On Gardening:Mandevilla rocks tropical flower power

McClatchy-Tribune News ServiceJuly 17, 2014 

This summer it seems the mandevilla is reigning supreme for tropical flower power. Recently while in Columbus, Ga., I had the opportunity to visit The Landings, an upscale shopping or lifestyle center. The containers and hanging baskets were simply incredible thanks in part to the dazzling show put on by the mandevillas.

The mandevilla, also known as Brazilian jasmine, represents one of the best values for your garden dollar. Sure they are tropical, but when you consider the vigorous climbing ability coupled with huge colorful flowers until frost, you realize they are indeed hard to beat.

The Alice du Pont has been around for a very long time and is still the one to which all others are compared. The large hot-pink funnel-shaped flowers and glossy leather-textured leaves make this one of the truly great summer vines. While I am touting them in containers and baskets, know they will excel in the landscape as well, provided your soil is fertile and well drained.

At The Landings s the Alice du Pont mandevillas were vigorously climbing out of baskets that were hanging from ornate lampposts. This created a dramatic vertical element. Others were featured prominently in large containers. Their companions were other colorful bloomers like calibracoas, petunias and lantanas.

In other baskets they have the Sun Parasols mandevilla. This hybrid is also stunning and has become one of the hottest series in the market place. The Sun Parasol series now boast three distinct groups featuring 17 selections. The three groups are original, giant and pretty, and I assure you they are all pretty.

At the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens we are using Pretty Pink trained on bamboo poles. They give a cloud-like bouquet of pink towering above pentas, iresine and Diamond Frost euphorbia.

As with most plants I write about, mandevillas need well-drained soil to survive. This is one of the reasons that these containers and baskets are so healthy and picturesque. If we will prepare our landscape soil to make it organic rich, we can duplicate the results demonstrated in the containers.

For best blooming, you will want your mandevilla to receive at least six to eight hours of sunlight a day. Since it is such a vigorous vine and flower producer, it needs small doses of fertilizer every two to three weeks.

In containers or baskets that get watered every day, like those in the shopping center, fertilization is mandatory. Frequent, dilute applications of a water soluble fertilizer like a 20-20-20 will keep the plants at peak performance. Be sure to maintain moisture during the hot, dry times of the summer. A prolonged period without water may prove fatal to the plant.

In the South this is the choice plant of street-side mailboxes everywhere. If you have lattice structures around the house, however, the mandevilla will be picture perfect. If you are lucky enough to have a white a picket fence, then this is the plant to give you that "Caribbean Cottage Style" like you might see on the island of Saba or Martinique.

There is still a lot of hot summer to go, so if you need a vine with tropical color then shop at your local garden center. Mandevillas are most likely a really good buy right now.

(Norman Winter is director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, and author of "Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South" and "Captivating Combinations Color and Style in the Garden." Follow him at: @CGBGgardenguru.) PHOTOS (from MCT Photo Service, 202-383-6099):

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