner.
Regardless of whether the groundhog was right or wrong, spring will come and new plants like the Purple Knight will make it a season to remember.