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Purple Knight named '05 Medallion winner
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
"Beautiful," "striking" and "tough-as-nails" are just a few of the adjectives horticulturists use to describe Purple Knight alternanthera, which just received the 2005 Mississippi Medallion Award. Purple Knight is guaranteed to take gardening to new levels of enjoyment.
The Mississippi Plant Selections Committee chose Purple Knight because it 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 Purple Knight provides landscape beauty without the fuss and worry associated with other plants.
Alternanthera may sound familiar because Purple Knight is related to the old-fashioned alternanthera known as 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 easily reaches 16 to 20 inches in height. Stand back and watch it perform in organic-rich, fertile soil. In my garden, I planted it in close proximity to a lot of my favorite perennials. 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 a 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 it can be used as an understory planting 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. Combine a little water during periods of drought with light applications of slow-release fertilizer in late spring, summer and early fall, and neighbors will be convinced you 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.
The Mississippi Medallion Award program began in 1996 with Blue Daze evolvulus and New Gold lantana, and I assure you that Purple Knight alternanthera will perform as a true winner as well.
The Mississippi Medallion award program is sponsored by the Mississippi State University Extension Service, Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, Mississippi Nursery and Landscape Association, and the Mississippi Plant Selections Committee.