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Gardeners' Dirt: 'Orange Peel' Cestrum - ideal for long, hot summers

By By Jean Wofford - Victoria County Master GardenerEdited by Charla Borchers Leon
July 26, 2014 at 2:26 a.m.

The prolific tubular blooms of the Cestrum 'Orange Peel' attracts hummingbirds and butterflies.  While known to sometimes have a noticeable scent after sunset, they do not have a fragrance during the day.

SURE FACTS ON CESTRUM SHRUB

Showy bloomer in late spring to late fall

•  Not fragrant during day; sweet scent after sunset

•  Low maintenance; easy care

•  Heat, drought and deer resistant

•  Attracts hummingbirds and butterflies

•  Easy to propagate

•  Early spring pruning to promote bushiness

•  Infrequent problems

•  Note of caution: All parts of the plant are toxic.

GARDENERS' DIRT - NEW YEAR BRINGS NEW HOME

From Master Gardener and Editor Charla Borchers Leon:

Today's publication marks both a new year and a new home for The Dirt.

Published 574 consecutive weeks for 11 years with 127 cumulative writers, the seven-time statewide award-winning column continues its 12 years of collaborative effort with the Advocate in providing educational material to the horticulture community. Today's column also publishes for the first time in the Advocate's new Sunday Home section, which reaches an even wider audience. On behalf of the Master Gardeners of Victoria County, thank you to the Advocate and to our readers for a healthy history together. We look forward to a bright and blooming future in this new year at the column's new home.

I have the ideal plant for our long, hot summers. It is drought-resistant, deer-resistant and has had no known pests or diseases in my yard. Bet you think I am talking about something artificial, but I am not. I am giving all credit to the Cestrum "Orange Peel."

Origin

According to my research, the cestrum is native to Mexico and further down to South America. It grows well from the southernmost United States (Florida and Texas) to central Chile in warm temperate to tropical regions of the Americas. At any rate, I give my thanks for whoever was responsible for bringing this wonderful plant my direction.

My cestrum was given to me in a gallon pot by one of my Master Gardener buddies, Will Walker. When he gave it to me, I didn't ask anything about it.

Description

I did not know much about the plant other than it was about a foot tall at the time and had shiny, waxy-looking leaves. It was a pretty-enough plant but had no blooms. I learned a bit more about it and planted it in my yard, taking into consideration it was a clumping plant that could spread 3 feet tall by 6 feet wide in direct sun or partial shade.

Blooms

In the winter, my cestrum died back, and I wasn't sure if that was the end of it or not. I cut the apparently dead plant back to the ground. In the spring, it popped up and started to grow. It grew and grew and grew, and then, it started to bloom. It was covered with bright, mustard yellow, tubular blooms in a very short time.

But it continued to grow and filled out with more of the very pretty leaves. How could I not like a large bouquet of yellow blooms with beautiful foliage?

Some sources indicate it gets its name from blooms with an orange peel scent in the evening, but I also read that some are not fragrant, and mine is not.

Attractive to hummers and butterflies

My cestrum grew - like the bean in "Jack and the Beanstalk" - all summer until it was much taller than my house. It continued to be covered with these bright blooms. What a treasure my little plant was becoming. Hummingbirds and butterflies soon found this plant and seemed to love it. This was another reason for me to really like cestrums.

Propagation

I decided I would like more of these great plants, so I started taking cuttings. Before long, I had several more of these hardy plants to share and put in other places in my yard. Once planted, they were very easy to care for.

Care, needs

My bright cestrum has no problems at all. It only takes the care I want to give - very little water. I have had no pests or diseases on these plants. It seems to respond the same whether I feed it or not.

It does die back when there is a freeze, but as soon as the soil warms up, it starts putting out new growth again. Before too long, it is once again covered with the beautiful tubular blooms.

One of my cestrums gets full sun all day and flourishes. I have another one that is partially shaded by other plants - and also flourishes. I haven't tried one in full shade, and I am not sure how it would grow. I suspect it would lack luster, as this is a mostly sun-loving plant.

Cut flowers

I have cut the blooms, and they make nice cut flowers. They don't last more than a day or two, and the blooms start to fall. However, the shiny leaves make a nice addition to a cut flower arrangement, and they do last a long time. I use them frequently with other flowers in an arrangement, and they are very effective as filler.

Ideal plant except for toxicity

My cestrum closest to the house is about 15 feet tall by 8 feet wide and makes a very airy plant. The heat doesn't seem to affect it at all. It is very adaptable to either acidic or neutral soil. It is a very fast grower. Water requirements seem to be whatever I give it. Of course, my beds are mulched and drain well.

I would recommend this plant for anyone.

One thing to remember, though - all parts are toxic. I am told this plant is deer-resistant, and that should make it attractive to some gardeners. If you have little children, it might not be the most favorable plant to have, or if you have animals that are prone to chewing your plants, it might be better not to plant cestrum.

Other varieties

The "Orange Peel" is a hybrid cross between the day-flowering (diurnum) and night-blooming (nocturnum) cestrum. There are also various cestrums in white and shades of pink, red, purple, green and yellow.

I had a white cestrum in the country, but it died back after the first year and didn't return. The cause could be because I didn't give it any care, or it might come back in the spring. Guess I expected it to respond like my Cestrum "Orange Peel."

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com.

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