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A burst of color for fall

As I write this, it finally feels like fall outside.

As you stroll through the garden in the cool fall air, it is always nice to see a plant that looks hot. Each September, the Hot Perennial Border at Riverbanks reawakens when Cuphea micropetala, known as the candy corn plant (or cigar plant), bursts into bloom.

Cuphea micropetala is a lovely perennial flowering plant native to Mexico. Even though it is from a more tropical region, it does just fine here in South Carolina.

The primary reason for growing the Cuphea micropetala is the brilliant 1 1/2-inch-long yellow and orange-red, tubular flowers that look something like candy corn. Starting in late summer or fall, flowers start to form on top of 3-foot-tall stems of slender green foliage. When mature, expect your plant to form a 3-foot-wide clump.

Cuphea micropetala is rather easy to grow in your garden. It prefers full sun and well-drained soil but will still perform even with a bit of shade. It does not require copious amounts of water; just an average amount is necessary. Very little effort is required to maintain a healthy looking plant.

The most effort you will expend in growing this plant is cutting the plant to the ground after it is hit by frost. After cutting it back, spread a little mulch over the top and put it to bed for winter. It will re-emerge again in the spring.

Cuttings and divisions are the easiest ways to propagate Cuphea micropetala. After a few years in the ground, it will form a clump large enough to take a few divisions. Cuttings will root easily in a few weeks. For those who just can't wait for a division or cutting from a fellow gardener, you can often find plants in local garden centers as the plants begin to bloom.

In addition to being great for a burst of color in the garden, Cuphea micropetala attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. Plant a few of these and give your hummingbirds a late season treat.

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