Bold and exotic Brugmansia

Brugmansia, or angel's trumpets, are the stars of any late-summer garden with their bold textures and exotic blooms. These tropical plants can easily be overwintered if you have room.

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    The pendulous, downward-facing, single blossoms of angel's trumpets or Brugsmansia, hanging from branches like so many fluted bells, are the highlight of any late-summer garden
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    Brugmansia, or angel's trumpets, a strong-growing and free-flowering plant with large, single pale peach blooms, does best in a warm, sheltered spot.
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For this Midwestern gardener, Brugmansias, commonly known as angel’s trumpets -- with their sumptuous foliage, bold outrageous colors, and awesome textures -- are an easy choice to overwinter indoors.

In the past few years, tropical plants have become all the rage in our gardens, mine included. It’s an exciting new trend in garden design – tropical plants incorporated into annual or perennial borders, as well as grown out in abundance in solitary containers.

Who can resist that “jungly-feel” world of sumptuous foliage, bold outrageous colors, and awesome textures?

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And it’s so easy to get that look here in the Midwest. Our summers full of sun, heat, and humidity -- along with those quirky summer storms producing heavy rains -- combine to give rise to the perfect conditions to fuel the growth of tropicals into large, imposing plants by summer’s end.

So we create these lavish outdoor container groupings with out-and-out abandon in the spring, then as fall approaches, move these plants indoors to be overwintered for use once again come next summer.

Or do we?

How many of us actually have the space, time, and energy to overwinter these “babies” indoors? I know that come fall, I have a really hard time deciding which plants I’ll take in and which will end up on the compost pile – for I love them all.

Still, choices have to be made.

One of my easiest decisions is what to do with the Brugmansias.

To my mind, the commonly, yet evocatively, named angel’s trumpets, or Brugmansia suaveolens, are surely the most spectacular and exotic of all the equatorial flowering plants.

While the entire plant is glorious in its own right, Brugmansia's (or Brug, for short) main claim to fame is those voluminous, tubular, trumpetlike blossoms that emit an incredibly intoxicating scent in late evening.

The overall plant, sporting big, coarse-textured leaves, generally is rather mediocre in appearance, but the white-, yellow-, pink-, or salmon-colored flowers are remarkably beautiful. The pendulous, downward-facing, single or double blossoms, hanging from branches like so many fluted bells, can sometimes reach an incredible two feet in length and are the highlight of any late summer garden.

Remarkable cultivars

One of my all time favorites – and the plant always brought in – is Brugmansia x candida ‘Grand Marnier’, a strong-growing and free-flowering plant with large, single, pale golden-peachy blooms of a rather strong fragrance.

Tops, also, on my list are SuperNova’, with huge single white flowers to 18 inches long; gorgeous ‘Velvet Rose’, with beautiful rich pink blossoms; the intensely fragrant ‘Charles Grimaldi’, with enormous 15-inch yellow-orange flowers with strongly recurved petal tips; and ‘HerrenHauser Garten’, a magnificient double orange, which (alas!) is a rather shy bloomer.

Though I have yet to grow it, one Brug on my wish-list is ‘Angel’s Summer Dream’. Most brugmansias can grow as much as six or eight feet tall over the course of a summer and take several months before producing any of the distinctive flowers, so a Brug that is supposed to grow only 1 to 3 feet tall in a container, but start blooming profusely by the time it is 12 inches tall, definitely ignites my plant lust.

Cultivation requirements

Brugmansia does best in full sun. In partly shaded areas it may grow vigorously but flower sparingly or not at all. And, like many other tropicals, Brugmansias are heavy feeders requiring a rich diet of heavy doses of fertilizer and plenty of water.

Although adaptable to being planted out in mixed borders in USDA Zone 8 and higher, they are best grown in containers here in the Midwest. They are extremely frost sensitive, so as soon as temps tend downwards of 50 degrees F. (10 C), think about bringing them indoors.

They can be treated as houseplants and kept in a sunny window; but I cut them back by about one-third to one-half, let them go dormant and store them in the basement in an area where the temps do not drop below 40 degrees F. (4 C), watering them sparingly about once a month.

Should I want additional plants for the next season – or to share some with friends – I take the cuttings and place them cut side down in containers of water for rooting, or dip the cut ends into rooting hormone, wrap in newspaper, and store in a cool, dry place, such as a basement, for rooting come spring.

A word to the wise

It should be noted that Brugmansia belongs to the nightshade family, and like many of its relatives, it is poisonous if ingested. So, if you have curious children or pets, please watch them carefully around this plant.

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Betty Earl, the Intrepid Gardener, blogs regularly at Diggin' It. She's the author of “In Search of Great Plants: The Insider’s Guide to the Best Plants in the Midwest.” She also writes a regular column for Chicagoland Gardening Magazine and The Kankakee Journal and numerous articles for Small Gardens Magazine, American Nurseryman, Nature’s Garden, and Midwest Living Magazine, as well as other national magazines. She is a garden scout for Better Homes and Gardens and a regional representative for The Garden Conservancy. To read more by Betty, click here.

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