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Gomphrena offers beauty, toughness
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Garden centers have had a good supply of one of my favorite plants, the gomphrena. Known botanically as Gomphrena globosa, this Joseph's Coat relative is native to Panama and Guatemala.
Gardeners don't realize how tough this plant is and what a staunch performer it becomes in the summer flower border. In my book, the gomphrena also has another outstanding characteristic: it is beautiful. Few pest problems, drought tolerance and blooms until frost make this plant a must for every gardener.
Because it is so tough, you can feel at ease planting it now, even though temperatures have risen along with the sweat level, if you know what I mean. Select a site in full sun with fertile, well-drained soil. I have seen many fine ones in part sun, but blooms are more prolific in full sun.
When working your soil, incorporate 2 pounds of fertilizer per 100 square feet of bed space. I use a 12-6-6 ratio, but a balanced one that contains a slow-release form of nitrogen will do just fine. Work the fertilizer and 3 to 4 inches of organic matter, and till 6 to 8 inches.
Space plants 6 inches apart for the dwarf type and at least 12 inches apart for the taller selections. Plant them at the same depth they are growing in the container. They are easy to grow from seed, and germination takes place in about 20 days. I prefer nursery-grown transplants, especially when it comes to obtaining the newer varieties.
Since the rains have been sparse and the temperatures a little higher than comfortable, make sure you keep them watered to get them established. Once the roots are established, the gomphrena becomes much more drought tolerant. It is, however, a good idea to add a layer of mulch to conserve moisture and retard weed growth.
Remove old flowers to keep the plant tidy and looking its best, as well as to keep those little, round flowers coming. Feed plants about every six weeks with the same fertilizer you used in bed preparation.
The gomphrena is an excellent cut flower for the vase as well as dried and used for winter arrangements. The little ball-shaped flowers also are ideal for adding to potpourri dishes. The gomphrena comes in several colors.
The purple forms are ideal in combination with yellow flowers like lantana, melampodium and rudbeckia. All colors work well with Purple Heart, which is an equally tough plant. Use pink, lavender or rose varieties with burgundy-leafed coleus, Blackie sweet potato, Coral Nymph salvia or purple coneflower.
Gomphrena often is sold generically, but there are some superior selections. My favorite is the new All Around that is purple, tall and a very good performer. The Gnome dwarf series is available in three colors and a mix. The Gomphrena haageana is available in Lavender Lady and a red selection called Strawberry Fields.
By all means, if you are just now digging up the pansies and violas, know the gomphrena is one of the best tough flowers available to add landscape color.