16 October 2008

Globe Amaranth for Butterflies, Potpourri and Dried Flower Arrangments

Globe Amaranth is another one of those plants that goes by several different names including Gomphrena globosa, flower of immortality, and everlasting bachelor button.

Whatever it is called, growing this little plant is a busy or lazy gardener’s dream.

The plants were originally from Guatamala, Brazil and Panama so they are heat and humidity tolerant. They are easy to grow in our area from seed and they will bloom until the first freeze.

The old fashioned varieties were peach and pink “flowering” plants that grew 2-feet tall. The pretty colored gomphrena buttons we think of as flowers are not actually flowers. They are bracts. Just as what we think of as the bloom on a poinsettia is actually a bract or a collection of colored leaves surrounding a tiny flower.

New varieties and colors include 4-to-6-inch dwarf plants to border the front edge of a bed or to fill the space around a tall, potted plant.

Seeds can be started as early as January in a greenhouse or on a south facing windowsill in March. Plants and seeds can be put out in the garden after April 15th. The seeds benefit from an overnight soaking before planting. They need light to germinate so do not cover them. The germination rate is low, so plant extra seeds.

Globe Amaranth blooms best with 6-hours of sun; afternoon shade is fine. Water regularly until plants are established and fertilize with flower fertilizer. After that, they are relatively carefree with few requirements. Keep them on the dry side to prevent mildew on the leaves.

Plant globe amaranth where you can enjoy the butterfly show. To fill a bed, pinch back the stems the and put the plants about 18-inches apart.

Globe Amaranth is widely used in dried flower arrangements and potpurri because they retain color for years. If you want long stems for drying, plant them no more than a foot apart so they are forced to reach for the sun. To dry the flowers, cut entire stems before the flower bracts are competey open and hang them upside down in a shady place.

Fertilize pot grown plants weekly and keep the pots out of afternoon sun after the roots have filled the pot. Mature standard plants are about 18-inches tall and wide with 4-inch long leaves.

Strawberry Fields is the most popular red variety. Other colors include Bicolor Rose, Lavender Queen, Red, White, etc. Buddy and Gnome 6-inch-tall border varieties that require little care and can take the heat of a sidewalk. Look for the new hybrid varieties, QIS, Woodcreek and Tall.

Seed sources: Johnny’s Seeds www.johnnyseeds.com - bi-color and mixed. Park Seed at www.parkseed.com - All Around Purple. Renee’s - reneesgarden.com – Mardi Gras Parade mix of red, apricot, carmine. Stokes - Stokeseeds.com – 13 varieties of Buddy, Gnome and Woodcreek.

Save a few flower heads each year to use as the next year’s seeds. If they are planted in a bed, they will return from seed by themselves as volunteers.

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