Coming this spring is a new mandevilla that just may have you thinking of Old Glory. It is called 'Stars and Stripes' and is actually part of the great Sun Parasol series that has become the industry leader.
'Stars and Stripes' is so unique it was voted as the best new flower at the Tropical Plant Industry Exhibition in 2009. The flowers are bright red with yellow throats and, as the name suggests, star- shaped.
Now the interesting part: Each petal has a white stripe of variegation.
If you are not familiar with mandevilla, it is a tropical vine sometimes referred to as Brazilian jasmine. Your first reaction might be to say that you don't grow tropicals. Believe me you'll want the mandevilla as it climbs and blooms from spring until fall. That is an extremely good value for your gardening dollar.
The Sun Parasol series burst onto the scene in 2003 as a vibrant new hybrid. They actually produced a true red that had vigor, climbed and held its color all season. The rest is history, and there are now around a dozen colors and sizes.
Also new for 2010 is a large flowered selection called Sun Parasol 'Lush Crimson.' Every morning I enjoyed a cup of coffee on my deck and would become fixated on the size and the richly dark red-colored blossoms.
I've grown Sun Parasol mandevillas in both the landscape and mixed containers. Regardless of which you choose, know it will perish if it does not have well-drained soil. For best flowering, mandevillas need to receive at least six to eight hours of sunlight a day.
Because they are vigorous vine and flower producers, mandevillas need small doses of fertilizer every two to three weeks. Use a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer or controlled released granules per formula recommendation. Maintain moisture during the hot, dry times of the summer. A prolonged period without water may prove fatal to the plant.
In the landscape, they certainly look at home in a Caribbean cottage-style garden where they might be draped on a white picket fence or lattice work with giant bananas or elephant ears towering from behind.
Their habit allows them to be grown in hanging baskets with long chains. You'll let the vines climb the changes and even cross over if you want. You'll be thrilled at the look and the number of blooms.
Sun Parasol mandevillas are zone 9-11 tropicals that can be brought indoors for the winter if desired. Remember once they're indoors, your water regime must be decreased as you are more or less just trying to hold it over. If you have a brightly lit sun room, you'll find the task a little easier.
The word tropical plant may seem a little intimidating, but once you try 'Stars and Stripes' or one of the other Sun Parasol mandevillas, you'll find that they are easy to grow and really give you a long season of bloom even during the hottest part of the summer. Look for them when spring arrives in your area.
Norman Winter is vice president for college advancement, Brewton Parker College, Mount Vernon, Ga., and author of "Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South" and "Captivating Combinations Color and Style in the Garden." First Published April 3, 2010 4:00 AM