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ted manzer

We’ve had some beastly hot weather recently, and many landscape plants are suffering. One that isn’t is angel trumpet, a member of the potato family.

Angel trumpet plants grow to the size of a large shrub, but in our climate, they die to the ground each year. Still, once they begin growing in spring it doesn’t take them long to achieve heights of 10 feet or more. In warmer climates, angel trumpets don’t die to the ground and can grow to be 30 feet tall.

These dramatic plants are often used as specimen plants as they can attract everyone’s attention with their large and copious flowers. Flowers are as big as a football, and hummingbirds and butterflies love them.

The leaves are large as well. I’ve got a couple pale peach colored specimens at school that stop traffic when they are in full bloom. Every year people ask me what they are. Blossoms are short lived, and sometimes plants can be covered with blooms one week and then not flower again for a month.

Angel trumpets grow best in full sun, but they also tolerate partial shade. Increasing the shade will reduce blooming and the overall size of the plants.

The fragrant flowers might tempt you to taste them, as flowers of many plants are edible. Don’t even consider it for this one. Angel trumpet is deadly poisonous when ingested.

I’ve read where some people even have reactions to touching the plant, but I have never run into anyone with that affliction. Still, I don’t recommend them in areas where pets might eat them.

If that isn’t a problem, these plants are easy to grow. They tolerate a wide variety of soils, but they perform best in rich moist soils with high organic matter. Heavy mulching is often helpful, especially if winters are harsh.

Plants also respond well to fertilizer. I prefer to use slow-release types as fertilizer burn will rarely occur. I’ve found that fertilizers with a roughly equal ratio of nitrogen phosphorus and potassium seem to work best.

Propagation is simple too. Plants readily root from stem cuttings any time of the year. I usually take cuttings in the fall right before the first hard frost. I clip stems about 12-18 inches long or when they contain about four leaf buds. Rooting hormone is rarely necessary.

In fall, the whole stem will die in our climate. However, it is very important that plants are not pruned to the ground until they are completely dormant, and all possibilities of an Indian summer are gone. If plants begin growth in the fall after pruning, they’re likely to experience winterkill.

Don’t be alarmed if plants are slow to emerge the following spring. They are among the last to show themselves, but like lantana, once they do, they grow like gangbusters. The only major problems they face early in the season are from slugs and snails.

Angel trumpets are dramatic plants. However, they are large and will dominate a space. They also are poisonous to people and pets who try to eat them.

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.