Angelonia — the warm season snapdragon
I think this crop is a fantastic example of what ourindustry 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 summerspecialty annual. Growth and development are tied to warm temperatures, andwhile it is hardy in much of Florida and some areas of the southeast, it isreally better to think of it as an annual. Unlike the snapdragon, the stems area lot thinner, and the plant has a looser-mounding growth habit. But like thesnapdragon, Angelonia is an excellent cut flower with a long shelf life and apleasant “grape soda” scent. This aspect of Angelonia will begetting a lot of consideration in the future, but for now, let’s take alook at production and landscape potential.
The four species of Angelonia originated in Central andLatin America, but only Angelonia angustifolia and A. integerrima hybrids getmuch interest in commercial production. There were originally four forms: adark blue (sold as ‘Blue Pacific’) that was more compact withglossy leaves; pink or white forms with silvery foliage (sold as A. pandiana orA. alba); and a blue- and white-striped form with silvery foliage (still soldas ‘Hilo Beauty’). These were good, strong plants, but availabilitywas sketchy. Also, some disease problems led to disenchanted growers. You canstill find the old-fashioned types of Angelonia, but recent breakthroughs inbreeding and disease eradication have brought us some far superior varieties.
Ball Floraplant introduced the AngelMist series about fiveyears ago, and through breeding and virus eradication, they introduced a seriesthat looked like the old-fashioned Angelonia on steroids! This seriesis 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 begingrowing Angelonia.
A couple of quick notes before you begin If you wantto grow Angelonia, you will need two things: bright production space and warmtemperatures. These plants will not do well in a Á greenhouse with ahigh temperature of 60-65° F or a shade lot. Plan ahead to order, and useAngelonia when you can do it right.
With the good, there is always a little bad, and as withmost newer crops, controlling growth is often a problem. Angelonia is noexception 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 growthregulator!) and timing application to match plant growth. There are any numberof ways to chemically hold this plant, but a lot of growers make the mistake ofapplying PGRs too early and get stumpy plants with poor branching and seriousflower delays.
Here is a primer on doing it right: You can use Daminozideat 5,000 ppm; a tank mix of Daminozide with Chlormequat Chloride concentrationsvarying between 2,500-1,250 and 2,000-1,000 (lower rates might be needed innorthern greenhouses). You can also use paclobutrazol, but be careful withrates, we have had some luck with this chemical at 1-4 ppm as a media drench inFlorida, but only when plants are almost salable in size.
The trick is to get the PGRs on just as plants begin to growout from a pinch (and they usually need at least one pinch). You want newgrowth 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 pruningshears
Flowering is simple. There’s little photoperiod toworry about; just keep plants warm and in bright light, and they will do therest in about 6-8 weeks (shorter timing in warmer production systems). Plantsare usually sold in 1-gallon containers, mostly because smaller pots are justtoo hard to keep at size.
Ideas to try
I think a missed market for this plant is the 10-inchhanging basket using one of the larger forms like ‘AngelMistLavender’. You can start them a bit earlier, as they are up in the top ofthe greenhouse and their fine foliage doesn’t block a lot of light; theywill continue to flower throughout the summer, getting up to three feet indiameter. Try three liners in a 10- to 12-inch basket and give them 8-10 weeksand a couple of pinches. It will be hard to miss on a good, colorful basket. Becareful, though, once Angelonia is in flower, it is a bit fragile andwon’t take a lot of abuse in shipping.
Many growers are already including this plant in their cropschedules and have a lot of experience with producing a good crop. The bestpart is that this is just an easy plant to grow uncomplicated andrewarding. If you can get “AngelMist Deep Plum’, this is the onlycultivar with a more dwarf habit. For northern growers, it is probably tooweak, but in the south, we had great luck with it in containers and in fieldtrials.
For plants to market along with Angelonia, try Salviaguaranitica ‘Ensign Blue’; the foliage forms of Plectranthus(remember them?) also set Angelonia off well in mixed containers; or for thetropical look, use Allamanda schottii with its 4-inch, bright yellow flowersand a love of heat and sun. These plants all make killer combinations.