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Modern petunias couple beauty with durability
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
In the last 10 years in Mississippi, I have witnessed an incredible explosion in the petunia's popularity. Growers love its toughness and much longer season of performance.
Petunias make great landscape plants that you can set out any time during our growing season, even in the fall. So if you find high-quality transplants at the garden center, don't hesitate to buy and plant them.
The Wave petunias led the way in this petunia revival, and now there are Waves, Easy Waves and Tidal Waves. Why all the adjustment in names? Look at it is this way: while the old Pink Wave and Purple Wave were both outstanding plants, they did have different characteristics. The Purple Wave was more ground-hugging, spreading and prostrate. The Pink Wave was mounding and didn't spread as much.
The name variations simply group the Waves into categories where they will have the same growth habit: Waves are spreading and prostrate, Easy Waves are spreading but more mounding, and Tidal Waves are the tallest. In fact, the Tidal Wave's enormous size prompted the naming of a new class of petunia called hedgiflora.
Wait until you see what is next in their offerings: Easy Wave Blue and the long-awaited Easy Wave Red. Keep your eyes open for these, but don't forget there are other outstanding petunias, like the Suncatcher series.
The Suncatcher series was introduced by Ball FloraPlant, a sister company to Pan American Seed, which brought us the Waves. The Suncatchers are different in that they are vegetatively propagated versus seed propagated. In trials at the Truck Crops Branch Experiment Station in Crystal Springs, they have performed with great vigor coupled with outstanding bloom.
Other great new petunias introduced in the last decade include Surfinia and Supertunia. Finally to hit the Mississippi market this season is the Pink Giant Supertunia. I don't know how many are still at garden centers, but I can tell you that at the California Pack Trials, it absolutely mesmerized everyone with its huge flower and leaf structure. This is definitely the largest petunia flower on the market.
Keep your eyes open for the Kahuna series of petunias. I don't know the history of the name, but I suspect it must have something to do with the old beach movies and the Big Kahuna. Its name fits with Waves and Surfinias, don't you think? Its superior performance also matches the other petunias.
As good as these new petunias are, soil preparation is still the key to your happiness with these plants. Look at commercial landscapes and you'll quickly note theses petunias are not being planted in tight, heavy clay. In fact, they are more likely to be planted in raised beds where a planting mix was used.
Once you have planted your petunias, apply a good layer of mulch to keep those summer soil temperatures moderate and prevent rapid loss of moisture due to evaporation. Feed with light, frequent applications of a slow-released fertilizer about every month.
Plant them in bold drifts with a sufficient quantity to make a landscape impact. Combine them with other tough plants like lantanas, verbenas and salvias. Use them in containers and let them gently cascade over the rims.
Today's petunias are a far cry from the ones 20 years ago and will certainly offer you a more attractive home for months. Plant some and you'll pull in that driveway from a hard day's work with a smile on your face.