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Superbena attract spring hummingbirds, butterflies

by Norman Winter, Tribune News Service | April 24, 2021 at 1:33 a.m.
Female and male Eastern Tiger swallowtails feed on the blue and white Superbena Stormburst verbena blossoms. (TNS/Norman Winter)

Spring has been incredible at The Garden Guy's house, and I am absolutely thankful for the Superbena Stormburst verbena. Swallowtails and hummingbirds came really early this year, not only in Georgia but throughout the Southeast.

So while I have been waiting for lantanas, salvias, agastaches and cupheas to reach the blooming stage, the Superbenas came roaring back as if they were juiced on steroids. The runners are long, deep green and bearing huge blooms. Eastern Tiger and Spicebush swallowtails along with hummingbirds have been making them part of their daily nectaring ritual.

This is my third consecutive season for the Superbena Stormburst, and it seems they've only gotten better through the years. You may have heard the old saying: Give your perennials that third year. I guess I better confess, mine are all growing in containers. In some ways that is even more remarkable.

Twenty-five years ago I began my Mississippi State University horticulture career trialing verbenas as part of the Mississippi Medallion Award program. It was a joint venture at first with the Texas A&M System, and we were looking at the old heirloom varieties that had stood the test of time, along with new selections too. The trials never had any selections with flowers as large as the Superbena series.

The female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail sports blue on the bottom wings which seems to echo the colors of the Superbena Stormburst blossoms. (TNS/Norman Winter)
The female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail sports blue on the bottom wings which seems to echo the colors of the Superbena Stormburst blossoms. (TNS/Norman Winter)

The trials taught us an important aspect of verbena growing: to cut back to keep the growth in a regenerative state. New runners means new flowers. Should they look tired or stop growing, cut back. Should those dastardly spider mites flare on you, just cut those little buggers out and start new growth.

What does Stormburst look like? Proven Winners calls it a silver and white bicolor. It is a pleasing, subtle blue within each individual white blossom. Stormburst and the new Whiteout have blooms that are, simply put, enormous.

You'll agree Proven Winners nailed it, as Superbenas are perfectly named. The flowers are huge, many times approaching tennis ball size. The plants are a vigorous 12 inches tall with a spread of 30 inches, and they're made to bloom. In addition to 11 Superbenas, you find five selections under the Superbena Royale collection that are a little more compact, spreading only 24 inches.

To find the most success, select a site in full sun with well-drained soil. Wet, winter, soggy soil is the enemy that can prevent a spring return. Plant nursery-grown transplants this spring at the same depth they are growing in the container, spacing 12 to 18 inches apart. Water to get established, but then sparingly, as dictated by the weather.

This colorful Pipevine Swallowtail finds the Superbena Stormburst verbena to be just perfect. (TNS/Norman Winter)
This colorful Pipevine Swallowtail finds the Superbena Stormburst verbena to be just perfect. (TNS/Norman Winter)

The verbena responds to feeding every four to six weeks with a light application of a slow-release fertilizer, which is very important to time, or coordinate with the cutting back process.

Most of the country will grow Superbenas as annuals, but those of us in Zone 8 and warmer may find this to be a dazzling perennial like we have. You may be asking what can you do with a Superbena, and the answer would be anything you want. You will have just added a new plant in your Monet-like arsenal of flowers.

The Garden Guy is using Superbena Stormburst verbena with Lady Godiva Orange calendula (or pot marigold), which is complementary, but add the Supertunia Really Red petunia and you've created a triadic harmony. Here is hoping you too grow Superbena verbenas. You'll have a dazzling year of color and frequent visits from butterflies and hummingbirds.

Norman Winter is a horticulturist, garden speaker and author of, "Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South" and "Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden."

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