Plant of the Week: Mandevilla

Photo: Mandevilla (right, on wrought iron column), purple fountaingrass and sea hibiscus share a spot in the Sperry home garden. Click image for larger view.

You gotta love a tropical vine that thrives in the Texas summertime. Mandevillas do just that. And they’re mannerly. Compact growth. No thorns. No major pest problems (except mealy bugs when we try to over-winter them in the greenhouse). Continuous blooms. What’s not to like about a plant like that!

You wouldn’t want to plant a mandevilla in September, but you may be seeing them bloom now and wondering what they are. (If you already know and grow this fine plant, bear with me while I bring everyone else up to speed.) Make mental note now to find a spot for it next April or May and get it into your garden then.

Photo: Mandevilla looks at home in older part of McKinney.

I’ve never had the courage to plant a mandevilla directly into the ground. I’m not sure exactly why that’s the case, because I found long ago that it’s a lot easier just to start with a new plant every spring than it is to nurse one through a cold Texas winter in my greenhouse, or heaven help me, in the house. This plant needs heat, and it has to have sunlight. I have sunlight in my greenhouse, and we have heat in the house, but I can’t afford to keep the greenhouse warm enough to keep the mandevilla vigorous. It’s just easier to start anew.

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Vines climb in different ways. Some stick to their supports. Others have tendrils. Still others, mandevillas included, encircle whatever is nearby and climb in the process. Wrought iron frames are ideal, but you can also use wires or fine cables to help them climb wooden fences.

Like most tropical plants, mandevillas do best in loose, highly organic potting soils. I mix my own using 50 percent sphagnum peat moss, 30 percent finely ground pine bark mulch and 10 percent each horticultural grade perlite and expanded shale. I use water-soluble, high-nitrogen fertilizer almost every time that I water.

In those 25 or 30 years that mandevillas have been in mainstream Texas horticulture, breeders have been working to select a nice assortment of shades of rose, pink and white. I hope this inspires you to include one or two in your gardens next time around.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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