BY LORI MURRAY
Two species of alternanthera have been named to the Superstar list recently. Little Ruby, a groundcover, or Alternanthera Dentata Little Ruby and the Brazilian Red Hots, a mounding sort of shrub, and also called, Alternanthera dentata Brazilian Red Hots are both versions of the old-time “Joseph’s Coat.”
Little Ruby became a Superstar in 2015. It’s a groundcover about a third the size of the older Joseph’s Coat. It’s much smaller and thicker – more compact – and it loves humidity. It has a long planting season and while typically planted in late winter or early spring, can also be planted through the summer and fall with good results.
Little Ruby grows in sun or shade and its color varies from green to red to deep burgundy depending on how much sunlight it gets during the day. In a shady location it will be more greenish. If it gets more sun it will have a darker, more intense burgundy color. It’s easy to grow and an excellent choice for a beginning gardener.
An experienced gardener will also find it useful as it can be used by itself or with other plants. New plants should be placed about 12 inches apart and should establish in four to six weeks. I planted some Little Ruby around my backyard fountain late last fall. They sort of hung on through the chillier weather and I thought I was going to lose them, but when the weather warmed up, so did they. That’s why their Superstar classification is “Per-Annual” – an annual elsewhere, but more of a perennial in our climate (like penta). Their burgundy color provides a contrast to my fountain and with careful pruning they brighten up the space nicely.
So far so good with their tolerance of our hot summer. As long as they get plenty of water, they remain bright and happy.
Brazilian Red Hots was named a Superstar this year. Its foliage is a lively hot pink or rose and it prefers partial shade.
However, it can tolerate the hot Texas summer sun if planted early in the spring. It will require more water. It grows 24 – 36 inches tall with a 12 – 18 inch spread.
It will tolerate poor soil but does best (as most plants do) in well prepared soil amended with organic matter and with good drainage.
Both versions are effective in garden beds, containers, and patio pots. I planted one Brazilian Red Hot in the fountain area where it would receive more shade than Little Ruby. It’s done pretty well, but has outgrown the pot and needs more space. I really don’t have the space for a plant its size, but I wanted to see what it would do. I’m thinking I’ll find it a nice bed along the shady side of the house or with the spider lilies behind my bedroom wing.
In the late fall, both alternathera may produce little white flowers that will contrast beautifully with the foliage.
Little Ruby also contrasts well with plants that have yellow, gold, or even white blooms.
Brazilian Red Hots are excellent stand-alone plants but they will accent a repertoire of other popular Superstar selections such as Cora Vinca, Butterfly Penta, Serena Angelonia and Baby’s Breath Euphorbias.