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Ageratums now offer long performance season
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
I have always loved the ageratum for its rare blue color, but I have never thought of it as a tough plant. Now thanks to new breeding, there are varieties we can count on for just about the entire growing season.
The first of the new varieties that really started to change the way we looked at ageratums is the Artists series introduced a couple of years ago by Proven Winners. Today there are four colors; Artist Alto Blue is the tallest in the series, reaching 12 to 18 inches tall. Its height lets it be used as a cut flower.
Next is Artist Blue, which reaches 8 to 12 inches in height. Artist Blue is so tough in heat that it was the top performer at the Dallas Arboretum. I can tell you they know how to cook flowers there.
The Artist Blue Violet may be the most beautiful, with unusual bi-color blossoms that open purple and then turn blue. It reaches the same height as Artist Blue and was a top performer in Ohio State University trials.
On many occasions Artist Purple looks maroon, and it is rare in the world of ageratums. It performed incredibly well at Mississippi State University trials at Crystal Springs and is considered a rising star at the Dallas Arboretum.
With the ageratum, we now have great seed-produced varieties and those that are vegetatively propagated. Ball FloraPlant introduced a vegetatively propagated series called Cloud Nine. These ageratums are large plants with big flowers. I grew them last year in mixed containers and was most impressed with their performance.
Last among the new tough ageratums is the High Tide series, introduced by Pan American Seed. The High Tide series is packed with hybrid vigor and gives an awesome landscape performance. High Tide comes in Blue and White, and reaches 14 to 16 inches tall and spreads to 12 inches. You don't have to remove spent flowers, and they are easy to care for.
Now is a good time to plant ageratums. Before setting them out, prepare the soil so the roots can get established in the garden. They need soil with good drainage as plants need oxygen, too. Work in 3 to 4 inches of organic matter like peat, compost or humus, and till to a depth of 6 to 8 inches. You can also use prepared landscape mixes and plant on raised beds.
The cool blue color of the ageratum allows it to be partnered in dramatic fashion with hot orange flowers like marigolds and lantanas. The Mississippi Medallion award-winning Profusion Fire Zinnia would be a showstopper.
Don't overlook the opportunity to combine these blue flowers with red and white ones for a patriotic display. Use geraniums, perennial verbenas like the Aztec or Tukana, or Easy Wave Red petunias.
These ageratums mentioned are among the newest in the last two or three years. Your garden center may have some other new varieties that will give months of enjoyable color, but keep your eye out for Artist, Cloud Nine and High Tide varieties.