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Angels' Trumpets Herald Gardens
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
This is that glorious time of the year when giant, trumpet- shaped flowers in apricot yellow gracefully hang along branches in Mississippi landscapes as if waiting for Gabriel to choose one for an upcoming announcement.
The plants are known botanically as Brugmansia versicolor, but around here we call them Angels' Trumpets. They come from Ecuador, but they couldn't look more at home than they do in Mississippi. The most beautiful of Angel's Trumpets reach 12 to 18 inches in length and make a statement in the landscape. It is hard to believe these plants are related to tomatoes and peppers.
We had early blooms after the mild winter, but late summer and fall is when they really strut their stuff. This plant gets passed from friend to friend, but garden centers in Mississippi sell quite a few, probably more than in other states. The plant is poisonous, so just revel in its beauty and do not eat it.
To grow yours, choose a site in full to partial sun and plant in well-drained, organic-rich beds. If you wait until next year, don't plant until after the last frost and the soil has warmed. You may, however, stumble on some good opportunities now. Protection from the wind and mid-afternoon sun make for a prettier plant, but there is a group south of Jackson on I-55 that can make me eat those words. We also have them at the Truck Crops Experiment Station in Crystal Springs in full sun and they do very well.
I recently saw a small tree in a large container that was loaded with blooms, demonstrating that you can enjoy this plant just about anywhere. During a summer like we have been experiencing, supplemental water may be the most rigorous requirement. They only require feeding with light applications of a slow-released balanced fertilizer about three times during the growing season.
In central Mississippi, they have had no problem returning from the winter, but a 50-year freeze may be a different story. Prune in early spring after the last frost, cutting back to 6 or 8 inches above the ground. Plants will come back from the base with vigor. In north Mississippi, plant in a protected micro-climate around the house, grow in a container and move indoors, or take cuttings in the fall to root. They root easily, and it is not hard to hold small plants over the winter.
At the Truck Crops Experiment Station, we are growing them with large bananas, which really adds a tropical appeal. In another bed, they are surrounded by Purple Heart that looks exceptional with the apricot colors of the trumpets. Another great companion would be red coleus like Burgundy Sun, New Orleans Red or Plum Parfait.
At the risk of shocking you lovers of the Angel's Trumpet, I must tell you the varieties Grand Marnier, Charles Grimaldi and Frosty Pink are some selections that others have deemed better or at least worthy of adding to your collection. Finding these plants and others is what makes gardening in the South the most rewarding outdoor experience.