by Shirley D. Smith, Somervell County Master Gardener
I have never been afraid to try something different in the garden. In fact, tell me it can’t go where I live and I will more than likely attempt that very plant as soon as I can find it! Gardening is a never-ending search for the different, the fun, the unusual. That’s just one of the many things that makes gardening so much fun.
A couple of years ago I tried two members of the cuphea family. I locally found the bat-faced cuphea (Cuphea Ilavea) and a cuphea called Firecracker (Cuphea ignea). The bat-faced cuphea did not make it through the first winter even though I did mulch it fairly well. The taller Firecracker cuphea is still in my garden. It did nothing all summer, but as soon as the cooler weather of fall (finally!) set in, it bloomed and here at the end of November it is still going strong and so pretty. See photo I included. They were both planted on the north side of my house. I will mulch this Firecracker heavily and hope that it will come back next spring. As you can see from the photo, it is healthy and happy and doing very well.
“There are over 250 species of Cupheas, which include annuals, short lived perennials and small shrubs. Most are native to Central and South America. Cupheas bloom from spring through fall, and are excellent plants for attracting hummingbirds to your garden, as well as stunning additions to your butterfly garden.” The Garden Helper.
These plants are winter hardy to USDA Zones 10-12. Somervell County is in Zone 7. So you might want to grow the bat-faced cuphea as an annual,
plant or houseplant. In the garden, both of these are best grown in average, medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun. They will tolerate part shade. They are easily grown from seed started indoors 10-12 weeks before last spring frost date. They tolerate high summer heat (I can attest to that!) and also tolerate some drought, but perform best with regular moisture. Plants can become leggy as the growing season progresses, in which case stem tips may be pinched as needed to maintain good plant form. If grown in containers, plants may be overwintered indoors in bright, sunny locations with temperatures in the 60s and reduced watering. Plants may be propagated from tip cuttings in the fall for overwintering. It is generally best to start new plants each year. The above description would apply to the Firecracker cuphea except I do leave mine in the ground and just mulch it. So, if we have a mild winter I expect to have the Firecracker come back.