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Gomphrena offers summer garden ‘zazzle’

By Norman Winter
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
LIFE HOME-ONGARDENING 3 MCT
HANDOUT - MCT
Audray is one of the new series of gomphrenas and is available in three colors. SunPatiens are in the foreground.

You may not recognize the word “zazzle,” but I predict you will like the plant attached to it. Pink Zazzle is a new gomphrena with iridescent hot pink flowers. We stumbled on it by accident, which means you may have to ask your favorite garden center to track them down for you.

Flowers on this new hybrid are larger than a golf ball. They are also called “globe amaranth” and occasionally “bachelor button.”

You may have avoided these tough-as-nails flowers, thinking gomphrena didn’t have the pizzazz or staying power for a long, hot summer, but the last decade has brought several marvelous new varieties.

Pink Zazzle, the newest, reaches about 16 inches tall with an equal spread. Another is All Around Purple, which reaches 18 to 24 inches with glorious purple balls. It tolerates downpours and droughty periods as well.

Audray is a new series that comes in pink, purple red and white and reaches 24-plus inches.

Fireworks, like Pink Zazzle, is a hybrid but with more typically sized flowers that are also shocking pink. The trait that makes Fireworks distinctive is that the flowers are borne all growing season on plants that can reach monolithic proportions by the end of summer. In Mississippi State trials, ours topped 4 feet and tolerated the absolute extremes in heat, rain and drought.

For any variety, select a site in full sun. I have seen many fine ones in part sun, but blooms are more prolific in full sun. The soil must 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 into 3 to 4 inches of organic matter, and till 6 to 8 inches.

Space plants 18 to 24 inches apart. The dwarf Gnome series can be planted closer. Place them in the soil at the same depth they are growing in the container. It is 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 a light application of the same fertilizer you used in bed preparation.

An informal drift or sweep of these flowers will be stunning. It seems to me that almost any other cluster of flowers or foliage is made more beautiful with a gomphrena partnership.

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