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Add instant color with calibrachoas
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
One plant that seems to have caught on in a big way with gardeners is the calibrachoa. This petunia-like flower arrived only a few years ago, and now there are more varieties than I can keep up with. Million Bells was first, then came Colorburst and Liracashowers, then Calle and Starlettes, and now there are Superbells, MiniFamous and Cabaret, plus others.
Million Bells alone now comes in Tangerine (new this year), Antique Rose, Blush Blue, Blush White, Cherry Pink, Red, Flamingo, Terra Cotta, Lavender, Yellow, Cosmos Pink, Hot Pink, Trailing White, Trailing Magenta, Trailing Blue, Trailing Pastel Pink, Trailing Blush and Trailing Pink. You get the picture?
Those are just series, and each one of those has at least a half-dozen colors, and probably more. While these plants are not New Gold lantanas, they are definitely worthy of purchasing. They love this time of the year and will give instant color anywhere you want it and for a long period of time.
These plants love the sun very much, and their growth habit makes them suitable for the landscape or containers. Whether you buy Million Bells, Superbells or one of the countless other varieties, the number of flowers produced gives an incredible look. They are easy to care for whether planted in humongous baskets, mixed containers or the front of the landscape border.
One of the colors I did not mention above with Million Bells is the Crackling Fire, which made its debut last year. "Unbelievable" is all I can say because it is indeed a blaze of fiery orange-red and yellow. I think it is the prettiest calibrachoa on the market.
Unfortunately, as with many hot plants, the demand for Crackling Fire dramatically exceeded the supply. Keep your eyes open as you shop this year. Even if you don't find Crackling Fire, you most likely will find a variety you have never seen.
Plant Million Bells Crackling Fire or any other calibrachoa you like in well-prepared beds mixed with 3 to 4 inches of a good organic compost or landscape planting mix. Add a slow-release fertilizer during preparation. Apply pine bark mulch to retard weed growth, keep soil cool and prevent moisture loss through evaporation.
Crackling Fire and Tangerine work well in mixed planters and baskets, which are becoming the rage everywhere. Place yours boldly with purple verbenas, like Homestead Purple or Biloxi Blue verbena. Plant them in large tubs with Victoria Blue salvia or Purple Heart and perhaps some asparagus fern, sweet potatoes or coleus. You can create a combination that will warrant taking a picture.
Keep your container watered and fed during this time of unbelievable flower production. I would recommend feeding with something like a water-soluble 20-20-20 with minor nutrients every other week during the growing season. If growing in the landscape, feed with a light application of fertilizer about every four weeks.
The trailing types respond well to cutting back, which generates more growth and blooms. They also have exhibited some good tolerance to cold temperatures.
Whether you are lucky enough to get Crackling Fire or perhaps buy one of the others, you can rest assured that you are getting a plant that will give weeks of riotous color.