By Delilah Onofrey, Suntory Flowers
Photographs courtesy of Suntory Flowers
Colorful calibrachoas have become the top-selling annual, eclipsing geraniums and even petunias in global sales. Perfect for hanging baskets and containers, plants produce a profusion of bell-shaped flowers that resemble mini petunias. The wide color range and easy care made them an instant favorite!
This exciting plant category was created by breeders at Suntory Flowers in Japan and introduced as Million Bells in 1993. Up until this point, calibrachoa was a wild species and not developed commercially.
The fathers of Million Bells, Dr. Yasuyuki Murakami and Dr. Kenichi Suzuki, saw potential where traditional horticulturists did not. Flowers were small and poor producers of seed. But Suntory’s model has been to produce new varieties from cuttings, not seed, dramatically expanding innovation and speed of introduction.
The first Million Bells candidate was spotted high on a jagged cliff with an amazing number of bright pink flowers. The two scientists were hooked and crossed thousands of plants and species to breed what would become Million Bells. There were obstacles to overcome – aggressive growth, stretching stems, late flowering, long-day flowering requirements and root rots. Their efforts paved the way for a blooming global market.
Today, nearly all major bedding plant breeders have a calibrachoa line. Million Bells created the “big bang” in the vegetative annuals universe. More than 135 million calibrachoa cuttings were produced and sold in 2019, according to the National Garden Bureau. At retail and in casual gardening conversations, calibrachoas are called Million Bells, due to Suntory’s first-mover advantage and a name that resonates and rings true.
Suntory’s North American market assortment for Million Bells spans six mounding types and seven trailing types. Mounding types create a nice, mounded canopy full of blooms trailing just over the rim of a basket or container. Our popular newer mounding variety is Million Bells Butter Pop – white flowers with buttery yellow centers – like a big bowl of popcorn!
Trailing types cascade lushly and offer the best weather tolerance through the summer into fall. We highly recommend the trailing types in mixed baskets and have four blends in our Suntory Mixers, including Carnivale, Spring Morning, Jazz Fusion and Memorial Day Mix.
Planting and care tips:
Choose a pot or basket with good drainage and fill with a peat lite mix with good aeration.
Keep soil moist but do not allow to get soggy.
Optimal placement is full sun to partial shade.
Fertilize regularly through the summer.
You can trim to shape but no deadheading required. Million Bells are self-cleaning.
Enjoy until frost.
Next time you’re at a garden center, see if you can find the true Million Bells by looking at plant tags. You can also find them listed at online retailers, including growjoy.com, a great source for Suntory Flowers.
For more about the story behind Million Bells, watch this video: