Crossandra

Also known as firecracker flower, this compact beauty adds a touch of the tropics to just about anywhere you grow it.

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Plant type: Evergreen subshrub
Hardiness: USDA Zones 10 to 11

The bushy, two- to three-foot-tall plant bears an abundance of glossy, medium to deep green, roughly oval to lance-shaped leaves, which are stunningly shiny and reason enough to grow crossandra, even if it didn't bloom. But it does bloom with clusters of flat-faced, fan-shaped blossoms, typically in shades of peachy pink, red or yellow. The flowers can appear nearly any time of year but are most abundant in spring through fall.

How to use it: Crossandra looks terrific in garden borders, foundation plantings and pots in frost-free climates. Elsewhere, enjoy it as a houseplant or as an out-of-the-ordinary addition to outdoor container plantings.

Culture: Light shade is ideal in most areas. In hot climates, the plants prefer to be shaded for most of the day, with just a few hours of early-morning sun. Fertile, evenly moist but well-drained soil is best for crossandras growing in the ground. Those growing in pots need regular watering and fertilizing while they're actively growing; keep them on the dry side during the winter. Pinching off the shoot tips every few weeks encourages young plants to develop a full, bushy shape. Snip off the faded flower clusters to promote rebloom. Temperatures below 55 degrees F can discolor the leaves or kill of the top growth entirely, but the plants can usually resprout as long as the roots don't freeze. No serious pest or disease problems.

Special notes: High summer heat and humidity can be tough on delicate flowers, but they're no problem for this tropical treasure. Its resistance to pest and disease problems, along with its amazingly long bloom season, are other great reasons to give crossandra a try.

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