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No Joking: Try Putting St. Augustine In Planters
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
A couple of years ago a grower in Kosciusko was very excited about a plant that I thought looked sick. Now, I am prepared to eat crow because I want that plant and I think you will, too! It is known botanically as Stenotaphrum secundatum variegatum; in short, it is variegated St. Augustine grass.
We initially may be disgusted at the thought of potting St. Augustine because most of us haven't seen it used that way yet! When you do, you will realize this plant has awesome potential.
I would like to say I learned this all on my own by growing and experimenting with the plant, but I can't. I learned how to use it by being in the right place at the right time, which was Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Ga.
The variegated St. Augustine is pale green and striped longitudinally with creamy ivory stripes. In a large mixed container it is strikingly beautiful when combined with plants like Purple Heart, Blackie sweet potato, boldly colored lantanas and the firecracker plant. The combinations are endless. Have I won you over yet?
It can be grown just about anywhere, from full sun at the poolside to areas with filtered light. It is not just for containers either. At Callaway Gardens they have grown it in beds in their topiary area that have high shade or filtered light. In this situation they combined it with elephant ears and begonias in the shades of burgundy and orange. The plants reached a height just about equal to variegated liriope.
In a container or a bed you will want loose, well-drained, organic-rich soil. When you combine it with plants like Purple Heart, the ornamental sweet potatoes and lantanas, you have a container that is full of vigorous plants. So keep them watered and fed with a water-soluble fertilizer. In both cases you may want to cut back occasionally.
Much like St. Augustine grass in the yard, cold hardiness is not one of its virtues. In fact, at Callaway Gardens, they overwinter their grass in the greenhouse. This should not deter you from growing it. This is so easy to root it will make you want to get into the business.
Speaking of business, here's the down side. It is not even close to being in major distribution in our area. One reason is that you have not asked for it yet. But I am counting on you to start the demand. On the big plus side, we do have a commercial supplier of it in Mississippi, probably waiting for your garden center to give a call.
Once this starts to happen, other growers will put it in their product line, and we can all live in plant peacefulness, that is until I write next week's column. Remember my saying, "If the grass you mow is the only one you grow, you are missing out!"