Petunias have long been a favourite of the flower grower. With a profusion of bright flowers in a startling range of colours, an ability to tolerate heat and poor soil, and a willingness to flower throughout the year in warm climates, these plants have well and truly proven themselves over the years.
So it’s no wonder that plant breeders have had a lot of fun playing around with them, creating multi-coloured flowers, double blooms, huge flowers, small flowers, trailing varieties and countless other variations.
Calibrachoas are very closely related to petunias, and are found in much the same part of South America as petunias, from southern Brazil across to Peru and Chile. While petunias are usually annuals, Calibrachoas are short-lived evergreen perennials. They have a similar low, spreading habit, and the foliage and flowers look just like mini-petunias. They bloom almost constantly from winter through spring into summer, producing masses of blooms about 2cm in diameter. There is a myriad of colours, from white through yellows, pinks, reds and purples, including some bi-coloured and double forms. Because they live longer than most petunias, they are a fabulous alternative to petunias as they don’t need to be replaced as frequently.
They will grow and 20-30cm tall, and about 25-35cm wide. They are spectacular in hanging baskets, pots and flower beds. In containers, they will quickly fill out and cascade over the sides while blooming prolifically. You can mass plant a single colour, use a combination of shades, or mix them with other flowering plants in complementary tones to create a show-stopping display. Make sure you use premium potting mix for best results.
Calibrachoas do best in full sun or partly shaded position in well-drained soil enriched with organic matter. They need at least 6 hours of sun each day to do well. They will benefit from a pinching or trimming every now and then. When the branches start to get long and you can see where all the previous flowers were along the stem, it’s time to cut them back and refresh the plant.
Monthly feeding with a liquid fertiliser high in potash will help to keep your Calibrachoas blooming. Keep the soil moist but not wet, and avoid over-watering which will make the plants may become leggy, with lots of stem and few flowers.
Although classified as perennials, they are not going to last forever. They are what we call short-lived perennials – they will be absolutely stunning for a couple of seasons, and then they will need to be replaced. But since they are so inexpensive, and so showy, that’s really not a problem. Enjoy them now, and then perhaps try something new when the time comes.