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Serena Angelonias offer months of color

Each year, I enjoy helping announce the Mississippi Medallion award winners, but 2007 will be extra special because it includes the first angelonia to win the award: the Serena series. Believe me, this is a plant that can win awards in just about any state.

Angelonias, also sold as summer snapdragons, have been in the marketplace since about 1997. At that time we began planting them in trials at different locations to see how they performed and how unique they were for the summer landscape.

There are a lot of great angelonias in the market but the Serena series holds special favor. It is the first seed-produced angelonia in the market. Sure you'll buy it as transplants, but the seed gives the grower that option if he chooses.

The Serena series is among the shortest of the angelonias, reaching 12 to 15 inches tall and spreading almost as wide. Choose a site in full sun for best blooming. Please do not stick this wonderful plant in tight, cement-like soil. Before planting, work two to three inches of organic matter into your bed. While preparing the bed, take the opportunity to incorporate 2 pounds of a slow-release fertilizer with a 2-1-2 ratio. Plant at the same depth they are growing in the container, and then apply a good layer of mulch.

Beginning in the spring, they will bloom and bloom and bloom -- incredibly long for a plant called summer snapdragon. The angelonia is from Mexico and the West Indies and can take anything our U.S. summers can dish out.

Serena angelonias are available in several colors: lavender, lavender-pink, purple, white and a mix. Since they are such heat- and drought-tolerant plants, you will want to plant them en masse with other rock-solid performers like melampodium, Profusion zinnias, Titan periwinkles or rudbeckias. Their spiky texture is most welcome in the garden world dominated by round flowers.

Pay attention though, because if they should go through a prolonged dry spell, supplemental irrigation will pay dividends with a healthier, more productive plant.

A light, monthly application of the 2-1-2-ratio fertilizer, such as a 10-5-10 with minor nutrients, is all this plant needs to keep blooming. The bloom period is really long, and when it does want to cycle, it responds well to trimming back with a pair of pruning shears.

There have been virtually no disease or insect pressures on the Serena angelonia, making it a great choice for the novice gardener as well as the more experienced.

Serena angelonias are being promoted as annuals and are a terrific buy. From zone 8 southward, keep your eyes open next spring you just might have a repeat performance, especially with good bed preparation where winter drainage will not be an issue.

Look for Serena angelonias to arrive at garden centers when spring arrives at your location. Try them, I know you will like them.