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Snapdragon Family Shows Their Stuff
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Names like Nemesia, Diascia and Otacanthus may be unfamiliar now, but it won't be long until gardeners find a place for them in the landscape. They all belong to the snapdragon family.
It was just a couple of years ago that another member of the family, the Angelonia, made its debut. Now Angelonias are becoming a staple in everyone's summer garden, and they are still blooming as fall progresses. They are even returning from the past two mild winters.
This fall, watch for Nemesias and Diascias, two of the newer, lesser-known members of the Scrophulariaceae family. I have seen them in a few garden centers and have heard gardeners singing their praises.
Don't get rankled at me if they are not at your garden center. You may have to talk your favorite garden center manager into getting you some on the next truck. Regardless, the next few years look very promising for new varieties and larger supplies.
The Nemesia is considered a zone 8 plant and is probably best tried now in the lower half of the state. They are cold hardy to around 15 degrees and come in blue, peach, white and pink. Some, like the Peach Sachet and Compact Innocence, are very fragrant, making you want them in containers close to the front porch.
Blue Bird is not only the most colorful but is probably the easiest to find. These are sun-loving plants, needing fertile, well-drained soil for the best show. They get 12 to 14 inches tall and produce loads of tiny snapdragon-like flowers.
Diascias produce larger flowers than the Nemesia. Strawberry Sundae is one of the showiest varieties. These are cooler season plants and are cold hardy to zero. We planted some in May at the Truck Crops Branch Experiment Station in Crystal Springs, but that was way too late and not fair to the plant. Some Diascias did not bloom but also did not die from the extreme summer and are now putting on growth and loads of colorful blossoms.
In addition to Strawberry Sundae, varieties like Coral Belle, Little Charmer and Red Ace are worthy of trying. They too, need fertile, well-drained, slightly acidic soil to perform their best. Once the heat of May sets in, Nemesias and Diascias will shut flower production down. Both like to be fed with light applications of fertilizer containing minor nutrients.
Otacanthus coreleus, known as Brazilian snapdragon, has been the most pleasant surprise of the 2000 plants. This is a tropical plant hardy to zone 9 but thrives in our hot, humid summers. It gets about 3 feet high and wide and produces large, blue snapdragon-like flowers. The flowers are borne all summer and are even showier right now.
The variety Caribbean Blue is the only named selection in the market, but I look for that to change. This one is not available at the garden center yet, but enough nursery owners saw it at the Fall Flower and Garden Fest in Crystal Springs, so it will be around next spring.
Full-sun, fertile, well-drained soil and light monthly applications of a slow-released, balanced fertilizer with minor nutrients is all that is needed to keep this plant growing. Light pruning will keep it bushy and more attractive.
Ask your garden center about these and other new plants that may be arriving soon. Now is a great time to garden. Old standards and pass-alongs definitely have a place, but it is fun to try new plants, too!