It has happened to all of us. We love our Petunias; they add color, shape, and form to our containers and gardens. But then, the weather gets hot. The plump mounds turn leggy with long stems and few flowers. We have heavy rain, and the blossoms melt at the end of the stems. We deadhead, and the flowers and foliage stick to our fingers. Or worse, fungus and aphids! This is how to find Petunias that will not disappoint.
First, Petunias are prolific; their popularity produces many beautiful varieties. Early Petunias favored cool weather and required constant deadheading. New varieties solve many old problems. These are the Petunias that will not disappoint. Each is best suited to certain applications. Life is easier if we use the variety best suited to our purpose and environment. Some do best in containers or hanging baskets; others are better at bedding applications. In addition, Petunias have care requirements, follow them, and success should follow. (Some varieties are less labor-intensive than others. Use them if you are short on time!)
Flowers are big business, and plant breeders are always creating new varieties to tempt us to buy. They breed plants with specific features. It’s up to us to pick the most suitable ones for our planting area. Here are some of the most popular varieties with their most salient features and care requirements.
|Petunia||VARIETIES||Features/Colors||Size/Growth Habit||Best Applications||Notes|
(commonly sold in pink pots)
|Original Wave||low, wide-spreading, forms large root ball|
can become leggy, mid-summer
pink, red, lavender
|4-7″T,4’+W||ground cover, border, container plant, (prolific growth, may overtake other plants note large rootball for container use.)||Introduced 1995, 55 cultivars. seed grown|
White, pink, red. purple, Pink/white
White, pink, lavender, Blue
|4-6″H, 2-3’W||Container or landscape|
|Can form small, mounded hedge,|
Pink, hot pink, silver, Varigated
|22″T-4’W||Tall, for landscape,||most drought tolerance and least requirement for fertilizer in series.|
|Smaller but prolific flowers||Container or landscape|
|SUPERTUNIA||Classic||mounded, trailing, purple, variegated lavender, lemon yellow||Trails 2-3′, vigorous spreading||Most shade-tolerant of series.|
|Mini||white with rose vein, silver/white,||small flower, but a huge plant||huge plant, most flatly trailing of series, container, or groundcover|
|Charm||violet, pink, morning glory blue are variegated||small flower, the strong root system||flower similar to that of Calibrichoa, but has stronger Petunia root system can be groundcover, or trailing in planter|
|Vista||bright pink, variegated white/pink||vigorous, 18-24″T in landscape widely spreading||The landscape has height, tallest of series, and widest spreading. Containers.||Must pair with vigorous plants, grows large with considerable water.|
|Picasso||Picotee edge in acid green, dark throat,|
|SURFINIA||Trailing||Pink, purple, white, red||Most popular Petunia in European markets.|
|Boquet||Double flower, pink, rose, white||compact form, high flowers, will cascade and not fall open||Containers||flower a little later than a single variety|
|Deep Red||red||improved form and retains a red color|
|Mounding||yellow, etc.||The upright form will not trail||For patio|
*This is a piece on the scientific breeding of Petunias and Calibrachoa, which are growing in popularity.
How Did We Get Petunias?
The first Petunia variety was discovered in South America in the 1700s. Another was found in the early 1800s. They became extremely popular with Europeans and North Americans. Like all fashionable items, they have gone in and out of style, but like plaids always come back!
This extreme and long-term popularity is worth taking note of. Petunias are big business; they employ scientists, researchers, growers, and retailers. This means that there are lots of patented hybrids. The plants in the chart above are examples of this. If Petunias you grow have features you don’t like, ask your county extension agent or your best local garden center. There will be new ones all the time.
How To Grow And Care For Petunias
Find a spot with full sun and compost-rich soil amended with plenty of organic matter. Full sun is 6-8 hours of sun. This is the best advice for almost any location. Where my family now gardens, in South Florida, in zone 10b. we can reduce the hours of sun. All winter, a container with petunias grew happily inside a screened swimming pool cage, reducing the sunlight by up to 30%. It’s hot where we are, but ours is an unusual zone. Ensure that the plant is planted at the level of the surrounding soil.
Planting In Containers
Use a high-quality, free-draining potting mix, which usually contains no soil. For a detailed explanation, try this article. This is a piece on hanging baskets.
Water and Fertilizer
Petunias, growing in the sun, particularly as the summer wears on, will take plenty of water. They will not, however, survive soggy soil. Allow the surface of the soil to dry between waterings. Try to avoid overhead watering, which hurts the blooms. The Petunia suffers from water damage.
Watering Hanging Baskets
Hanging baskets are a home not natural to a plant. All of the water comes from above. Never allow them to dry out to the extent that the soil pulls away from the pot. When this happens, the water you add will run directly through the pot. You will think that you are watering the plant, but none of the water will get to the roots.
Check the soil in containers and especially the hanging baskets every day. They are a great location for drip irrigation.
Early on, pinch the ends of your new Petunias. This will encourage new growth and full branching. Then, periodically trim the elongated branches with few blossoms. Give up those few flowers on the very end, and you will gain far more flowers.
Deadheading: the new varieties do not need deadheading. You will find that removing the dead blossoms below the 5 little star-like leaves that held the last blossom will ensure that the plant does not set seeds. This signals the downward spiral of its life.
I find that with “no deadhead plants, I still deadhead for best results; I can take off a little time now and then. It is a pleasant convenience.
Pests And Diseases
Pests: these problems include the following:
Mites: nearly microscopic pests which suck the juices from the plant cells. Spray with water on the underside of the leaf, which is where they gather.
Caterpillars: these are chewing insects that can do tremendous damage and -quickly! You can pick them off, spray with soapy water or encourage the birds.
Aphids: tiny insects which pierce the foliage resulting in sooty mold. Wash off with water, use insecticidal soap, and beneficial insects.
Diseases: Petunias can suffer from fungal diseases. These include Fusarium wilt, Botrytis, and Crown Rot. You can treat them by removing damaged plant material promptly and utilizing a fungicide.
However, these diseases are serious and stem from problems with water (both overwatering and underwatering) and inadequate air circulation. These are errors best to avoid.
Every spring and summer, Petunias are among the most popular flowers we gardeners buy and plant. Their range of colors, shapes and growing habits are huge. Petunias are members of the Solanaceae (Nightshade) family. This means that they are related to tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, and tobacco.
Ways to Use Them
Combine the colors and patterns to achieve striking results in the garden or your patio containers.
- Combine Bicolor with solids. For example red and white blossoms with matching red or white.
- Make a space filled with shades of one color, start with pink and graduate to dark red
- Try to make a contrast by moving directly across the color wheel. Yellow to purple for example
Enjoy some of them in your garden each year. You will find fun and attractive ways to do it.