People want to grow persistent plants which will provide
a prolonged flower display. Because of the harsh environmental
adversities which occur in Texas, the normally expected bloom
cycle of annuals is often shortened. For instance, most flowering
annuals which provide a magnificent bloom display for 6 months
or more in cooler climates endure less than half that expected
bloom cycle in Texas before unsightliness and/or absence of
bloom dictate their removal. The obvious solution for Texas
gardeners who want to prolong the bloom cycle is to choose
flowering plants which customarily bloom and endure for a
longer period. An everblooming perennial flowering plant would
be the answer. Rather than planting a weaker, limited-time-of-bloom
annual, Texans should chose a Texas-tough, long-blooming perennial.
Firebush (Hamelia patens) is just such a long blooming perennial
which can be substituted for short-lived annuals in hot, sunny
Firebush is a natural selection to substitute for flowering
annuals. It blooms more profusely and more continuously than
most other perennials. Firebush is actually a native Mexican
shrub or small tree but never reaches its potential height
of 13 feet because the plant is frozen to the ground annually
in most parts of Texas. Even though Firebush is a root-hardy
perennial (meaning it will resprout from the roots every year)
in many parts of Texas, initiation of these new sprouts require
the warm soil temperatures of summer. Most gardeners will
not tolerate the barren, early spring appearance of the slow?sprouting,
root-hardy Firebush. Therefore, to prolong the blooming period
of Firebush, fresh transplants should be planted twelve inches
apart every spring into the sunny ornamental flower bed or
container. Because Firebush native to such a harsh climate,
soil preparation is not as critical as it is with the more
commonly grown annuals. Fertilization should be sparingly
applied every three weeks to keep plants actively growing.
Over-fertilization should be avoided to prevent excessive
growth and to ensure that fall color will be enhanced. However,
the planting bed must drain well since Firebush is accustomed
to drought conditions and, most importantly, the planting
MUST be in a full sun location since Firebush will not bloom
if grown in a shady or semi-shaded area -- plants will live
and grow but blooms will be sparse.
As mentioned earlier, Firebush is a Mexican native shrub
or small tree which, when well established and protected from
freezing temperatures, can attain a height of 6 to 13 feet.
However, when Firebush is transplanted twelve inches apart
in early spring, plants will rarely attain a height greater
than 24-30 inches before the first killing freeze of winter.
This is a comparable size to such common summer annuals as
periwinkle (vinca), copper plant and salvia. The advantage
Firebush has when compared to a plant such as vinca or salvia
is that the more mature the Firebush transplant are and the
hotter and drier the weather becomes, the better the Firebush
looks -- this plant thrives on the adversities which destroy
the beauty or kill other plants. The ability of Firebush to
tolerate -- actually thrive -- in hot, dry conditions make
it an ideal plant for containers to be located in sunny locations
and susceptible to severe heat and drought.
Firebush is blessed with "knocks-your-socks-off"
blooming which begins soon after establishment and continues
all the way through summer until late fall. The fiery red
blooms are tubular in shape and are the ultimate hummingbird
attractants and feeders. In fact, some folks dispose of their
hummingbird feeders when they plant Firebush as this plant
provides a constantly replenished supply of an all?natural
hummingbird nectar. The plant continually grooms itself by
aborting old blooms. This characteristic enables Firebush
to maintain an attractive appearance and "freshly groomed"
look throughout the growing season. When grown in a full sun
location, plants flower with such a profusion of red blooms
that one registers the visual impression that the bush is
literally ablaze -- thus the derivation of the common name
It would seem that the characteristics of constant blooming,
hummingbird and butterfly attraction, heat tolerance and drought
resistance would be enough attributes for Firebush but the
best gets even better. In the cooler temperatures of fall
the profusion of Firebush bloom diminishes as the color of
the foliage takes center stage. Firebush foliage becomes rusty
red when touched by cool autumn temperatures.
For those who worry about poisonous plants in the landscape,
the nontoxic nature of Firebush will come as a welcome relief.
In fact, a syrup derived from the fruit of Firebush is used
as a remedy for diarrhea in the West Indies.
So it would seem that people who want long-lived flowering
plants which will provide a prolonged flower display in the
hottest, driest locations with only a minimum of planting
bed preparation should consider Firebush transplants rather
than the more commonplace annuals. Firebush is a perennial
which is best utilized as, and in the place of, annual flowering
plants. It is the first introduction into a category of plants
being dubbed "per-annuals" (a perennial used as
an annual). The Firebush per-annual makes continuous beauty
in adverse growing conditions easy and feasible. Try it for
yourself! For more information about Firebush, see: