Pentas plants attract butterflies and bees.
Pentas plants attract butterflies and bees. iStock

Tried and true shrub can be star for the summer

Sometimes the best plants are those that have stood the test of time. They may not have fancy names but they do their thing, year after year, with a minimum of fuss.

And sometimes they are not just really tough but really beautiful too.

One such plant is pentas. They are terribly old-fashioned but also ridiculously easy to grow. They are compact, shrubby plants reaching a height of 50-80cm. The dark-green leaves are pointed and slightly pleated. The leaves and stems feel a bit furry but they don't seem to irritate the skin.

But it's the flowers that are the real feature of this plant. For most of the year, every stem tip has a head containing dozens of small, star-shaped flowers in shades of white, pinks, mauves and red. These nectar-rich flowers are attractive to bees and butterflies, so you will have the bonus of enjoying these visitors to your garden.

The flowers are also good for cutting, lasting a week or more in a vase inside.

Look out for a series called Starcluster, which has huge flowers on tall, sturdy stems. They are fabulous in pots or garden beds and are available in red, lavender, white and rose. They are well branched and compact in habit and have been bred to perform well in hot summer conditions.

Pentas flower almost year round and thrive in full sun or part shade. They are not fussy about soil type, although they will sulk if planted in a boggy, poorly drained position. Incorporate organic matter into the soil when you plant and use premium potting mix if you are growing them in a pot.

Mulch to conserve water and feed with a well-balanced fertiliser a few times a year.

If they are stressed, they can be attacked by scale insects, which you can easily control by spraying with organic Eco-Oil or just by trimming off the affected parts. A neglected pentas may look a bit shabby but will come back beautifully if given a hard prune.

It's a good idea to remove the flowers as they finish, cutting just above a leaf node. New flowering stems will emerge from the node. At the end of the season, you can trim to shape, removing all the spent flowers.

From time to time, you might notice that all the leaves disappear quickly. This is almost certainly the work of the hawk moth caterpillar. You can spray or remove them, or wait until they are done and cut the plant back and feed it. It will regrow in no time.

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