Celebrating the Year of the Petunia

By Lynette L. Walther | Jun 06, 2014
Photo by: Lynette L. Walther Lavish growth, nonstop blooms and no deadheading are characteristics of Watermelon Charm, a supertunia hybrid from Proven Winners.

Mix ‘em, match ‘em, combine ‘em with any number of flowering and foliage plants and petunias always manage to steal the show. Why you could almost say that petunias define the very essence of summer. Those blousy, fluffy and colorful single and double blooms have long been summer garden standards, and in keeping with that distinction the National Garden Bureau (NGB) as added to that by naming 2014 as the Year of the Petunia.

Yes, summer is coming before you know it, really it will. Just imagine what you can do with these expressive annuals. Picture their brilliant or pale pastel colors and how they can enhance your landscape, your living spaces. A hanging basket overflowing with luscious fruit-hued blooms or a lavish swath of brilliance of spreading petunias can brighten up any space wherever they are grown.


Don’t mess with the daffodils

By now the daffodils are pretty much gone by, but if you want to build up the daffodil bulbs it has long been held that you should not trim, twist or braid those leaves once the flowers have faded. But according to Old House Gardens’ online newsletter, an article in the “Daffodil Journal” explains that, for more bulbs and future blooms what you do with the stems is also important.

“My old Dad used to lecture me constantly on the virtue of looking after leaves,” daffodil breeder Peter Ramsay of New Zealand writes in the article. “He growled at me when I would bend some of the leaves over so that they didn’t rub against flowers. He also favored dead-heading flowers, claiming the stem was worth four times the value of one leaf [and] that letting daffodils go to seed was similar to pregnancy and it could sap energy…

“Last year I posted Dad’s claim on Daffnet…Some of the replies were very interesting. [Irish daffodil breeder] Brian Duncan commented, “I’ve long been one to accept that a stem can have a significantly greater effect than a single leaf. I think possible reasons for [this] are: stems are often…longer than leaves [and therefore] less shaded; stems are rounded and stand more vertically than leaves, thus being more exposed to sun from sunrise to sunset; and stems usually stay green longer than leaves.”

Old House Gardens (oldhousegardens.com) further quotes the article: “Ted Snazelle, a research scientist, added…‘Deadheading is important. Otherwise a fruit (seed capsule) might develop; fruits are said to be “sinks” for sugar. Thus less sugar would be available to transport down into the bulb and ultimately less sugar for the carbon compounds and energy required to make a new flower’.”

Every year the NGB names one edible, one annual and one perennial as featured crops for a year. And what’s not to like about petunias? These incredibly versatile plants come in an abundance of sensationally bold colors, are widely adaptable, vigorous, self-reliant and largely pest and disease free. They are low maintenance and drought tolerant, widely available, are a great value, sport a variety of forms and colors, and some even exhibit a light, sweet fragrance. Additionally, these fail-proof, tried-and-true beauties are easy to grow, bloom ceaselessly from late spring to fall and settle in comfortably whether planted in gardens, trailing from containers or spilling out of hanging baskets.

The NGB points out that petunias are beautiful, desirable and completely irresistible to butterflies, hummingbirds and gardeners alike. Thanks to new, fashionable shapes and attractively colored blossoms, the petunia is still one of the most popular summer flowers. In short, the perfect go-to gardening friend for sunny places.

Though generally treated as annuals, most gardeners might be surprised to learn that technically petunias are tender perennials and are members of the potato family of plants. Today’s feisty hybrids are the descendants of two lanky, tiny-flowered South American species: the buff-white flowered Petunia axillaries and the night-fragrant, lavender to purple-flowered Petunia violacea. First discovered in South America in the late 1700s these wild varieties quickly captured the imaginations of European breeders who began crossing them in search of the perfect petunia, a plant with large beautiful flowers in a variety of colors.

Following the end of World War II, the transformation in the quality of petunias came with the development of the F1 hybrids. Weddle, one of the founders of PanAmerican Seed Company, won an AAS award in 1949 for the first F1 single-flowered multiflora, Silver Medal and in 1952 crossing a grandiflora with a multiflora producing a F1 vigorous grandiflora hybrid Ballerina.

The NGB further points out that a whole new world opened for petunias and their breeders with the development of the F1 hybrids. This made it possible to regulate their growth from the open, floppy forms to a bushier type with better weather resistance, an increasing range of colors and color-combinations and a far superior ability to weather the rigors of summer.

In recent years the world of petunias has become a complex one, for there are literally hundreds of named petunia varieties. For a simple guide to petunia varieties and advice on selecting the one for you, visit my blog at: gardeningonthego.wordpress.com/2014/03/26/petunias-a-quick-guide-to-selecting-the-right-one.

Petunias don’t require a lot of care, but they do benefit from some attention, the NGB advises. During dry weather, a deep watering once a week should be sufficient for petunias in beds and borders. Plants in containers, hanging baskets and window boxes will need to be watered when the soil surface becomes dry on extremely hot, sunny days that could be daily, and fertilized every couple of weeks with a dilute fertilizer solution.

Always check the cultural tags that come with the purchase of your plants. Many of the new cultivars are bred for compactness or mounding and require no pinching back or deadheading. Your cultural tags will give you this information. But as a general rule, to encourage additional blooms and improve plant appearance, remove the spent flowers on grandiflora and double petunias. This not only keeps plants blooming longer, it also keeps plants looking fresh, healthy and well groomed. The smaller flowering types, such as the milliflora and spreading petunias are self-cleaning and don’t require deadheading. And although it isn’t practical to deadhead sweeping stands of petunias in the garden, it’s advisable to do so for plants in containers. After pruning, fertilize and water the plants to promote new growth.

Lynette L. Walther is the recipient of the Garden Writers Association’s Silver Award of Achievement, and she gardens in Camden. Got questions, or comments? Visit her blog, and join in the conversation at: gardeningonthego.wordpress.com or ”friend” her on Facebook to see what’s new in the garden day-by-day.

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