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On Gardening: Spicy Jatropha prized for its nonstop blooming until winter

The gulf fritillary finds the spicy jatropha to be the perfect feast.
The gulf fritillary finds the spicy jatropha to be the perfect feast. TNS

Blooms, birds and butterflies are the attributes everyone experiences when growing the award-winning spicy jatropha.

Spicy jatropha, also commonly known as peregrina and firecracker jatropha, is a must have plant for the long hot season ahead. No amount of heat will deter it from producing nonstop blooms until freezing weather arrives.

The spicy japtropha is native to the West Indies. Even though it is a tropical, it has been showing up at garden centers, like tropical hibiscus or mandevilla. It is such a great plant that it was declared a Texas Superstar Winner even though it is only cold hardy in southern Florida and Texas. They will over winter in South Texas, but everyone else will either protect them or grow them as an annual.

To me, the foliage has always been an additional selling point. The leaves are deep glossy green and fiddle-shaped. You can get a variance in leaf shapes, but regardless they serve as the perfect backdrop to the red or pink flowers.

In the tropics, it is not uncommon to see them as small trees reaching 10 to 12 feet but for most of us we will enjoy them in the 3 to 5 foot range. They are not finicky about soil pH but do need very well drained conditions.

Whether you grow them in the landscape or in containers on the porch, patio or poolside, you will notice butterflies and hummingbirds make regular visits. The flowers are about 1-inch across and are borne in clusters. Should yours get fruit, know that these are poisonous if ingested. In all of the years I’ve grown them, I have never seen fruit formed.

They are tough-as-nails and slow to wilt and make a quick recovery once water is applied. I’ve never seen any diseases or insect pressures. Planted in the ground, you will want to feed with light monthly applications of a slow-released balanced fertilizer containing micro-nutrients. Feed those in containers with a balanced controlled-released granular fertilizer as per formula recommendation or every other week with a dilute water-soluble 20-20-20.

Though jatrophas are still fairly new to garden centers, the prices generally make them one of the best buys for your garden dollar since they bloom non-stop for 5 to 7 months depending where you live.

In the landscape, I love them with bananas, philodendrons and elephant ears, where their coarse textured foliage combines with the red flowers for a real taste of the tropics. In our mixed containers, we are using them with rich pastel yellow lantanas, blue verbenas, white scaevolas and carmine colored celosia. As they have grown together the look is simply dazzling.

Unless you live in our warmest regions you most likely will be purchasing your jatropha generically, which is absolutely fine. On the other hand, you might be fortunate and find Ingram’s Red and Petite Pink.

Regardless, if you see the spicy jatropha for sale, you will know you are getting an outstanding plant.

Follow him at: @CGBGgardenguru

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