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(MCT)—If a landscape dazzling with color and packed with butterflies and hummingbirds is your goal, then you will want to give the Starla Pentas a prominent spot in your garden. Pentas is a much loved annual in most of the country and a treasured perennial in warmer regions of zone 8b and higher.

Starla is a relatively new series from Syngenta that is coming on strong in popularity thanks to large flower clusters borne on 18 to 20 inch tall plants that persevere in all kinds of weather from the cooler nights of late spring to summer’s torrid heat. You can also expect the plants to reach about 20 inches in width.

Pentas like the Starla series are among our best bedding plants for the South though they are considered sub-shrubs in their native Africa. While we call them pentas, much of the world calls them Egyptian Star Cluster. In fact, the name pentas comes from the Latin word for five because of the five floral petals; hence the varietal name Starla, is most appropriate.

To grow yours, choose a site with a lot of sun. This will give you your best flower production. Prepare the bed by incorporating 3 to 4 inches of organic matter and till to a depth of 8 to 10 inches. While tilling, incorporate two pounds of a slow-release, 12-6-6 fertilizer.

A little extra attention to your soil improvement may pay dividends. If your soil is acidic and you grow azaleas, camellias or blueberries with ease, then you will need to add lime to the planting area. While preparing the soil, add five pounds of a pelletized lime per 100 square feet in sandy soil, or 10 pounds in a clay-based soil. This is recommended because pentas prefer a soil pH of 7. Many gardeners annually apply lime to grass or vegetable gardens, and in this case, a little will help the pentas have flowers all summer.

The Starla series come in 7 colors and several mixes. When it comes to pentas I am still partial to the single-color planting versus the mix for the biggest landscape impact. Pentas stand out in dramatic fashion when planted boldly and against a backdrop of green.

Think about using them in a tropical setting where large elephant ears or bananas serve as a bold foliage backdrop. The colorful flowers, cousins to the exotic looking ixora will not only be showing out but bring in the flying visitors.

If the tropical look is not your style then use the pentas in drifts of single colors next to your favorite cottage garden flowers, whether they are rudbeckias, petunias, or lantanas. I have seen some nice combinations where informal drifts of pentas are combined with masses of daylilies also in single colors. This is a much underused partnership.

Don’t forget to use them in mixed containers. In large pots you can use these same combinations but you will also need to also consider a trailing or tumbling partner. Bombay Blue scaevola would be hard to beat as trailing companion. Goldlilocks lysimachia would carry on a tropical theme with chartreuse colored foliage.

When shopping this spring you’ll have a lot of competition for your gardening dollar. I urge you to use pentas and to specifically keep your eyes open for the Starla series.

Norman Winter is executive director of The National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, and author of “Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South” and “Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden.”

© 2012, Norman Winter.
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