If there was a flower that was the proverbial poster child of underutilized flowers it would have to be the globe amaranth or gomphrena. Two years ago, the Ping Pong series slipped under the radar with its debut and quietly won accolades in trials from South Texas to Pennsylvania.
This summer in Columbus, Ga., it has amazed me with its perseverance through what seems to be never-ending moisture, heat, and humidity. It’s botanically, gomphrena globose and is native to Panama and Guatemala. The Ping Pong series comes in three colors purple, lavender and white and a mix
Reaching 20-inches in full sun it gives a vertical dimension to the flower border. It is almost like they are floating on air. You will also have a bountiful supply of cuts for the vase. They can also be hung upside down to dry and then used in a vase or potpourri dishes as an everlasting.
In the garden, they are indeed the real troopers blooming all summer in the intense heat and humidity. You might be thinking anything that thrives all summer must be ugly and weed-like. This is simply not the case as these flowers show out with their vibrant colors. Few pest problems, drought tolerant, and blooms until frost make this plant a must for every gardener.
To grow yours 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. The soil does not have to be luxuriant but needs to be well drained.
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.
This loosening of the soil with organic matter pays dividends in weather like we have as rains seem to be more prevalent and drainage is mandatory. Once the dryer season arrives, established gomphrena plants will become drought tolerant.
Space plants at least 18 to 24-inches apart. Plant them at the same depth if they are growing in the container. 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.
Try the Ping Pong purple with yellow flowers like the Profusion Yellow zinnia or New Gold lantana and, it is incredible with lime green coleus. In a rare cottage garden look in Columbus, the designer used the Ping Pong Lavender in a large sweeping border with Calliope geranium, Cora vinca, Cathedral salvia and Intensia phlox.
The street in front of the home becomes a traffic jam of flower gawkers gazing at this bed and the neighbors across the street. Flowers have power and this can happen in your garden too! You’ll notice that all the while the Ping Pong gomphrenas are dazzling they also bringing in pollinators. This isn’t too bad for an annual that is the ‘poster child’ for the most underutilized flower.
(Norman Winter, horticulturist, garden speaker and author of, “Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South” and “Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden.” Follow him on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy.)
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