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On Gardening: Variegated tapioca, an award winning landscape thriller

July 25, 2016

Variegated Tapioca and Gaillardia create a terrific companionship of foliage and flower.

The variegated tapioca continues to be one of the hottest plants in the garden. First and foremost it is an incredibly showy plant, but the real impetus may have been that it was chosen as a Texas Superstar Award Winner and placed extremely high in University of Georgia trials.

Once again this selection demonstrates that a zone 9-10 tropical can thrill as an annual and that almost everyone can revel in the exotic gold, cream, and green variegation borne on each and every palmate leaf. Five years ago I wrote about the plant based on seeing it in trials and botanical gardens but now after having been a part of the growing process all I can say is it is stunning.

I can truthfully say Savannah can dish out summer temperatures and almost unbearable humidity with the best of them. The variegated tapioca doesn’t flinch and if anything, kicks into high gear.

Variegated tapioca is known botanically as Manihot esculenta Variegata, and is also called variegated cassava. It is native to South America and indeed is cooked and eaten but carries an extreme warning, only if you know what you are doing! Believe me you’ll just want to treasure it for its stunning look in the garden.

At the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens we’ve grown it in our Cottage Garden in close proximity to Formosan Lily, and Black and Blue salvia. They serve as the thriller plant in blue glazed Vietnamese pottery and combine with Cora Cascade periwinkles.

In frost free areas it can reach over 7 feet tall but in Savannah ours kept mounded and slightly over 4 feet. The boldly variegated foliage starts reddish-pink when young but quickly reaches enormous status with deeply lobed, even palmate with gold, cream and green leaves reaching 8 inches in width.

Fertile well drained soil will give you the best landscape performance. If you have tight clay soil, incorporate 3-to-4 inches of organic matter like peat, compost or humus. This will provide the necessary aeration for good root expansion yet allow for suitable moisture holding capacity. This is one of those great plants able to tolerate acidic or alkaline conditions.

For those idyllic tropical containers on the porch or patio, do not skimp on potting soil. Forget the 40lb bargain brand and purchase a bag that sold by the cubic foot and is light and fluffy, containing controlled release fertilizer. This will give you the green thumb.

Continued feeding will play an important role in your success. In the landscape feed with light monthly applications of a slow released blend like a12-6-6 or 10-10-10. In containers you’ll want to feed with a dilute water soluble liquid every other week or use controlled release granules per formula recommendation.

Pay attention to supplemental irrigation during prolonged dry periods and maintain a layer of mulch. Should your variegated tapioca send up an all green sprout or shoot prune off immediately as it will become more vigorous and dominant. So far in three years of growing, this hasn’t been an issue with ours.

In the tropical style landscape the variegated tapioca looks at home in combination with other foliage like bananas or elephant ears. Blue flowered salvias like Mystic Spires a compact Indigo Spires, Cathedral Deep Blue and intense blue Salvia farinacea, or Black and Blue Salvia guaranitica, would make for a striking complementary color scheme.

If tropical is not your style have no fear because the variegated tapioca has the ability to be an eye catcher no matter the style, grandma’s cottage, golf course garden or the ultra-modern urban front yard.

 

 




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