Every spring and fall since 2009, the LSU AgCenter has issued a list of what it calls “Super Plants” for Louisiana gardens, plants that have been tested by the AgCenter and proven to adjust well to our climate and conditions.
The list of 30 past Super Plants includes well-known garden staples such as ShiShi Gashira camellia and Drift roses, but also glamour queens including Flutterby Petite Tutti Fruitti Pink buddleia (a variety of butterfly bush), Senorita Rosalita cleome and Diamonds Blue delphinium.
Allen Owings of the LSU AgCenter announced recently the two new Super Plants for the Spring of 2015: Henna coleus (a multi-cored version of the popular plant grown for its foliage) and Fireworks pennisetum (a variegated type of purple fountain grass with streaks of red added to the color palette).
The plants won’t be unveiled and promoted heavily for another few weeks elsewhere in the state, but New Orleanians and area gardeners can get the jump on them, thanks to Owings’ tip.
Given the insatiable appetite gardeners seem to have for new and unusual coleus plants, it won’t take long before Henna coleus (or Solenostemon scutellarioides ‘Henna’) becomes a hit and finds it way into dozens of spring planting schemes. The foliage of coleus plants can range widely, from lime green to burnt orange to dark auburn, all shades that can add dimension to any bed. Henna coleus offers another variation that makes it desirable: Its heavily fringed leaves which add texture to the garden.
The AgCenter prizes the Henna coleus for its fringed leaves, gold, chartreuse, and burgundy coloration, bushy habit and heat tolerance. It makes a great summer bedding plant when higher temperatures cause some of the cooler annuals to fade away. Better still, propagation is simple. Like most coleuses, a cutting can be rooted in water, nursed along and then planted. Taking cuttings before the first killing frost sets in ensures a repeat performer in the garden for years to come.
Fireworks Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum “Fireworks”) is another Super Plan that contributes both color and texture to the garden. Purple fountain grass has long been a favorite in our area, but this new, red-foliaged variety adds an extra dimension of interest and hue. Owings recommends planting the grass in clumps of three to five to serve as a vertical focal point in flower beds.
The ornamental grasses provide variation in texture and their plume-like flowers add variety. These will grow up to 4 feet tall, ideal for gardeners seeking height. Planted singly, the grass can serve as the vertical component of a composition in a large container. As the plants are hardy to temperatures in the low 20s, it is possible for them to be treated as perennials in the New Orleans area.
The Super Plant program began when the AgCenter recognized the importance of showcasing both overlooked plant varieties and the best of those that are new to the trade. To qualify, a plant must endure at least two years of rigorous testing by the state. For a complete list of Louisiana Super Plants, organized by warm and cool seasons, go to lsuagcenter.com.
R. Stephanie Bruno writes about houses and gardens. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her @rstephaniebruno