On Gardening: Esperanza a must-have plan for beauty and wildlife habitat

September 29, 2014

This Eastern Tiger Swallowtail finds the gold-flowered esperanza to be the perfect meal.

The Esperanza or yellow bells, have truly been outstanding all summer and they just keep flushing with blooms. In addition to the yellow selections we are also growing at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Garden, Orange Jubilee that has been doing its part to bring in pollinators. By that I mean butterflies and hummingbirds are always found hitting on the blossoms. Whether you can grow these as perennials, or annuals like a petunia, they are must-have plants for beauty and the backyard wildlife habitat.

It was a few years ago that most gardeners outside of the warm regions had never tried this plant. Then the yellow form called Gold Star became a Texas Super Star winner. Pan American Seed kept the interest going by introducing Mayan Gold the first widely produced seed selection making it a choice annual selection all across the country. A couple of years ago I wrote about a new favorite called Sierra Apricot that is truly outstanding and now there seems to be new varieties hitting the market on a regular basis.

Sierra Apricot , Orange Jubilee, Solar Flare, Sunrise and Crimson Flare are all hybrids of Tecoma stans and Tecoma alata and found in the Bignonia family. This means they are related to our native cross-vine and trumpet creeper. These, however, are tropicals native to the warmest parts of the United States, Mexico and South America. Though many books and references list them as a zone 9, the esperanzas normally return from the ground in zone 8. But donít let this deter you from buying them next spring and using as an annual or a protected container plant.

The typical generic esperanza can get quite large, usually well over 10 feet in warm climates. In South Texas many gardeners keep them cut back like you might do with other shrubs. Sierra Apricot and Mayan Gold however are much more compact selections reaching only 4 to 5 feet tall. Solar Flare, Crimson Flare and Orange Jubilee can reach 8 feet in height. They all are known for blooming from late spring through frost and virtually laughing at July and August heat.

Select a site in full sun for best blooming, but know they also perform nicely in morning sun and afternoon shade. Grow them in large containers around the porch, patio or deck, or plant in fertile, well-drained soil in the tropical-style garden. Amend heavy, poorly drained soil with the addition of 3 to 4 inches of organic matter and till to a depth of 8 to 10 inches. Good drainage always improves your cold hardiness.

While preparing the soil, incorporate 2 pounds of a slow-release, 12-6-6 fertilizer per 100 square feet of planting area. Dig the planting hole two to three times as large as the root ball and plant at the same depth it is growing in the container.

Feed container-grown plants with a diluted water-soluble 20-20-20 fertilizer every other week or use controlled-release granules according to the formula recommendation. Keep in mind that daily watering and high temperatures usually mean fertilizing more often. Feed those in the landscape every four to six weeks with light applications of fertilizer.

At our gardens, we use both the Golden Jubilee and Gold Star in and around our Mediterranean Garden. They are grown in partnership with plants like firebush, day blooming cestrum and spicy Jatropha ,which we use as an annual since we are lower zone 8. We also have fall blooming Mexican bush sage and Cherry sage, which likewise keep the butterflies and hummingbirds active.

Many esperanzas are sold generically, and to be honest I love them all, but keep your eyes open for the named varieties too. It is fun to grow tropicals at our homes, and it is especially nice when they bloom non-stop and attract butterflies and hummingbirds.



McClatchy-Tribune Information Services