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A little history:

Calibrachoas originated in South America in close proximity to their cousins the petunias. Both petunias and calibrachoas were introduced to Europe about 200 years ago. The petunias with their larger blooms caught on but the calibrachoas did not. Suntory, the Japanese brewing company, re-discovered the calibrachoas and introduced to the American market in 1997 under the brand name of "Million Bells". Calibrachoas took the horticultural market by storm!

Now, many other plant breeders are working with calibrachoas to introduce more and better colors, better habit, and improved growth. For example, the yellow calibrachoas used to be difficult to grow (as well as being a dirty, washed-out yellow), but now this brilliant yellow is just as easy to grow as all the other colors. Dummen, a German company, has a whole series of double calibrachoas. These look like mini-carnations and bloom like mad! We have grown them since they were introduced 8 years ago.

These "mini-petunias", now available in almost every color (and combination), are wildly popular in hanging baskets, window boxes, and containers; and bedded out in the landscape. Calibrachoas' popularity comes from not only their wide color selection that fits every color combination, but also because their ease of growth, disease and weather resistance, and their incredible floral production! Different varieties have different habits. The original 'Million Bells Cherry' is big, both upright and trailing. Other series are very flat and long trailing. Others yet are more compact. There is a color and style for every purpose! Another calibrachoa plus: All are wildly attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies.

(Like 'Kleenex' has become the household name for tissues because it was the first brand, 'Million Bells' has become the household name for calibrachoas because it was the first brand. We use the terms million bells and calibrachoa interchangeably to refer to all calibrachoas even if they aren't the 'Million Bells' brand. We don't do this to confuse people, but to reduce the intimidation the word calibrachoa might cause.)

Originally, we growers were told that calibrachoas were not petunias; but we had some calibrachoas re-seed in our yard and some of the seedlings were petunias! Now the "big boys" tell us that calibrachoas are "almost" petunias, have petunia genetics in them, and can even cross with petunias (which are called 'Petichoas' in the trade)!

Here's the recipe for success with calibrachoas:

  • Calibrachoas prefer full sun. Half of a day of sun is the minimum for fabulous looking plants. (Less sun and the plants look straggly, have few blooms, and can be prone to rot.

  • These plants are sprawlers. Space them far enough apart so the plant aren't crowded. They need light and air.

  • Like their petunia cousins, calibrachoas are fairly heavy feeders. We add a timed-release fertilizer (Osmocote) to the soil when we plant them in hanging baskets and containers, but that can run out by mid-summer, so... feed 'em! I recommend that mid-summer (July) you put a tablespoon of Osmocote on each hanging basket to top-off their fertilizer reserve for the rest of the season. If you prefer, you could use a soluble fertilizer like Miracle-gro about once a week; a little more effort but the same results. If you are planting your own hanging baskets or containers or bedding plants out in the landscape, we highly recommend adding Osmocote at planting time.

  • If your plants look rangey mid-summer - scraggly with few blooms - shear them back. Add the extra Osmocote at the time of shearing and your plants will look great for the rest of the summer!

  • Be aware of hornworms and other "vegetarians" loose in your plants. (If you have no blooms or parts of blooms or missing leaf parts, chances you have a muncher. If no blooms, look for tiny caterpillars eating out the buds.) "Creatures" can be picked off or sprayed.

  • Calibrachoas want to be evenly moist. They do not want to dry to the point of wilting! This will damage the root system; then when they are watered normally again they can slide into root rot. They also don't want to be kept soggy - root rot happens then as well. The moral is "even moisture".

Variety Spotlight #10, 4/1/2018 © Hilltop Farm

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