On Gardening: Copper worth every penny in the summer landscape

May 29, 2016

This morning in Savannah, the heat and humidity were simply staggering but as I drove into the garden there they were, two acalypha plants, the tropical troopers of the landscape. What I was looking at were Java White and the bright red cat tail like blooms of chenille plant.

When it comes to August temperatures we as gardeners need some tough tropicals to help the landscape dazzle until cool season planting time arrives. When you think hot and the dog days of summer the copper plant is one that comes to mind and calling Java White copper is certainly a misnomer.

It is funny, it is in the same genus and species, which is acalypha wilkesiana. Here you will find those with foliage that is truly a copper color, many as showy as a new penny, but the foliage of Java White appears as though kissed by snow. It features various patterns and variegations of green, white and cream with leaves that are like snowflakes in that no two are alike. But like the others, it too attains a shrub-like habit in sun to part sun and certainly offers an exotic appeal all of its own.

The copper plant or copperleaf has its origins in the Pacific islands. It is in the Euphorbia family, making it related to the poinsettia, croton and chenille plant which is known botanically as Acalypha hispida. In the South Pacific, copper plants may reach 10 to 15 feet in height, a stunning sight.

In addition to the Java White keep your eyes open for Beyond Paradise. The name is aptly suited as the plant thrills with its brilliantly variegated leaves in shades of copper and rose. That is its full sun color. In the shade, it is not quite so bright but equally stunning as the leaves feature various blends of copper, green and rose red variegation.

Beyond Paradise reaches 36 inches tall and will be a beacon in the garden mesmerizing all those who pass by your home. It also makes a visually stimulating companion in mixed containers that will only be limited by your imagination.

In addition to Beyond Paradise, there is a fairly new introduction called Jungle Cloak. When you look at the leaves you feel like it is impossible to get such a unique camouflage pattern featuring green cream red and copper. It too reaches about 36 inches in height with a spread of 24 inches.

But I also mentioned the chenille plant, which by the way is officially

red-hot cat’s tail. This pendulous blooming jewel is from Malaysia and New Guinea. There and similar tropical climates it becomes a 6-foot tall shrub adorned with 18-inch long drooping tail-like structures of deep red. In the sun in Savannah, they seem to also glisten. We are growing ours in a planter box–like setting that allows the flowers to cascade over the edge.

Whether you choose a variety of copperleaf or the chenille plant well drained soil will be your friend. If your drainage is the least bit suspect, incorporate several inches of organic matter while preparing the bed. These plants grow quite large, so space them adequately. At 18 inches, they will quickly form a hedge-like look. Depending on the variety you will want to space them 24 to 36 inches apart.

They are incredible in mixed containers with both flowers and foliage. The copper partners well with blue flowers whether salvias or my favorite the light blue plumbago. You can also create thrilling partnerships with soft orange and apricot.

Copper plants for years were sold generically, but thankfully that is now passé thanks to varieties like Beyond Paradise, Bourbon Street, Ceylon and Jungle Cloak. The chenille plant, on the other hand, is still generic.

Unless you live in zone 9 and warmer these plants will be grown as an annual but are worth every penny. There are certainly gardeners that take them inside for the winter bringing a touch of the tropics indoors. Because of their rugged nature, many garden centers bring them in for a late summer landscape pick up. You could hardly do better.



Associated Press