The third week of April is when bedding plants and container garden flowers are filling the racks at the nurseries and garden centers. Gardening is an adventure and trying new plants and planting combinations is part of the fun, so make this the year you reach for something new for your garden.
My vote for best new container plants goes to the Superbells calibrachoa. These compact and colorful annuals come to gardeners from Proven Winners, the company that partners with the best growers to offer unusual and high-performing plants.
Top three reasons why you will love Superbells calibrachoa:
1. The color combos. Striking bicolored blooms such as the yellow and white Superbells “Lemon Slice” were the first to grab the attention of top container designers, but these mini-petunias also come in a Double Plum reddish/purple color and, if you can find it, a striking yellow/red combo called FrostFire and an orange blend called Terra Cotta.
2. The compact and tidy growth habit. The Superbells were bred for containers and stay tidy and compact, making them perfect for window boxes and patio pots where you don’t want regular or larger-growing petunias that can swamp a small space. All the Superbell calibrachoas play well with others, This means they won’t overwhelm other bloomers in a container so you can combine them in pots as the upright “thriller” in a mix as they will grow to be about 10 inches tall and only 10 inches wide. The Superbells won’t require deadheading and pinching to keep them looking nice.
3. The disease resistance and continuous flower production. The Superbells are strong performers all summer and into the fall. They start flowering as early as May and continued to produce blooms in my garden even as the days grew shorter in September. No signs of mildew through several summers of testing.
One complaint about the Superbells calibrochoa.
The mini-petunias do not do well when planted in the ground. They need really good drainage and warmth so if you try to grow them as a bedding plant in the ground in the cool summer climate of Western Washington, you may find them melting away. Root rot will move in after two or three days of rain when calibrachoa are planted directly into the ground. Plant mini-petunias in a container with good drainage on a sunny patio or grow them on a porch protected from heavy rain and you’ll have no complaints.
Getting picky about petunias:
Learn to read the label when picking out petunias. The Superbells calibrochoa look like mini-petunias but are actually a more compact petunia relative while the Supertunias look very similar but are a petunia hybrid. Confused? Think of it this way. The smaller the flower, the more compact the growth habit of the petunia look-alikes. The Supertunia became a favorite when the hot pink and lime green bicolor “Pretty Much Picasso” was introduced (a newer, more mounding version is now called Supertunia “Picasso in Pink”) and the more compact petunias are the ones you want for containers.
The fast-growing and robust petunias you want for planting directly into the ground will be the the Wave petunia. The Wave petunia will spread out 3 feet or more, blocking weeds and smothering nearby plants with oceans of continuous summer blooms. This is the petunia to use for bordering lawns or filling in large areas of ground with eye-catching color.
Just remember that all petunias need continuous feeding to keep them flowering all summer long. Work a slow-release plant food such as Osmocote into the soil at planting time for both your container petunias and your ground-cover petunias. Supplement this with a liquid plant food such as Miracle-Gro several times during the growing season and you’ll be pleased with petunias no matter what type you decide to grow.
Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.
Noon, April 19. “Classic Garden Ideas to Borrow,” Windmill Gardens, 16009 60th Street E., Sumner; 253-863-5843. $5 fee. windmillgarden.com.
6:30-8:30 p.m. April 19. “Secrets of a Lazy Gardener,” Gig Harbor Civic Center, 3510 Grandview Street, Gig Harbor. Free. tpchd.org.
11 a.m., April 22. “Container Gardening and Planting Party,” Seymour Botanical Garden Tacoma, Wright Park, 316 S. G St., Tacoma. $20-$25. Register at 253-591-5330. metroparkstacoma.org/conservatory.