While some flowers may be considered old-fashioned, they are still around for a reason – they look good! And as new generations are introduced to old favorites – many of which have new looks – the adoption and appreciation continues. Take petunias for example. As our weather cools off, Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ approved petunias are ideal flowering bedding plants that love our fall/winter season with bright and cheery color.
Although petunias can grow as perennials, we treat them as annuals in our area. These herbaceous plants are built for our cool season as opposed to our summers which can cause them to fail – just too hot, humid, and pest-ridden. Our modern hybridized petunia varieties provide color, shapes, and sizes far removed from their humble origins in South America. Petunias come in several general groups – large-flowered ones called grandiflora, many-flowered types labeled as multiflora, milliflora which are compact, miniature plants with many small flowers, and spreading types which can grow several feet wide. If you look at the selections at garden centers or seed catalogs, you will notice a wide range of width and height – petunia cultivars range from six to twelve inches tall and eighteen to forty-eight inches wide. The trailing nature of some petunias makes them a great plant for hanging baskets where their cascading nature adds to this plants appeal. Flower size also varies with ranges from one-inch to six-inches wide. Add ruffles, fringes, double-flowering, and color pattern into the flower mix, and you have some serious curb appeal going on! It is this variability that makes petunias so versatile as both a bedding plant and in hanging baskets.
Now is the time to install petunias and the local garden centers are well -stocked. Plant petunias in well-drained, full-sun locations, one to one and a half feet apart. These will eventually grow together to form a groundcover. To encourage branching and subsequently more flowering, consider pinching about one inch from each tip. Small-flowering types (milliflora and spreading) are essentially maintenance-free as they generally do not require the removal of dead flower heads – self-cleaning in effect. Large-flowering varieties and those with double-flowers do need to be dead-headed for best appearance. Petunias can eventually get a bit leggy as they age. Elongated, tired looking plants can be cut back by half to rejuvenate and stimulate new growth extending their ornamental value.
One additional benefit of growing petunias in the fall and winter months is that pest pressure is greatly reduced. Aphids may show up, but as our weather tends to be less humid and cooler, diseases normally are less of an issue. Practice proper watering avoiding wetting the leaves to reduce conditions conducive to disease formation.
While it is easiest to simply buy local, ready-to-plant transplants, you can grow your own from seed. This will take some preplanning to time it right, but your options for variety expand. Always look for disease-resistance in varieties – especially with botrytis blight. Some varieties such as the ‘Wave’ series have been bred specifically to better tolerate heat.
We are blessed to have this time of year to continue to plant and enjoy flowers that will last all season. Petunias are a seasonal treat that you will appreciate! For more information on all types of colorful winter annuals suitable for our area, or to ask a question, you can also call the Master Gardener Volunteer Helpdesk on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer. Ralph E. Mitchell is the Director/Horticulture Agent for UF/IFAS Extension – Charlotte County. He can be reached at 941-764-4344 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Connect with us on social media. Like us on Facebook @CharlotteCountyExtension and follow us on Instagram @ifascharco
UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions (2014) Petunias. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
The Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Guide to Plant Selection & Landscape Design (2022) The University of Florida Extension Services.
Jauron, R. (2013) Growing Petunias. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.
Bachman, G. R. (2020) Wave petunias deserve a place in home gardens. MSU Extension Service.