On Gardening: New amaranths should make this butterfly magnet a staple

July 27, 2015
Qis Carmine gomphrena can give a dazzling appearance when mass planted.

The Rio Grande globe amaranth should be coming to a garden center near you, thanks to a new series called Qis Gomphrena. It is tough-as-nails, beautiful and attracts butterflies and pollinators.

You would think that a common name like Rio Grande globe amaranth and even flashy named varieties like Strawberry Fields would make it a staple at the garden center but this simply hasnít been the case. The Qis series will be different in that greenhouse producers will find it easy to grow, so that will give gardeners everywhere a chance to try it in the landscape.

This species known botanically as Gomphrena haageana has great bones as it is native to Texas and New Mexico. The Qis series will come in the traditional red, carmine, orange, purple and a mix with more colors surely on the way.

At the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens we are growing the Qis Carmine, and I am beyond thrilled. The plants reach around 24 to 36 inches in height with a 12- to 15-inch spread and just keep blooming.

When you find yours, select a site in full sun with fertile, well-drained soil. I have seen many fine gomphrenas in part sun, but blooms are more prolific in full sun. Those blooms will also bring in butterflies.

When working soil, incorporate 2 pounds of fertilizer per 100 square feet of bed space. I like to use a 12-6-6 ratio when I can easily find it, but a balanced one that contains a slow-release form of nitrogen will do just fine. Work in the fertilizer and 3 to 4 inches of organic matter, tilling 6 to 8 inches deep.

The effort put into loosening the soil with organic matter will pay off when frequent rains make good drainage mandatory. Once the drier season arrives, established plants will become drought-tolerant.

The seed companies are recommending a 5- to-6 inch spacing, but I think 8 to 12 might be the best in the Deep South. Just be sure to plant them at the same depth they are growing in the container. Add a layer of mulch to conserve moisture and retard weed growth.

Remove old flowers to keep the plant tidy and to keep those little, round flowers coming, too. Feed plants about every six weeks with the same fertilizer used in bed preparation. In addition to being good in vases, they are superior dried flowers, and many gardeners use the little ball-shaped flowers around the home in potpourri dishes.

We are growing ours in pollinator gardens with lantanas, mistflowers, milkweeds and a host of other butterfly magnets. The Qis carmine we are growing seems to be a favorite of the little skippers, and it seems to be a preferred perch for hunting dragonflies.

Recently I have seen them grown in the middle of Red Head coleus for a most distinctive partnership. We have spot planted ours and have grouped a few others in clusters of three, but I have seen professionally landscaped beds that were mass planted, and they are amazing.

The Qis should be at a garden center near you along with a lot of other wonderful gomphrena, such as Pinball, All Around Purple and Fireworks. They are sure to perform until now until the first freeze. I hope you give them a try.