The show-stopping hanging bugle-shaped flowers of angel's trumpet (Brugmansia spp.) make this a delight for any garden. Grown either as a woody shrub or small tree, this is a tropical plant that grows best in USDA hardiness zones 9 to 11, although in cooler zones is often grown as a container plant that can be brought indoors when the weather turns cool. Some caution is required because this plant is toxic. The plant has unpleasant hallucinogenic properties and has been known to cause death. Wearing gloves is recommended even for routine care handling of the plant.
Angel's trumpet is a vase-shaped shrub or small tree that grows 6 to 20 feet tall and 10 to 15 feet wide, depending on variety. The leaves are 6 to 8 inches long, arranged alternately on the stems. The spectacular drooping flowers, up to 20 inches long, come in shades of white, peach, pink, orange, or yellow. The flowers, which are especially fragrant in the evening, may be produced year-round in warmer climates. The plant normally flowers sporadically from spring until late fall, with the heaviest profusion occurring in fall. The plant produces oval fruits that are 3 to 6 inches long.
Angel's trumpet includes several species of the Brugmansia genus, a member of the Solanaceae family, which also includes nightshade plants such as tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and tobacco. In addition to angel's trumpet, the plant is also known as brugmansia, tree datura, angel star, and trumpet of death.
Although native to the tropical regions of South America, the original species are no longer found in the wild and are listed as extinct by the IUCN red list. It is thought that the natural distribution of the native Brugmansia species ended due to the extinction of wildlife species that dispersed the seeds. However, the cultivars of angel's trumpet have naturalized in many locations, so these modified varieties do exist in the wild.
In USDA hardiness zones 9 to 11, angel's trumpet is often grown in the garden as a specimen shrub or small tree, positioned where the beautiful flowers and delightful scent can be enjoyed. Elsewhere, it is often grown as a patio container plant that is brought indoors in the winter. Hummingbirds are especially drawn to angel's trumpet. For container growing, plastic pots are preferred, since this is a large plant that is difficult to move if planted in heavy earthenware pots.
Growing Angel's Trumpet
In warmer zones, angel's trumpet prefers a location with shade in the afternoon. In cooler zones, it does fine in full sun. Brugmansia grows best in acid soil, though it will tolerate alkaline soils. It does not tolerate salt and is not drought resistant. If growing in pots, angel's trumpet will do well in a potting mix designed for azaleas and camellias.
This is a very thirsty plant that needs to be watered well and often. If growing it in a pot, make sure there is enough drainage so it doesn't get waterlogged but make sure the soil stays moist. As long as the soil appears moist and there is no wilting, the plant is fine.
Like many other plants with large, spectacular blooms, angel's trumpet should be fertilized often—at least once a week. Larger plants can be fertilized 2 to 3 times a week. Use water-soluble fertilizers, and avoid slow-release formulas, as these to do not work fast enough. Bloom-boosting fertilizers, such as 15-30-15 or 10-50-10, are best.
Angel's trumpet can be propagated through seeds and cuttings. Short stem cutting will easily root if placed in potting soil and kept moist. After a few weeks kept in the shade, the cutting will develop good root systems and can be transplanted into the garden or into larger pots.
A potted angel's trumpet grows fast and should be potted up regularly to a final container that is about 20 gallons in size (about 16 inches in height and 18 inches across).
Although this plant does not require pruning, trimming will keep the plant producing flowers constantly. If growing it as a small tree, begin to prune when the main trunk forms its first "Y" and choose a central leader as the trunk. Systematically prune away older branches and stems to encourage the plant to produce more branches. Flowers will eventually appear on the terminal ends of those stems.
The Brugmansia Growers International advises:
The best time to trim your plant is in the fall. Always keep at least 6 to 10 nodes on the branches above the Y for flowers the following year. ...It is the branches that are above the Y which will produce next year's flowers.
Whiteflies can be a big problem for angel's trumpet. Cabbage worms, spider mites, and aphids are also common. Other pests that may appear include cucumber beetles (in the midwestern United States), slugs and snails, fungus gnats (inside) and mealy bugs.
Root rots can occur if the plant is watered too frequently or if garden soils are boggy.
Possible diseases include tobacco mosaic, tomato spotted wilt, fusarium wilt, verticillium wilt, Phytophthora, Phoma, and Botrytis.