For beginner gardeners, a simple reliable petunia is the best choice to grow for long summer color. Experienced gardeners might argue these zone 9-11 annuals are trite. They’re available at every nursery and hardware store, bursting in bright colors, begging loudly to be taken home. Still, they cheer up a garden like no other flower. I’ve been a professional gardener for over a decade and a half and every year I use them in arrangements, both for myself and clients.
What Kind Is Best?
Because both commercial businesses and home gardeners use petunias, growers work hard to perfect the longest blooming, easiest care cultivars. They’re divided into multifloras and grandifloras (fancy words for many blooms or large blooms) and trailing petunias. But you needn’t worry much about that. Get whatever kind you like most.
Growers also offer different series of petunias. I’d recommend the ‘Ultra’ or ‘Madness’ series. They’ve been bred well for disease-resistance and long-lasting blooms. I often grow petunias from the ‘Wave’ series. They fill in quickly, bloom profusely, and the colors are bold. If you don’t want to waste time filling in a container, a ‘Wave’ petunia of any color is a good choice.
Easy Care for Easy Blooms
Petunias like well-draining soil. An all-purpose potting soil should suffice, something fresh that still contains nutrients. They also like full sun. No shade, please. They bloom less in shade. Water every few days in summer to keep them perky. Try not to water the flowers themselves as they’re delicate. They flatten and resemble wet tissue. If given a 10-10-10 fertilizer, flowers will multiply quickly.
The Beautiful Benefits
Obviously, the best reason to grow a petunia is its bold alluring color. If you want a garden to pop with it, plant petunias. I like deep purples and magentas, but of course, I also like that yellows, whites, blues, pale shades, and striped varieties exist. You can have great fun arranging the candy-striped ‘Ultra Star’ with black mondo grass or the veiny ‘Purple Vein Ray’ with lavenders or powdery asters.
Also, petunias can attract hummingbirds. The birds like the large tubular shape of the flowers and are particularly attracted to bright red colors. The rare and slightly odd looking Petunia exserta is apparently the most enticing.
A Couple of Drawbacks
You might notice petunia leaves and flowers are sticky. They produce a protective sap on their leaves to trap and kill insects. But the residue can come off on your fingers. I’d recommend caring for them while wearing gloves. And clean pruning shears with an alcohol wipe if needed.
Later in the summer, petunias can turn leggy. They also turn leggy if in too much shade. When this happens, they look gangly and awkward. But new blooms can be pinched back to keep the plant bushy, which I recommend. If you don’t mind the leggy look, they will keep blooming until frost.
Overall, if you want to beautify a patio or balcony or even border, you can’t go wrong with a petunia. These South American natives are a proliferous joy to grow. And if you already have some, please share the photos in the comments below. I’d love to see your favorites. Happy planting!
Last year, when The Forgetting Flower debuted, I gave away free wildflower seeds to anyone who pre-ordered the book. Well, this year I had almost 20 packets left so on social media I offered the leftovers to those who signed up for my monthly digest, A Vine of Ideas. I thought it would be a good way to clear the seed packets out and help attract bees to gardens, which they’re meant to do.
A Growing Interest in Gardening
Well, the response was overwhelming! Over 100 people requested the seed packets. I suspect it has to do with a surge in home gardening. Folks are sheltering in place due to Covid-19 and are eager to get outside and grow some flowers! This warms my heart. Also, I know people want to keep those little bees alive, which warms my heart even more.
So I ended up ordering more wildflower packets. And it turns out these are hard to come by now. A nursery worker told me shoppers are hungry for seeds. They want to grow fruits and vegetables and flowers. And now because I have plenty, I thought I’d extend the offer until the packets run out. I think I have about 40 left.
The packets are meant to attract bees so they’re a mix of annuals. They include bright red poppies, zinnia, yellow sunflowers, and plains coreopsis. If you live in one of the warmer USDA zones, some of these flowers may return or self sow for next year.
How to Get a Seed Packet
Getting a wildflowers seed packet is easy. Just sign up for A Vine of Ideas here. Every month I send a brief digest with links to what I’m reading, what I’m planting, what’s inspired me, what I’ve listened to, and more. I try to keep it short and sweet and most importantly, useful. If you’re in need of ideas to occupy your time, you’ll probably find it handy.
Note: when signing up in the form, just include your address in the Favorite Topics field, and if you want to include what your favorite topics are, I’d love to hear them! I’m always interested in writing about what people want to read.