Angelonia — the warm season snapdragon

March 18, 2002 - 12:10

Like snapdragons on steroids, Angelonia are great plants for an upscale market

I think this crop is a fantastic example of what our
industry can do when it puts its mind to it. Six years ago, Angelonia angustifolia was a good little summer annual in the South, but unreliable both in hardiness and in vigor; it was also pretty darn hard to find even if you knew what you were looking for. In today’s market, this is one of the leading new vegetative crops, with a lot of good horticulture behind it and a bright future.

While related to the snapdragon, Angelonia is a summer
specialty annual. Growth and development are tied to warm temperatures, and
while it is hardy in much of Florida and some areas of the southeast, it is
really better to think of it as an annual. Unlike the snapdragon, the stems are
a lot thinner, and the plant has a looser-mounding growth habit. But like the
snapdragon, Angelonia is an excellent cut flower with a long shelf life and a
pleasant “grape soda” scent. This aspect of Angelonia will be
getting a lot of consideration in the future, but for now, let’s take a
look at production and landscape potential.

Angelonia ancestry

The four species of Angelonia originated in Central and
Latin America, but only Angelonia angustifolia and A. integerrima hybrids get
much interest in commercial production. There were originally four forms: a
dark blue (sold as ‘Blue Pacific’) that was more compact with
glossy leaves; pink or white forms with silvery foliage (sold as A. pandiana or
A. alba); and a blue- and white-striped form with silvery foliage (still sold
as ‘Hilo Beauty’). These were good, strong plants, but availability
was sketchy. Also, some disease problems led to disenchanted growers. You can
still find the old-fashioned types of Angelonia, but recent breakthroughs in
breeding and disease eradication have brought us some far superior varieties.

Ball Floraplant introduced the AngelMist series about five
years ago, and through breeding and virus eradication, they introduced a series
that looked like the old-fashioned Angelonia — on steroids! This series
is stronger, larger, better-flowering and apparently hardier in the landscape.
All in all, a great series and a great place to start if you want to begin
growing Angelonia.

Growing Basics

A couple of quick notes before you begin…If you want
to grow Angelonia, you will need two things: bright production space and warm
temperatures. These plants will not do well in a Á greenhouse with a
high temperature of 60-65° F or a shade lot. Plan ahead to order, and use
Angelonia when you can do it right.

With the good, there is always a little bad, and as with
most newer crops, controlling growth is often a problem. Angelonia is no
exception and can quickly get out of control in a pot-to-pot production system.
The secret is using the right plant growth regulators (shearing is a growth
regulator!) and timing application to match plant growth. There are any number
of ways to chemically hold this plant, but a lot of growers make the mistake of
applying PGRs too early and get stumpy plants with poor branching and serious
flower delays.

Here is a primer on doing it right: You can use Daminozide
at 5,000 ppm; a tank mix of Daminozide with Chlormequat Chloride concentrations
varying between 2,500-1,250 and 2,000-1,000 (lower rates might be needed in
northern greenhouses). You can also use paclobutrazol, but be careful with
rates, we have had some luck with this chemical at 1-4 ppm as a media drench in
Florida, but only when plants are almost salable in size.

The trick is to get the PGRs on just as plants begin to grow
out from a pinch (and they usually need at least one pinch). You want new
growth to be about 1-2 inches when you apply PGRs, maybe even a little longer,
otherwise you end up with stunted plants and a long wait before they sell.
Remember, if you miss the PGR timing, there are always the pruning
shears…

Flowering is simple. There’s little photoperiod to
worry about; just keep plants warm and in bright light, and they will do the
rest in about 6-8 weeks (shorter timing in warmer production systems). Plants
are usually sold in 1-gallon containers, mostly because smaller pots are just
too hard to keep at size.

Ideas to try

I think a missed market for this plant is the 10-inch
hanging basket using one of the larger forms like ‘AngelMist
Lavender’. You can start them a bit earlier, as they are up in the top of
the greenhouse and their fine foliage doesn’t block a lot of light; they
will continue to flower throughout the summer, getting up to three feet in
diameter. Try three liners in a 10- to 12-inch basket and give them 8-10 weeks
and a couple of pinches. It will be hard to miss on a good, colorful basket. Be
careful, though, once Angelonia is in flower, it is a bit fragile and
won’t take a lot of abuse in shipping.

Many growers are already including this plant in their crop
schedules and have a lot of experience with producing a good crop. The best
part is that this is just an easy plant to grow — uncomplicated and
rewarding. If you can get “AngelMist Deep Plum’, this is the only
cultivar with a more dwarf habit. For northern growers, it is probably too
weak, but in the south, we had great luck with it in containers and in field
trials.

For plants to market along with Angelonia, try Salvia
guaranitica ‘Ensign Blue’; the foliage forms of Plectranthus
(remember them?) also set Angelonia off well in mixed containers; or for the
tropical look, use Allamanda schottii with its 4-inch, bright yellow flowers
and a love of heat and sun. These plants all make killer combinations.

About The Author

Rick Schoellhorn is associate professor of horticulture at the University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla. He can be reached by phone at (352) 392-1831 x634 or E-mail at rksch@ufl.edu.

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