Like almost every gardener I know, I want a gorgeous-looking garden and landscape that is drought tolerant and requires little maintenance.
I know I should know better, but I want what I want.
So, I'm always looking for those plants that can pretty much fend for themselves most of the season. I'm going to help out when needed with supplemental watering during the extremely hot periods of the summer, of course. I'm also going to feed the plants when they get hungry. But the plants have to realize that they need to be able to pull their own weight and put on a flashy floral show if they want to grow in my garden.
One plant that has definitely earned its spot in my landscape is Cuphea Vermillionaire. This is a heat-loving plant that flowers from spring to frost in the fall. Last year, Vermillionaire was flowering all the way into November in my coastal Mississippi garden.
The common name for Vermillionaire is large firecracker plant. It's easy to see where this name comes from. Their flowers remind me of the little ladyfinger firecrackers we played with as kids. While they don't explode, the flowers still go "BANG! BOOM! POW!" in the landscape. Abundant fiery-hot yellow, red and orange tubular flowers are produced up and down the stems and all over the entire plant. It literally was a mound of flowers and quite the sight all summer long.
The flowers are butterfly and hummingbird magnets, and I enjoyed watching these visitors. But I was amazed by the insects that took advantage of the flowers in the fall. Walking by the plant, I could literally hear it buzzing with a multitude of different sized native bumblebees.
One day, I counted seven different bumbles at one time jostling for position with several hummingbirds. And it was interesting watching the bumbles feed. They did not go in from the front of the flower like the butterflies or hummingbirds. The bumblebees would grab onto and chew through the back of the flower to get at the yummy nectar.
Vermillionaire is a nice-sized plant. It reaches 3 feet tall by the end of summer growing in a large container in my landscape with an almost equal spread. It makes for a nice container patio plant.
Be sure to plant in the full sun for the best flowering and tighter growth. Though Vermillionaire is tolerant of droughty conditions, it will really put on a show with consistently moist soil and regular feeding. I use water-soluble fertilizer about every three weeks.
Cuphea Vermillionaire is perennial in zones 8a and warmer, so this covers a large portion of Mississippi. But North Mississippi gardeners won't be disappointed in this plant as a great flowering annual.
Gary Bachman is a professor of horticulture at the Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi.