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Obtain colorful diversity with petunias

A new petunia call 'Miss Marvelous' fills a container with its unique colors as seen on June 19. John Zvirovski / The Sun

There is no other flowering annual that can boost a person’s ego like the petunia. It is a very reliable flower that blooms from spring until frost with the greatest of ease. From the first to the final blooms, they give one a sense of accomplishment in the gardening world. I personally love the flower because it has so many colors and uses for the landscape. Plus, it always makes me feel good to see a plant do so well in my garden.

With the varieties out today, you can plant petunias for garden edges, containers, hanging baskets and in mass within the garden. Some are small plants with large flowers, large plants with small flowers and even the trailing type; all with different characters, and all of them will amaze and thrill the gardener.

Petunias prefer a full sun to part shade area with a medium amount of moisture. Too much water will cause your plants to become leggy and bloom less. If a plant becomes too leggy during the season and loses some of its blooming vigor, give the plant a trim by 50 percent and it will rejuvenate into a blooming plant again.

The flowers can be from 1 to 5 inches across depending on the variety, with either smooth or ruffled edges. They are either in a single or double form in colors ranging from white, pink, red, salmon, yellow, lavender, purple to many bicolors.

There are six main petunia types on the market today. They are the Grandiflora, the Multiflora, the Milliflora, the Wave, the Supertunia and the Cascadia/Surfinia types.

The Grandiflora is one of the oldest types that grows 8 to 12 inches and has very large flowers. They are not very resistant to weather, so tend to get beaten down in rains and also need to be deadheaded frequently to keep the blooming consistent.

The Multiflora develop a more compact form with smaller flowers that are resistant to the weather elements and are a better choice for gardens. The Floribunda type is a hybrid of the Grandiflora and Multiflora strains that have a better form, are weather resistant and have larger flowers. These also require periodic deadheading to prolong the flowering period. One of the varieties would be that of the ‘Madness’ series.

The Milliflora is a carpet-type petunia with compact form and small flowers that only get 1 inch across. They are weather resistant and look great in containers with other plant types. The ‘Fantasy Series’ is the most common of this variety. This should not be confused with the Calibrachoa or million bells as these are not a type of petunia.

The Wave petunia made a huge hit with gardeners when it was introduced as it gets 6 inches high by 4 feet across and is covered in flowers throughout the season. It requires no deadheading and is great for raised beds, containers and hanging baskets. There is a Tidal Wave strain that tends to grow more upright to 16 inches and has the same profuse blooming characteristics and spread. There are also stunning double wave selections with very full flowers.

The Supertunia is grown mainly from cuttings. It has large flowers and is a very vigorous grower. It requires frequent feeding to keep its blooming period at peak performance and will last throughout the season. These flowers tend to be larger than most and are great for hanging baskets.

The final type is the Cascadia and Surfinia petunias. They are mainly developed for their trailing characteristics and are best planted in window boxes and hanging baskets. They come in vivid colors with deep veining in the petals and are prolific bloomers. I use them in the gardens in groups as they make a large continuous mass of color.

Petunias can be grown from seed, but they take some time to grow and should be planted indoors eight to 12 weeks before planting outdoors. I am too impatient to wait for the petunias to grow from seed and I usually have too many other items started indoors and run out of room. Thus, I tend to go to the nurseries early and get the plants when they are small and healthy for direct planting into the garden after the last frost. It is immediate gratification for me too see instant color from spring planting till the autumn frost.

Whatever uses you find in your garden for these annuals, you will surely be amazed with their outstanding performance. Most varieties have been so hybridized, as with other flowers, they have lost all of their aromas. When you do come across the ones that have a scent, you will notice from quite a distance on a cool evening breeze where the pungent smells waif through the humid air. White flowers typically maintain their scents, as they are the least hybridized of the flowers. This year the new lavender petunia known as Evening Scentsation was developed and it truly does have a heavenly scent!

If you choose to have a yard design of just petunias, you may have all of the characteristics throughout your landscape that you desire. Plus they would become a magnate for that elusive hummingbird that flits through your garden like magic from flower to flower. We do not find him that often, but when we do see him, he is mesmerizing.

Imagine having purple and pink trailing petunias in your window boxes with the yellow Floribunda in between. Flowerbeds in front of the house with silver and pink Wave petunias and smaller beds edged in the bold colors of the fantasy mix of reds, purples and whites. And then finish it off with containers around the porch or deck of the Supertunias of hot pink, lavender and white. It could be an amazing landscape of color and form.

Now I am not campaigning for gardeners to have the same flower throughout their entire garden, but as with any flower, if it is done right it can create quite a showcase.

So, the next time you turn your nose up in the nursery at a petunia because 'everyone has them', think of all the great uses they have in the garden. It is this versatility that makes it so popular among many of the gardens throughout the world. If that is not reason enough, try it as a gardening ego booster as it will be sure to please your greatest of expectations.

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