Petunias are a reliable source of summer color with a wide variety of colors and shades. As long as you deadhead constantly, they will keep blooming for you most of the summer. They look well in beds and borders, as well as all kinds of containers.
Most people buy petunias already started, but the fact is, they're easy to grow from seed and produce very sturdy plants that way. It should be noted that they have a ver small seed size which means that they make very small sprouts. So if you're going to start petunias indoors, make sure you keep an eye on them, as they need to stay evenly moist.
Petunias are a classic American flower that put on a great show, under most normal conditions.
Site and Soil
The most important requirement for growing petunias successfully is a location with plenty of light. Petunias need at least five or six hours of good sunlight; they'll perform even better when located in full sun all day. The more shade they receive, the fewer flowers they'll produce. Impatiens are a better choice for blooming in shady places.
While soil needn't be terribly rich to grow good petunias, it must drain decently. It's always useful to improve garden soil by conditioning it with organic matter, such as baled peat moss, well-rotted leaf compost or manure.
Spread the organic matter two to three inches thick. Then incorporate it into the soil to a depth of eight to ten inches, using a rototiller or garden fork. This helps open up heavy clay soil, which improves drainage, but can also increase the ability of light, sandy soil to hold moisture and nutrients.
Fetilizer and Water
Work a balanced fertilizer such as 8-8-8, 10-10-10, or 12-12-12 into garden soil at a rate of two pounds per hundred square feet. Later--early to mid-July--begin to use liquid fertilizer every three weeks (weekly for "spreading" petunias). Once the plants have begun to spread, it will be much easier to water this solution into the soil than to side dress with dry fertilizer.
Incorporate timed-release fertilizer into the soil when planting window boxes or other containers. Otherwise fertilize regularly every two weeks with a liquid fertilizer meant specially for flowering plants. ("Spreading" types require weekly fertilizing.)
For a fertilizer recommendation tailor made to your specific garden conditions, have an accurate soil test run. Contact your local County Extension office or the Soil Testing Lab at the University of Minnesota for information.
Petunias tolerate lots of heat, and are relatively undemanding when it comes to water. Except for "spreading" types, which require frequent watering, thorough watering once a week should be sufficient in all but the worst weather. Leave sprinklers on long enough to soak the soil to a depth of six to eight inches every time you water. Hanging baskets and other containers also need more frequent watering, perhaps as often as daily, depending on their size and the volume of soil they contain.
Wait until soil warms to about 60 degrees and frost danger has passed before transplanting petunias into the garden. Space grandifloras and multifloras about twelve inches apart in full sunlight, or several inches closer together when planted in a shadier location. Milliflora petunias can be spaced as close as four to six inches, but the spreading ground-cover types of petunias should be planted at least one and a half feet apart. Petunias must be planted much more closely together in containers in order to look attractively full right from the start.
Plan to provide some protection from midday sun for the first few days, if weather is hot or windy with few clouds at transplanting time. When grandifloras or multifloras grow about six inches tall, pinch them back to encourage rapid formation of flowering side shoots. Do not pinch millifloras or "spreading" petunias.
Whenever feasible, it's a good idea to remove faded flowers, including the portion below each flower where seeds will develop. This practice, called "deadheading," encourages blooming by preventing seed maturation. Although it may not be practical to deadhead masses of petunias in the garden, it's a must for flowering annuals in containers. Deadheading not only helps prolong blooming, it also keeps plants looking fresh, healthy and well-groomed.
A final tip: If you have an abundance of petunias blooming in the garden, it won't hurt to cut a length of stem here and there to take indoors for use in bouquets and floral arrangements. Just be sure to remove any leaves that will be submerged in the vase, where they would deteriorate rapidly.
There are many, many kinds of petunias available as seedlings in the spring in local garden centers, nurseries and home centers. However, if you wish to have a certain type or color that is not available you can grow them yourself. Be advised that growing seedlings is something of an art and takes some knowledge and equipment to produce sturdy, healthy plants.
Petunia seeds are notoriously slow to germinate, so start them ahead indoors rather outdoors in the garden in order to have seedlings ready to put out in the yard when warm weather arrives. They are also very tiny, so sometimes it is easiest to mix them with some dry sand so that they spread evenly when sprinkled on the growing medium. Six to eight weeks before the date of the last expected frost in your area fill 2 inch deep flat boxes or peat pots with moist seed starter mix or soilless potting mix which are available at garden centers. After sowing the seeds, press down lightly on them to be sure they are in contact with the growing medium. Do not cover them with soil, because they need light to germinate. Water them from below so that they are not disturbed. They will germinate in 5 to 15 days at normal indoor house temperatures. For optimum growth, place seedlings under fluorescent lights for 12 hours daily to simulate late spring light conditions.
Sun: full sun
Soil: light, well-drained
Starting:Buy plants or start indoors 10-12 weeks before last frost. Seeds are tiny and require light to germinate, so don't cover.
Growing: Grows great guns in warm, moist spring weather with ample sunshine. Can usually handle heat pretty well, but don't like excessive moisture which can lead to mildew problems. Blooms continually from June until late summer, provided you keep deadheading. Likes an occasional application of fertilizer.
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