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Calibrachoa: Pretty in pink, yellow, purple . . .


Once in a while, a plant is introduced that really is something to get excited about.

In the industry of horticulture, there are actually people who earn a living coming up with new plants for the garden, as if there weren’t enough of them already. Most of these plants aren’t so much “new” as they are improved.

A plant is found or is known in nature to be a plant with interesting qualities. Then the plant scientists “improve” the plant by growing out hundreds of plants, selecting the ones with the most desirable characteristics, usually cross pollinating those to come up with new colors and even better characteristics. And that is definitely what has been done in the case of the calibrachoa.

When it first came out, people considered it to be a miniature petunia. But that didn’t seem quite right because many people think of petunias as just an annual plant, and possibly aren’t familiar with the many petunia cultivars that have wonderful perennial qualities and grow on year after year.

After much discussion about nothing, it was decided that gardeners are a smart enough bunch that we could understand and come to love a plant with a new name, even if it is a kind of strange name – like calibrachoa.

The flowering plants are in the same family as petunias (the nightshade family) and they do have some similarities. There are both trailing and billowing varieties of both petunias and calibrachoas. They both like plenty of sun and come in lots of great colors.

A trailing calibrachoa would be fantastic for a hanging basket where you would like the plants to get longer and to continue blooming down the length. The trademarked variety Million Bells is one of the best known and comes in blue, pink, yellow, bright cherry, terra cotta (yellow with orange highlights) and Cracklin’ Fire (bright yellow with brighter orange highlights).

One of the best billowing varieties is Superbells, with no less than 19 individual colors: beautiful pastels such as Dreamsicle, cherry blossom and apricot punch to brilliant, vibrant hues like saffron, scarlet and Tequila Sunrise.

Calibrachoas are easy to grow whether they find a place in your pots, baskets or flower beds. In hot weather, like all other small plants, they will need to be watered very frequently. But once we get well into the beautiful fall days we are now experiencing, the soil can get slightly dry between each watering.

They like lots of sun: All-day sun or at least six hours or more will keep them at their showiest, and will keep the plants from getting too leggy.

Like many plants confined to pots, they need plenty of fertilizer to keep them blooming. If using a water soluble, make sure to add to watering at least once a week. For those without the time for a demanding routine, a long-term fertilizer such as Osmocote will keep plants happy for months at a time. If foliage turns yellowish, the culprit is usually pH rather than lack of iron. Use the same vinegar dose you might use for gardenias to bring our alkaline water back to a neutral status.

If you’re a gardener who will try only one new plant a season, make it calibrachoa.

Cathy Bishop, co-owner of Mesquite Valley Growers Nursery, has more than 30 years of gardening experience.

Contact her by e-mail to weekendplus@tucsoncitizen.com.

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