Wonderful Winter Petunias
Petunias are the perfect way to brighten up your winter garden. With their vivid flowers in a kaleidoscopic range of colours, these annuals are a sure fire way of banishing those cold winter blues.
You may wonder at this, as most gardeners consider them to be summer annuals. In fact petunias can be grown all year round. Because they don’t like water of their flowers you must just know what type to plant. “Grandiflora” petunias have large flowers and are ideal for planting in autumn and winter in summer rainfall areas. “Multiflora” petunias have masses of smaller flowers and are better suited for plantings in spring and summer in the summer rainfall regions as the smaller flowering varieties are more tolerant of rainfall. The opposite obviously goes for the Western Cape.
They can survive the cold and do well if planted in late winter so that they have established themselves by the time spring’s warmth triggers flowering time. When planting Petunias, whether in containers, window boxes or beds, placing them along a north-facing wall is preferable, as it will trap a lot of heat and light. These are a prime growing position for petunias and will encourage them to flower throughout winter and spring.
Always popular, petunias have wide trumpet shaped flowers that have a distinctive spicy scent. The leaves are hairy to touch and a little sticky. They are prolific bloomers and if you remember to deadhead them, they are a perpetual carpet of colour from now all the way through summer. They come in almost every conceivable colour, including striped bi-colour and spectacular double varieties. Petunias grow in mounds which is perfect for borders. They also trail nicely which makes them a must-have in containers, pots or hanging baskets.
In warm areas of South Africa, petunias are best kept as an annual flowering plant while in cold regions they can be grown as perennials. Petunias are native to Argentina and within the petunia family is great variety: single and double blooms, ruffled or smooth petals, striped, veined or solid colours, mounding and cascading habits as well as ground cover varieties. Most of the petunias sold today are hybrids, developed for specific design purposes.
Petunias do best in full sun, but can handle partial shade, especially in hotter areas, but give them at least six hours of full sun every day. They are extremely slow to grow from seed so chose seedlings instead.
When you buy your seedlings, choose healthy green plants with lots of buds – be sure one of them is open to be sure of the exact colour – and plant out in the cool of the day. No small seedlings like to be planted in midday heat, even in winter. When planting, pinch the seedling back to encourage more branching and a fuller plant.
Now when it comes to water, petunias do not like wet feet so make sure that you plant them in well drained soil. Soggy soil is an even bigger threat in containers so make sure that the bottom third of your container is filled with crocks or gravel to allow free drainage. Too much water will make your plants leggy with too many leaves and few or no flowers.
Petunias are easy to grow and maintain and are hassle-free and generous. They are a welcome addition to most parts of your garden, but because of their profuse blooms, petunias are excellent in hanging baskets, either on their own en masse or as a trailing plant in a mixed planting. They make excellent companions to Ranunculus, dianthus, pansies and poppies.
They also put on a spectacular show in flower beds and herbaceous borders. Because they are low growing, they need to be planted in large groupings to make an eye catching splash in the garden.
If your plants become leggy after a few months, then simply pinch back the plant by half. This will encourage a neater shape and better blooms.