This Spicebush Swallowtail finds Sunstar Red pentas to be just perfect. (Norman Winter/TNS)

In Georgia we had a year that was pretty much miraculous for butterflies. As you might guess, The Garden Guy had an abundance of plants making sure pollinators of all sorts felt welcome in the garden. In May I wrote a column telling you about a new Sunstar pentas series of making their debut.

I had already grown Sunstar Pink that seriously had the largest florets of any pentas series I had ever grown. It was a favorite of the Gulf Fritillaries in my 2019 testing. This growing season I put the Sunstar Red to the big test and I am delighted to tell you this has champion written all over it.

At The Garden Guy’s house the flower beds are full of a lot of "race horses," so-to speak. What I mean is that I have everything a butterfly or a hummingbird could want and they grow at full throttle for the entire long hot summer. If you aren’t tough and fairly vigorous, you get swallowed up by those that are.

Sunstar Red was a champ growing right alongside the new Luscious Golden Gate lantana and Blue Boa hummingbird mint. Not only did they compete and hold their space at 2 feet tall and wide, but they bloomed until Old Man Winter (no relation) took them out Nov. 30.

They were visited by swallowtails and hummingbirds throughout the summer. Gulf Fritillaries liked them like the Sunstar Pink and there were frequent stops by American Ladies and Common Buckeyes. But it was the variety of swallowtails that kept me mesmerized.

There are four colors in the series coming from Proven Winners: pink, red, a stunning lavender that I combined with Truffula Pink Gomphrena and a rose. They have all won awards from north to south. In fact, there were 78 awards before the 2020 set of university trials.

As I told you in May, these aren’t just any awards but, Best of the Best, Perfect Score or Top Performer all season, and awards for hanging baskets. The one that caught my eye was Top Performer Pollinators Award in the Ohio State University trials. After another year at The Garden Guy’s’house, I concur.

You will relish the fact that maintenance is low and there is no need to deadhead. Last summer in the new house it seemed I was always frantic about something, and I kept saying to myself I needed to deadhead. Every time I ventured out to do the task, the plant had increased its branches and blooms to the point I finally put away the shears.

Blooms will be produced in abundance all summer long if beds are prepared correctly. Choose a site in full sun for best flower production. If I have a weak spot in my garden it is that I am a little sun challenged. The Sunstar pentas did their part however, blooming until frost.

If you are plagued by tight clay prepare the bed by incorporating 3 to 4 inches of organic matter. A little slow release fertilizer incorporated at planting time and a side dress in mid-summer will keep you in blooms until fall.

Sunstar pentas fit any style of garden, from grandma’s cottage to your tropical paradise retreat. But by all means don’t forget the role they can play in the backyard pollinator habitat. Again, I used Sunstar Red with the new Luscious Golden Gate lantana in what is referred to as an analogous color scheme of colors next to each other on the color wheel.

You may be wondering why is The Garden Guy telling me about Sunstar pentas now? Well, mine just froze and this is a good time for evaluation while it is fresh on my mind. But there will be a lot of pentas in the market in the spring and I want you to be able to get these award winners. Start sourcing now; tell your favorite garden center you want them to get the Sunstar series. Proven Winners, can help you source too!

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