By National Garden Bureau
Photographs courtesy of NGB
Few plants have seen the rise to stardom that the calibrachoa has. From the first plants trickling into the U.S. market during the late 1980's, to the first of the Japanese breeding which arrived as Million Bells® in the early 1990's, things have exploded. They were beautiful plants but, at first, they were fairly hard to grow. However one thing was certain, they did beautifully in hanging baskets and pots, although not so much in garden soil.
Calibrachoa Million Bells Trailing Magenta from Suntory
As it turns out, container gardening was the future, making them the right plant at the right time. Over the course of the last 20 to 30 years, calibrachoa came from Brazil to Japan, to Europe and America. When you consider that most of our other garden flowers have been around since the early 1800's or even the late 1700's, calibrachoa is still a bit of a "new kid on the block."
Calibrachoa came from Brazil and a few other locations in Latin America, just like their "big brother," the petunia. At one time, calibrachoa was actually a part of the genus Petunia but was later validated as a separate genus. While many people refer to calibrachoa as "mini-petunias," they are not really the same.
Fast forward to present times where the problems that made calibrachoa finicky have been resolved. Calibrachoa's native territory is cliff edges and rocky scree; from this, they bring some drought tolerance and preference for well-drained soils. They are now more tolerant of a wider variety of soils and environments, though it is still a plant better suited for containers than most garden soils. Even with improvements, high pH or alkaline soils can be a problem. Calibrachoa has become much easier to grow and has developed into one of the most popular annual flowers sold each year.
Calibrachoa Chameleon Indian Summer from Dummen Orange
What make calibrachoas stand out in the garden center are their incredible colors. Every color of the rainbow appears in small jewel-like flowers, but that is only the beginning! You can have a dark eye in every flower, or a bright yellow star pattern radiating from the center of each bloom, striped blooms, or single or double flowers. There is an amazing palette of colors available in every tone. Some colors even change based on the temperature, deepening as it gets cooler, or fading as it gets warmer.
Calibrachoa Million Bells Crackling Fire from Suntory
Calibrachoa requires full sun, at least 6 hours of direct sun each day, more if possible. A well-drained soil, like most potting soils, is fine. Avoid heavy, cold, clay-based soils as they smother the roots. A balanced acidic plant fertilizer applied regularly will give the plant energy to produce thousands of flowers all season long.
In general, calibrachoas are outstanding performers in containers, but as with all plants, avoid severe dry down and wilting. When a plant wilts, it shuts down all growth and repeated wilting causes the plant to become woody and less vigorous. Restarting the growth and flowering can take weeks and sometimes, depending on how much stress the plant receives, it may never fully recover. Since this is true for all flowers, the best solution is always keeping the soil lightly moist and well fertilized. Gardeners might consider installing a drip system so that their plants are always receiving some water.
Calibrachoa Volcano from Dummen Orange
The plant you buy at your local garden center should look just like the picture on the tag. There are lots of different brands, so prepare for many choices when you go shopping. A few of the collection/series names are Superbells®, MiniFamous®, Cabaret®, Callie®, Million Bells®, Cruze®, Aloha Kona, Can-Can®, Noa™ and Calipetite®.
Calibrachoas make an amazing statement in containers with their bright vivid colors, mixed with other flowers or all by themselves. They are easy to grow if you provide the basic conditions they need. Brilliant colors, fascinating streaks and stripes, eye-catching stars, and patterns that resemble the strokes of a brush are available. So this year, the Year of the Calibrachoa, try calibrachoa in your hanging baskets and patio containers and bring some beautiful floral works of art into your garden!
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