10 Neat Things about Petu­nias

Ontario Gardener Magazine - - ONTARIO GARDEN SHOPPING GUIDE -

Petu­nias have a heav­enly scent in the early part of sum­mer, be­fore they have been pol­li­nated. It is es­pe­cially ev­i­dent at dusk. Once the bees and oth­ers have done their work, there is no longer any rea­son to in­vest in this kind of man­u­fac­tur­ing, which was only done to at­tract the pol­li­na­tors in the first place, so they stop putting out. Hmmm. Sounds fa­mil­iar...

2. Dead­head­ing.

At one time, petu­nia gar­den­ers spent half the sum­mer pinch­ing off dead blos­soms to en­sure that they would con­tinue to pro­duce flow­ers and not seeds. The lat­est hy­brids no longer re­quire that pleas­ant labour as they are bred to keep pro­duc­ing blos­soms no mat­ter what.

3. An il­lus­tri­ous and some­times dan­ger­ous fam­ily.

Can you say Solanaceae? (It rhymes with say.) An­other name for this fam­ily is night­shade, deadly or oth­er­wise. Petu­nias orig­i­nated in South Amer­ica where they be­longed to quite a fam­ily. Dis­tant rel­a­tives in­clude pota­toes, to­bacco, toma­toes, ni­co­tiana and the mys­te­ri­ous bel­ladonna, which sul­try women used to add to their eyes to make the pupils large. Large pupils in­di­cate sex­ual de­sire. Man­drake and Jim­son weed are also in the fam­ily. Talk about a bunch of hoods among the an­gels.

4. Over­win­ter your petu­nias.

Petu­nias are ten­der peren­ni­als so you could ac­tu­ally take them in­doors for the win­ter if you were so minded. They need a sunny win­dow or other bright light and cooler tem­per­a­tures be­tween 13 C and 18 C. Cut them back to about three inches in the fall be­fore bring­ing in­doors. You can cut them back again in spring to pro­mote branch­ing and bloom­ing.

5. Plant­ing petu­nias from seed.

Tiny petu­nia seeds should be planted about 10 to 12 weeks be­fore trans­plant­ing out. Just sprin­kle them on the soil – do not cover be­cause they need light to ger­mi­nate. Petu­nias have been known to self-sow – even in zone 3! Petu­nias at­tract both hum­ming­birds and moths, es­pe­cially the lovely hawk­moth that re­sem­bles a hum­ming­bird and is the off­spring of the ugly to­mato horn­worm. Are you sens­ing a con­nec­tion here?

7. Friend of frost.

Petu­nias, once ac­cli­ma­tized, can with­stand several de­grees of frost, so they are a good plant to use for early and late blooms. Don’t over­wa­ter petu­nias, which can with­stand rough treat­ment. Do fer­til­ize pot­ted plants with a balanced fer­til­izer.

8. Four de­grees of sep­a­ra­tion.

There are four rough cat­e­gories of petu­nia: gran­di­flora (large blooms up to four inches in di­am­e­ter and in­cludes su­per­cas­cade, Mer­lin Blue Morn and Ul­tra se­ries); hedg­i­flora (spread­ing petu­nias which can grow up to four feet wide, which in­cludes the tidal wave se­ries); mul­ti­flora (flow­ers are up to two inches in di­am­e­ter, in­clud­ing the carpet and surfinia se­ries); and mil­liflora with tiny flow­ers about one inch in di­am­e­ter. These are the most frost and harsh weather tol­er­ant.

The large blos­somed petu­nias hate rain, which ru­ins their beau­ti­ful blos­soms. You will prob­a­bly have to dead­head these plants af­ter a storm, but they will re­ward you with more bloom within a day.

10. Cut to the quick!

In mid sum­mer, it is a good idea to prune petu­nias back quite se­verely as the stems stretch and bear fewer flow­ers as the sum­mer wears on. Cut­ting them back by at least one third will cause them to branch out and pro­duce more flow­ers.

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