In the Garden:
Southern Coasts
May, 2001
Regional Report

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New petunia types such as 'Madness' and 'Wave' can take more heat than older varieties.

Just Say Yes to Petunias

I used to think, like many gardeners, that's there's hardly any reason to grow petunias. Yes, they're pretty and smell nice, especially if you stick your nose way into a big, floppy flower and sniff hard enough to make the petals cling to your nose. And yes, the flowers come in nearly every hue, from strong solids to raucous bicolors, some ruffled, others not. But they've always had a downside for me.

What's Not Right with Petunias

I like annuals that bloom for months, even through heat and thunderstorms that may pound them. Petunias never really cut it. They always looked like a mess after a heavy rain and were slow to bounce back. I'd fit a basket or two of trailers on my deck and maybe try planting a clump in a mixed flower border, but I never saw petunias as the star in our coastal climate. Even when I tried growing them as a fall/winter annual, they'd provide some color through those dark months, but their wimpy reaction to heat and rainfall sent them to the compost heap by May.

The New Wave

Now, however, I've got a new attitude toward petunias. The Madness series was the first new group that got my attention. A few years ago, a grower friend gave me some to try and I gave them the roughest spot in my garden to really test them: full sun in early spring with no protection from thunderstorms that would surely ruin the flowers. Imagine my surprise when they popped right back up after the rain, and continued to produce flowers every day until they finally died in the heat of June. I've been growing the Madness series ever since.

Now I've caught the new wave of petunias-the Wave series. The first in the series had purple flowers, but now there are selections in pink and coral. The Wave petunias grow rampantly, close to the ground, and keep flowering through all types of weather. They're amazing. Other similar petunias I've also fallen for are the Supertunias and Surfinias. Each type has thrived in my garden in both beds and pots. They all perform better than their parents, flowering long into summer.

Growing Petunias

Here's what I do to get the best performance from petunias in our climate. I plant these new petunias in well-drained soil. In pots, I use equal amounts of a peat-based potting soil mixed and bark, with a bit of compost mixed in. Petunias grow well in raised beds with plenty of sun, and in garden soil amended generously with organic matter. Water often, but don't let the roots stay saturated for long. Add a soluble fertilizer every other week to keep them blooming. Cut back the trailing stems if they get scraggly or to contain the plant in a space. Other than that, just enjoy them. These new varieties are no wimps.


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