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Weekly planter: Little Ruby has a growing reputation in the plant world

Even on a deeply overcast day, the Little Ruby alternanthera, in purple and burgundy, shows out in the landscape.
Even on a deeply overcast day, the Little Ruby alternanthera, in purple and burgundy, shows out in the landscape. TNS

Chalk up another award for Little Ruby. In a period when we write about, or tout, some new coleus on what seems a weekly basis, there is one little alternanthera out there hitting it out of the park.

Little Ruby is a variety of Alternanthera dentata developed in South America and becoming one of the hottest trends in garden color. If the botanical name is a little confusing, just look at Little Ruby as a Joseph’s Coat packed with riveting color and tough as nails.

How tough and easy to grow is Little Ruby? Well it won the Dallas Arboretum Flame Proof Award, University of Georgia’s Classic City Award, Louisiana Super Plant and in July was designated as a Texas Super Star award winner. It has won awards in Australia and has been touted in New Zealand. It will be a winner in your landscape, too.

These plants have a thicker compact habit than other award winners like Purple Knight and Brazilian Red Hot. They are incredibly low-maintenance plants that will fit in any style of garden. These are almost always grown as annuals and need fertile, well-drained soil. They can take anything summer can dish out, but they do not want to sit in wet soggy soil. They can still perform with a little mid-afternoon shade, but it is in full sun where they reach their true potential.

Feed your plants with light applications of a slow-release fertilizer, about three times during the summer and early fall. Though they are drought tolerant, supplemental water during prolonged dry periods will keep them looking their best. By all means apply a good layer of mulch after planting.

Little Ruby produces rich shades of purple and burgundy with a little olive-grey-green. We have them combined in some areas with fiery gold and orange lantanas and angelonias in others. But one our most distinctive combinations has been with blue plumbago.

The foliage will allow them to work in grandma’s cottage garden with blue salvias and purple coneflowers, as well as in a tropical island look with bananas, elephant ears and even gingers.

Though I have been touting them for the garden, their habit lends them to being used in mixed containers. The burgundy and purple foliage will enhance the colors of all other flowers around. A thriller plant like the Red Abyssinian banana, Chapel Yellow lantana and Surdiva scaevola would make a show-stopping container.

If you can’t find Little Ruby then by all means look for the much large Purple Knight and the iridescent Brazilian Red Hot. The relatively new selection called Royal Tapestry is a little shorter and has a spreading habit that allows it to intermingle in artistic fashion with its chosen companions.

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.”

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