Selection is smaller, thicker and fuller version of Joseph’s Coat
Writer: Robert Burns, 903-834-6191, firstname.lastname@example.org
COLLEGE STATION – The ground cover plant, Little Ruby alternanthera has been named the newest Texas Superstar plant.
“A lot of old-timers will probably recognize this group of plants as ‘Joseph’s Coat,’” said David Rodriguez, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agent for horticulture in Bexar County and member of the Texas Superstar selection board. “But this selection is about a third the normal size of the older selections of Joseph’s Coat, so it’s a much smaller, compact, thicker, fuller type of a seasonal ground cover.”
Little Ruby is typically planted in late winter or spring, but it can also be planted throughout the summer and fall and be expected to give good results, Rodriguez said. This long planting season, among other traits, is one reason it was selected as a Texas Superstar.
All Texas Superstar plants undergo extensive tests throughout the state by AgriLife Research and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulturists, said Dr. Brent Pemberton, Texas A&M AgriLife Research ornamental horticulturist and head of the Texas Superstar board, Overton.
To be designated a Texas Superstar, a plant must not just be beautiful but also perform well for consumers and growers throughout Texas. Superstars must also be easy to propagate, which should ensure the plants are not only widely available throughout Texas but reasonably priced as well, Pemberton said.
Rodriguez said Little Ruby does perform very well in landscapes, in containers, alone or to contrast with other plants. Its color varies from green to red to a deep burgundy, depending upon how much sunlight it receives during the day.
“In an area that gets bright sunlight for much of the day, it will produce real attractive burgundy or ‘maroon-ish’ foliage,” Rodriguez said. “The more sun it receives, the darker, more intense the color.”
In a shady location, the color will be more greenish, which is attractive as well, he said.
“It’s a real versatile plant,” Rodriguez said. “You can grow it in a landscape by itself, in a container, in sun or shade, and with or without other plants.”
For example, when its foliage is more reddish or burgundy, Little Ruby contrasts well with plants that have yellow, gold or even white blooms, he said.
Little Ruby is also easy to grow and tolerates a variety of soils.
“The main thing is to provide a soil rich with organic material, good drainage, and maybe add some slow-release fertilizer at the initial planting,” Rodriguez said. “And maybe every second week or so supplement with a water-soluble fertilizer.”
In most situations, Little Ruby is considered an annual, but it depends, he said.
“In Central or South Texas, it can be a short-lived perennial, but you do have to give it some cold weather protection. If you grow it as a container plant, it can be moved inside on the colder winter days.”
In flowerbeds, it may freeze down and have to be replanted every year, Rodriguez said. During a mild winter, it may be nipped back a little by the cold, in which case the gardener need only prune back the killed off plant tops, apply a water soluble fertilizer and it will come back and establish a full ground cover.
New plants should be planted about 12 inches apart, he said. If you plant them early in the spring, they should establish a good cover in four to six weeks.
“We have seen them have little white flowers, but that’s not the main feature of the plant,” Rodriguez said. “If they do bloom, it’s usually in late fall, and they make a really good contrast with the foliage. I think this is a ‘must’ plant for people to try.”
Texas Superstar is a registered trademark owned by AgriLife Research, a state agency that is part of the Texas A&M University System. More information about the Texas Superstar program, including retail outlets where Superstar varieties may be purchased, can be found at http://www.texassuperstar.com/.
Along with Pemberton, and Rodriguez, other Texas Superstar board members include Dr. Larry Stein, AgriLife Extension, Uvalde, Dr. Cynthia McKenney, Texas Tech University, Lubbock; Dr. Mike Arnold, AgriLife Research, College Station; Dr. Dan Lineberger, AgriLife Research, College Station; and Dr. Tim Davis, AgriLife Research, College Station.