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The Plush Life

The Plush Life
March 2018

With luxuriously soft plumes, chenille plant stars in many settings

(Left) Acalypha pendula’s blooms spill beautifully from hanging baskets; (right) In Hampton Park, A. pendula grows as a ground cover under a tree canopy.

For a tactile treat in the garden, look to chenille plant, a tropical beauty with cascading fuzzy catkins typically seen in bright red (though the ‘Alba’ cultivar blooms a soft white).

You can find two varieties in nurseries, with the largest being Acalypha hispida. Planted in the ground, this shrub grows up to six feet tall and three feet wide in the Lowcountry, but treat it like an annual, as it’ll fall victim to the first frost. To enjoy dramatic, draping flowers year after year, make A. hispida the focal point of a container garden, pruning it to fit its pot and sheltering it indoors through the winter.

Have less real estate to spare? Dwarf variety Acalypha pendula offers the same intriguing texture, but with a horizontal growth habit that spreads about 18 inches. It also boasts a higher cold tolerance—it’s hardy to zone 9a (which includes Charleston’s peninsula and the beaches) if protected from abnormal weather, like January’s surprise snowstorm. Use this filler and thriller to create epic hanging baskets, or plant it as a ground cover, letting the vibrant plumes sprawl beneath a tall tree canopy.

Both varieties of chenille plant prefer damp (but not wet), nutrient-rich soil that receives filtered sun. If you’ve planted it in the ground in well-amended soil, you don’t have to fertilize, but feed container-dwellers with 10-30-20 at half strength during the active growing season of summer. To reduce water requirements, keep this beauty pruned to scale. Removing spent blooms encourages new growth, helping gardeners luxuriate in tropical color and texture straight through fall.