Joey — hot new plant for 2009

Published 10:40 pm Saturday, January 3, 2009

At this time of the year, some people look back and reflect and others look to the future. Joey, a hot new plant from Australia that is coming this spring, will have us looking to the future.

Joey absolutely mesmerized everyone at the 2008 California Pack Trials. You most likely will not recognize Joey’s botanical name, Ptilotus exaltatus, which means “tall feathers.” Once you see the flowers you may recognize that it is in the amaranthus family. The blooms remind me of what I call wheat-type celosia, like Pink Candle.

Joey is decidedly different because its flowers have an iridescent sheen of neon pink and silver. Compared to a Pink Candle celosia, I would describe Joey’s flowers as larger and bottle brush-like with a little tilt at the top that hints at a feather. The flowers reach about 4 inches long.

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Nearly everyone looks for plants that are real landscape assets — tough in the face of summer heat and drought tolerant. Joey fits this wish list. It doesn’t like being overwatered or sitting with wet feet. Plant yours in full sun in fertile, well-drained soil.

We did not have Joey in our Mississippi State University trials this year, but it took top honors in other university trials from Florida to Colorado.

So far I’ve only touted the fantastic blooms, but Joey also has foliage that says, “Look at me. I am pretty and different.” Taxonomically, we would call the leaves oblong-lanceolate, meaning oblong and lance-shaped. But their silver-green to blue-green color is almost as unique as the blooms.

Joey will reach 16 to 18 inches tall and 12 inches wide. It will be exceptional in the landscape in clusters of three with pentas like the Northern Lights Lavender or a similar color from the Mississippi Medallion Award-winning Butterfly series. Try it with Victoria Blue salvia, or for a really showy display, plant Joey in front of Mystic Spires Blue salvia, which will reach about 36 inches tall. For low-growing partners, try verbenas, the equally tough scaevola or the vining Purple Heart.

By all means, use it as the thriller plant in mixed containers. Combine with plants I already mentioned and some great spiller plants like Silver Falls dichondra. Gardeners are already raving about its use as a cut flower in mixed floral arrangements. Get it backlit by the sun for an extra-special “wow” factor.

Joey will be grown as an annual, and it’s a great value for your garden dollar. It is considered a long-day bloomer, so it really struts its stuff in June, July and August until the first hard frost.

Cold, soggy conditions keep us indoors for now, but we can dream a little and look forward to a new growing season when plants like Joey will make it fun and exciting. Best wishes for the new year.