“Groundwork” column for Jan. 20, 2013

Photo by ALLEN OWINGS -- Salvia 'Amistad' is a great new hybrid salvia for our landscape displaying large, deep purple with black calyx flowers. Plants grow 4 feet tall and flowers spring through fall. Show caption
Photo by ALLEN OWINGS -- Salvia 'Amistad' is a great new hybrid salvia for our landscape displaying large, deep purple with black calyx flowers. Plants grow 4 feet tall and flowers spring through fall.

Allen Owings, LSU AgCenter horticulturist stationed at the Hammond Research Station, evaluates new plants for their success and usefulness in Louisiana landscapes. Each fall, he compiles a list of worthy plants new to the nursery industry in the warm-season, herbaceous-annual category.

Here is the list of the best-performing new plants to be on the lookout for this year.

A new hybrid salvia, Amistad, was very impressive and gathered a lot of interest. It will be part of the Sunset Western Garden Collection in 2013. A great new salvia for the Southeast, it has created quite an impression with its performance at the LSU AgCenter. The plant has large, deep purple with black calyx flowers, matures at 4 feet in the landscape, and flowers spring through fall.

An All-America Selection winner for 2013 is Cheyenne Spirit Echinacea. This variety has been performing great in trial gardens across the Southeast this year. The unique thing about this new purple coneflower is the assortment of mixed colors and the fact that it is a seed-originating variety. With so many new echinacea on the market, it is sometimes hard to know where to begin. But this new variety along with the award-winning, seed-propagated PowWow White and PowWow Wild Berry varieties make great new garden additions.

The Celebration series Pennisetums are great improvements over what we used to call purple fountain grass. Fireworks is the variety that was introduced first in 2010 and is being widely used and accepted in the industry. Nice red spring growth lasts through summer and fades some in fall.

The new addition to the series for 2011 was Sky Rocket — with white-and-green variegated foliage. The new cultivar in the series for 2012 release is Cherry Sparkler. This one has blushy pink foliage mixed with white and green variegated stripes.

Baby Wing Bronze with White is the newest variety in the popular series of Baby Wing begonias. Current varieties are Baby Wing White and Baby Wing Pink. These are Louisiana Super Plants. The new variety is the first in the series with bronze foliage. It has white flowers.

Purple and red are the colors in the new series of Lighthouse annual salvia. Annual salvias are variable in performance in the South. The Lighthouse series has shown good landscape quality from spring planting in early April through early October.

Senorita Blanca joins Senorita Rosalita as a new addition to this cleome series. Spineless and seed sterile, they offer constant bloom spring through fall. These are cutting-propagated selections from Proven Winner.

The Monza series bedding plant begonia is relatively new. The performance of four colors in the series this year have been pleasing at the LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Station. Earliness of flower, large blooms and compact growth are characteristics. Nine colors are available — salmon orange, appleblossom, coral, blush, rose, pink, scarlet, white and orange scarlet.

Other promising plants include the Trend series cuphea, the new Chocolate Covered Cherry coleus and a new group of cut-flower sunflowers Vincent Fresh and Vincent Choice. These plants are some of the newest of the new, and garden centers will have some available in 2013.

Garden series

The East Baton Rouge Parish Master Gardeners will wrap up its Basic Gardening Series at the East Baton Rouge Parish Bluebonnet Regional Branch Library on Thursday. The program is designed for the public — beginning and experienced gardeners.

This research-based educational program will take place from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Topics to be covered are “A Stroll Through the Shade-Dappled Garden” and “Garden Hand Tools — Selection, Use, Care.”

During the library’s construction, follow signage to enter at the rear entrance. Should the event be canceled due to inclement weather, it will be rescheduled to Jan. 31.

About poinsettias

If you haven’t already composted your potted poinsettia plant, you may want to try growing it outside once the weather turns warm and try blooming it for the holiday season. Place the plant in a sunny window and water when the soil feels dry. Expect lower leaves to begin falling from the plant.

In April, cut the plant back to about 10 inches or until there are four to six nodes of the stem above the soil. At this point, the poinsettia can be grown outdoors in full sun. If watered and fertilized, poinsettias will grow great outdoors. Trim them in June and plant them in 1-gallon pots or large indoor planters.

An outdoor poinsettia needs to be fertilized every week with a basic houseplant fertilizer during the spring and summer. If watered and fertilized properly, poinsettias will grow quite large, as high and wide as 5 feet.

To force your repotted poinsettia to bloom, cover the plant after 6 p.m. starting Sept. 22 and uncover it at 7 a.m. Do this until about Nov. 10. This process will trigger the poinsettia to make new colorful bracts and flowers just in time for the holidays.

Got a gardening question? Write to Bob Souvestre, horticulturist with the LSU AgCenter, at Burden Center, 4560 Essen Lane, Baton Rouge, LA 70809, or email to bsouvestre@agcenter.lsu.edu, or call Master Gardeners at (225) 763-3990.