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Get a big splash of color

Add a maltese cross plant to your growing garden

I like perennials that are common and prefer plants that are native.

I really like to find a not so popular and not often seen plant, and make it flourish in my garden. If it is not invasive, I’m interested. I love bright bold colors that are likely to attract pollinators. I also love flowers that will look great in a vase on the dining room table or bedroom nightstand. Fresh flowers make my day!

If you are like me, I have a great plant for you. If you are looking for a big splash of color, looking for something a little different, try the maltese cross plant. It is not native, but it is a wonderful plant for the garden. This deep orangey red bloomer is a beauty. There are several cultivars that bloom in colors from pink to white that can be purchased as seeds. I found several outlets for these — and plan to try them next.

This is a plant with an interesting history. The eight points of the Maltese Cross are a symbol adopted by the Knights of Malta in 1126 — and are said to represent and reflect the knights’ eight obligations and aspirations. It is thought that the Knights of Malta brought the plant to Europe during their journeys from the Holy Land. Wealthy travelers brought it to the new world. The flower structure resembles the historic graphic now commonly recognized as the firefighter symbol.

The plants are easy to grow and do not require anything special. Hardy in zones 3-to 10, pH 6.5-7.5, does need well drained soil and full sun. It blooms in mid-summer. Soil test to see if your soil needs amendments. You can start from seed or purchase a plant. This plant is not a heavy feeder. I frequently see several bees on my plants. The red color attracts hummingbirds. Deer do not like this plant.

While my plants grow to about 2 feet, they can get taller and may need staking. Be sure to dead head, and cut old stems to the ground in the fall. The foliage is dark green and nothing special. They do tend to brown with age, but the flower makes up for the not- so-pretty leaves.

To use in landscaping, grow alongside yellow — I like Yarrow and purple flowers, like garden Phlox — for a striking view. This plant can often be seen in cottage gardens. It may arrive in a wildflower seed mix, and certainly will add a pop of color to a meadow.

It is not an easy plant to find. I would call the nursery before venturing out, or order the seeds online.

Find out more about this perennial at http:// go.osu.edu/maltesecross.

McKinley is an Ohio State University Mahoning County Extension Master Gardener volunteer.

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