Petunias: Rediscover These Amazing AnnualsA guide to growing gorgeous petunia flowers in your garden or in containers
Supertunia Vista® Bubblegum® grows at the front of this landscape bed. Photo courtesy: Proven Winners.
When I was growing up in the 1960s, my grandmother introduced me to purple grandiflora petunias, which she brought home from the nursery by the dozens to brighten up her summer garden. They were the first flowers I ever planted, and I have been madly in love with petunias ever since.
Today, there are even more reasons to fall in love with petunias because the diversity of choices has increased exponentially. From compact types with dime-size blooms to trailing varieties that spread up to 4 feet, petunias now come in a dizzying array of colors, sizes, petal profiles, and growth habits. These new-generation petunias have also been bred to outperform their predecessors, producing nonstop blooms all summer long on sturdier, easy-care plants.
Nearly all petunia plants sold today are hybrids, belonging to the same nightshade family (Solanaceae) as tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, and tobacco. Although they are actually classified as tender perennials, petunias will not tolerate frost so they are commonly grown as annuals in most climates. You can find petunias in just about any color, even black, as well as striped, veined, and speckled patterns. The variety of flower forms is also impressive, ranging from petite to palm-sized in single or double blooms with ruffled, fringed, or smooth edges. Some new petunia varieties and hybrids have become so popular, they have created a class of their own, such as the Supertunia® and Wave® series of petunias.
The Supertunia® series of petunias, part of the Proven Winners® plant line, are extremely vigorous bloomers that have the advantage of being self-cleaning, so no deadheading is needed. They produce flowers in a broad range of colors including pastels, bright neons, and blends. Growth habits range from slightly mounded to trailing, depending on the variety.
- Supertunia® Vista petunias are fantasic landscape plants with medium-sized flowers that mound up to 24 inches and spread three to five feet. In large containers they trail up to four feet.
- Supertunia® Charm petunias are great densely-branched container plants with small flowers. They also make incredibly good landscape plants where excellent drainage is lacking.
- Supertunia® Trailing petunias are strongly trailing with medium flowers. They make good spillers in containers, hanging baskets or window boxes or can also be grown as front-of-the-bed landscape plants.
- Supertunia® Double petunias have large, fully doubled flowers and are good in containers or the front of landscape beds.
Spreading, or Wave® petunias:
The Wave® series of spreading petunias, introduced in 1995 by Ball Seed Co., changed the playing field for petunia lovers by giving them a fast-growing low-maintenance plant that could withstand tough weather conditions. These energetic growers, sometimes referred to as “hedgifloras,” produce blooms along the entire length of trailing stems and spread up to 4 feet or more, rapidly covering a large area of ground in one growing season. Wave® petunias are also impressive spilling over walls and fences or trailing down from hanging baskets.
Introduced in the early 1950s, the grandiflora is one of the oldest types of petunias. They produce large flowers (up to 5 inches across). Although fewer blooms are produced per plant than other types of petunia, the huge flower size makes the grandiflora one of the showiest petunias, but also the most fragile. Grandifloras usually form large mounds of flowers 12 to 15 inches tall, but some have a cascading habit that makes them suitable for hanging baskets and window boxes. Unlike newer petunia hybrids, grandifloras also need to be deadheaded if you want them to continue blooming all summer.
These petunias have smaller flowers (about 2 inches in diameter) and a more compact growth habit than grandifloras. As the name implies, they also are prolific bloomers. Although the blooms aren’t as large as those of grandifloras, they are more resilient to heat, humidity, and heavy downpours. Multifloras will also continue to flower with minimal pinching and pruning.
These hybrids of grandiflora and multiflora petunias share the best qualities of both, producing grandiflora-like blooms with the vigor of a multiflora. Like the multiflora, they also tolerate poor weather conditions and require less deadheading.
One of the best choices for containers, millifloras grow to only about 8 inches tall and wide and produce tiny 1-inch blooms that closely resemble those of Calibrachoa, a popular petunia look-alike.
When to plant:
In spring, after the threat of frost has passed.
Where to plant:
For the best performance, plant petunias in full sun (at least six hours a day). They will tolerate some shade, but may not flower as prolifically.
Petunias grow best in a light, fertile soil that provides good drainage and is slightly acidic (pH 6 to 6.5). In heavy clay soils, work some compost, or other organic matter into the ground before planting. When planting petunias in containers, use a free-draining soilless potting mix fortified with a slow-release fertilizer.
Growing from seed:
You can also grow many types of petunias from seed if you’re after a certain variety not available as a transplant. Because petunia seeds are very tiny and slow to germinate, you’ll have better success starting the seeds indoors 8 to 10 weeks before the last frost date in your area and transplanting the seedlings into the garden once the soil warms up.
PETUNIA CARE AND MAINTENANCE
Like many sun-loving flowering annuals, petunias need regular watering because their shallow root systems dry out quickly. However, make sure the soil is well drained because soggy soil can cause root rot and yellowed foliage. Petunias grown in containers may need to be watered every day, especially in hot weather.
Petunias need a lot of refueling throughout the summer to keep them blooming vigorously. Apply a monthly dose of liquid fertilizer or apply a slow-release granular fertilizer at the time of planting. Plants grown in containers often need more frequent weekly or biweekly applications because regular watering will wash nutrients out of the soil.
Pruning and deadheading:
The amount of pruning a petunia requires often depends on the variety you’re growing. Traditional grandiflora petunias require the most work and will need frequent deadheading to prevent plants from going to seed. Although newer self-cleaning and spreading varieties of petunias will do fine with no pinching or pruning, occasional deadheading will boost flower production and create fuller plants. If your petunias begin to get leggy and bloom less heavily, shearing them back will encourage new growth and more branching.
Get more advice on keeping your petunias blooming all summer long:Caring for Supertunias® (from Proven Winners)
With more than 400 cultivars to choose from, and new selections being introduced every year, petunias are far from passé. Here’s a look at some of the dazzling new options you may have been missing out on.
Supertunia® Black Cherry® — Buy now from Proven Winners
From spring until frost, this stunning semi-trailing petunia is covered by cherry-red flowers with black accents. The plants can spread up to 2 feet in the garden and up to 30 inches when allowed to spill over the edges of hanging baskets and containers. Try Black Cherry® combined with two other knockout Supertunia® varieties (Bordeaux™ and Vista Fuchsia) in Proven Winner’s container-friendly Grand Traverse Flower Pillow®, a flower-filled biodegradable sac ready to pop into a 12- to 14-inch pot, hanging basket, or window box.
6 to 12 inches
24 to 30 inches
Supertunia® Daybreak Charm — Buy now from Proven Winners
Ideal for containers, the Charm series of Supertunias® features small to medium-sized flowers on densely branched plants that stay nice and full in the center without pruning. We’re particularly fond of this cheerful selection, featuring sunny yellow centers set off by watermelon-pink edges. Other standouts in the collection include Supertunia® Violet Star Charm (white with a violet-blue star pattern) and Supertunia® Mulberry Charm (violet-pink blooms with dark magenta veins).
8 to 12 inches
18 to 24 inches
Supertunia® Bordeaux™ — Buy now from Proven Winners
The dramatic veining pattern of this purple petunia is unlike any other. This award-winning annual is prized for its vigor and ease — no deadheading required. Grow Bordeaux™ on its own or pair it with other strong growers like Superbells® Calibrachoa or Superbena® Verbena. Plant it in hanging baskets, containers or garden beds for non-stop color from spring to frost.
6 to 12 inches
18 to 24 inches
Supertunia Vista® Bubblegum® — Buy now from Proven Winners
Rock stars in the landscape, the Vista® series of Supertunias® make a huge visual impact. Bubblegum® forms a thick carpet of pink blooms that will quickly cover any empty, sunny space in the garden. Its stems will easily grow three feet long, knitting together into a massive, spreading mound. Just provide water and fertilizer and you’ll enjoy bountiful blooms all season.
12 to 24 inches
24 to 36 inches
Pirouette Purple Double Petunia
Here’s a petunia that has come a long way from the old-fashioned purple grandiflora my grandmother grew. This eye-catching double variety and All-America Selections winner shows off frilly carnation-like flowers with velvety purple centers and pure white edges. The plant’s mounded shape is also an improvement over the sprawling growth habit of older grandiflora varieties. Other equally striking selections in the Pirouette series include Red Double (red and white) and Rose Double (rose and white).
10 to 15 inches
10 to 12 inches
Petunia Night Sky®
White speckles on a deep-purple backdrop give this mesmerizing petunia the look of stars twinkling in the night sky. The variance between day and night temperatures is responsible for the astral display, causing the luminous white stars to appear in constantly changing configurations.
10 to 13 inches
20 to 30 inches
Tidal Wave® Silver Petunia
This AAS winner sports dazzling silvery white blooms with dark purple centers and delicate purple veining, but even more impressive is the plant’s ability to be used as a hedge, climbing vine, or fast-growing groundcover. Spaced about a foot apart in garden beds, Tidal Wave® Silver will grow into tidy hedge-like mounds under 2 feet tall. When planted more closely together and given support, such as a trellis or fence, the plants will climb upward 3 feet or more, like a vine. And when spaced up to 2 feet apart and given room to sprawl, the plants will become a floriferous groundcover, spreading up to 5 feet.
16 to 22 inches
30 to 60 inches
Cascadias™ Autumn Mystery
Autumn Mystery, part of the Cascadias™ series of semi-trailing petunias, develops like the plot of a cliff-hanger novel, keeping you in suspense with an ever-changing combination of colors. The blooms open with pale yellow petals and rich mahogany-brown centers, but as the flowers mature the yellow gradually fades to cream and the mahogany to a deep purple shade, creating a unique and often unpredictable color morphing effect. This petunia also boasts a long bloom season, opening its first flowers in late spring and continuing for at least 3 months into early fall.
12 to 14 inches
16 to 20 inches
Wave® Carmine Velour
This latest addition to the Wave® series of petunias recently earned top honors as a 2019 AAS winner, lauded for its velvety carmine-rose blooms that remain vibrant, come rain or shine. The large 2- to 3-inch flowers cover the entire plant, creating a beautiful blanket of color that lasts from spring until the first frost.
6 to 8 inches
3 to 4 feet
IDEAS FOR USING PETUNIAS IN THE LANDSCAPE
Petunias are very popular flowers for adding instant color to a garden. They are incredibly versatile and can be used in many ways. Here are some ideas:
- Plant them as colorful additions to seasonal landscape beds
- Grow them individually in hanging baskets or along with other strong growers
- Use them in containers as the filler or spiller component
- Plant petunias in masses for a dramatic blanket of color
- Cover bare spots in your garden quickly and prevent weeds
- Fill your window boxes with petunias that complement your home’s color scheme
- Try them in hayracks along a sturdy fence or in a DIY copper wire plant hanger