Pentas, including long-time Texas Superstars and new series added to the list, offer season-long color for pollinator-friendly landscapes and gardens, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Research expert.
Brent Pemberton, Ph.D., AgriLife Research ornamental horticulturist, Overton, said pentas are a Texas-tough landscape ornamental annual plant that offers a range of sizes and colors throughout summer.
“We have an established Texas Superstar, but we want to update the promotion because new colors and new characteristics have been added through breeding over the years,” he said. “Pentas have a very broad appeal, and more and more varieties have been added to the market, so we want gardeners to know what is available to them now.”
To be designated a Texas Superstar, a plant must be beautiful and perform well for consumers throughout the state. Texas Superstars must be easy to propagate, which should ensure the plants are not only widely available but also reasonably priced.
Pentas past and present
Pentas, also known as Egyptian Star Flowers, have been a Texas garden favorite for many years, Pemberton said. They come in colors ranging from white and lavender to pink, deep pink, rose and red.
“They are a great bedding plant, can be used for borders and perform well in containers,” he said. “They’re a very versatile, long-lasting plant that can add some pop wherever you might want color.”
Overall, Pemberton said the pink and deep pink colors seem to perform the best. But all pentas attract butterflies and other pollinators as well as hummingbirds.
The cultivar Butterfly Deep Pink was promoted as a Texas Superstar many years ago, and the varieties in the taller Butterfly series are still classics.
The Kaleidoscope and Northern Lights series are also taller types that perform well. Compact types like more recent introductions – Lucky Star and Graffiti 20/20 series – are even more vigorous under hot summer conditions. They also produce heavy flowering.
Maximize and maintain pentas
In Texas landscapes, pentas prefer full sun with late afternoon shade or at least some shade during the afternoon. They tolerate partial shade well, but flowering may be reduced without adequate sun, Pemberton said.
Taller types like Northern Lights can reach 24 inches tall and wide, whereas more compact types like the Lucky Star series will be 12 to 16 inches tall and wide.
The plants perform as annuals in most parts of the state but can be perennial in coastal areas and the Lower Rio Grande Valley where temperatures rarely fall below freezing, he said.
It’s best to plant pentas in the spring, Pemberton said. Plant them from 4-inch or quart-size pots or larger because large plants establish quicker. They need to be planted in landscapes early enough to allow them to establish before summer heat arrives.
“Plant any time after the threat of frost has passed, but it’s best to get them planted as early as possible so they establish well before the summer heat arrives,” he said.
Pentas are tolerant of most soil types but prefer a slightly alkaline pH. Good drainage is a must.
They are good as a mass bedding plant, for mixed borders and mixed containers. Taller type pentas can be used as cut flowers.
Pentas benefit from mulching and regular summer irrigation. They don’t tolerate water with high salt contents, especially when irrigation is overhead.
Where to find pentas
Pemberton said pentas varieties are widely available at nurseries and major retail stores.
“They should be readily available in most areas because they are a popular crop for landscapers,” he said.
Texas Superstar is a registered trademark owned by AgriLife Research, a state agency that is part of the Texas A&M University System. Plants are designated Texas Superstars by the Texas Superstar executive board, which is made up of nine AgriLife Research, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and Texas Tech University horticulturalists.