By Delilah Onofrey, Suntory Flowers
Photographs courtesy of Suntory Flowers
When it comes to vibrant spring color, it’s hard to beat petunias. Whether they’re planted en masse in landscape beds, trailing out of your town’s hanging baskets or filling your pots and window boxes, petunias are an eternally popular, reliable favorite. But they weren’t what you’d call an overnight success.
Spanish explorers first discovered native petunias in South America in the 1600s but dismissed the flowers as “worthless tobacco plants.” Two hundred years later, French botanists traveled to Argentina to collect seeds. In the late 1800s, breeders in England, Germany, America, and Japan began hybridizing to create larger flowers and more colors.
Two of the most famous modern petunia series were born in Japan – Wave petunias from Kirin and Surfinia petunias from Suntory Flowers. Notice both are named for the waves or drifts of color they create. Wave petunias are now bred by PanAmerican Seed, an American petunia pioneer breeding company. While Waves are seed raised, Surfinia petunias from Suntory have always been propagated vegetatively from cuttings. The shift to vegetative propagation has rapidly expanded breeding programs, creating an explosion of colors and forms.
Surfinia petunias have been sold in North America for 30 years. Here is an overview of the types and forms:
These are the original, vigorous trailing petunias that became a global sensation due to their superior weather tolerance – heat, wind, rain, and even cold temperatures. Top sellers include Sky Blue and Giant Blue. Classic trailing varieties are featured in our Suntory Mixers combinations, like Pink Cheer. This trio includes Surfinia Brilliant Pink, Rose Veined and White Improved.
The medium vigor, semi-trailing plants are by far our top sellers. These include Surfinia Deep Red and Heavenly Blue. This is the most modern breeding which offers advantages to commercial growers and consumers alike – earlier to bloom, manageable growth and outstanding garden performance. Look for new Surfinia Heavenly Cabernet at garden centers this year!
Surfinia Sumo is our vigorous landscape series. These varieties are used in landscape beds and large hanging baskets and urns. Commercial growers supply these to cities and theme parks. Don’t put Sumo in a small basket! Go big or go home with Sumo.
This new series is big on flower size but plants have controlled growth compared to classic trailing and Sumo. You can find the first variety at retail this spring called Surfinia XXL Taffy Pink. This bold color has been a big hit. In fact, the Dallas Arboretum planted 3000 of them this season!
The weather tolerance is outstanding in this double-flowered series! Flowers are smaller and shed water with ease, never getting soggy. New blooms bury the old, reducing the need to deadhead. My favorite is the unique Summer Double Salmon paired in this cone basket with calibrachoas.
By far, our most successful novelty has been Surfinia Heartbeat, featuring sweet white flowers with five pink hearts. We have paired it with Purple Heart to make the Sweethearts mix. Purple Heart earned awards in trial gardens last summer. Surfinia Purple Starshine has been a nice landscape performer with a more upright growth habit. The star pattern is somewhat variable but very attractive on hot purple blooms.
The best place to find Surfinia petunias is your local independent garden center. Growers who retail have been the most loyal producers. Online retailers, such as QVC and GrowJoy.com also offer Surfinia petunias.