Petunias and Annuals
Petunias are indispensable for the container garden. Gay and colorful, easy to grow, free-flowering, available in a variety of types, and generally free of problems, they are really a wonderful annual. If you have space for but one flowering plant, by all means choose petunias. Grow them from seed or buy young seedlings in flats in spring. Either way, you will have quick, satisfying results.
The merits of petunias are worth elaborating, though they are well known. If it is bright splashes of color you want, red, pink, and rose petunias are the answer. Yet they come in blues and purples, as well as pure white, with some varieties producing individual blooms that are several inches across. The flowering period is always a long one, and plants that start blooming in May will continue into September and October, even into November. In the warmest areas of the country, they are grown for winter bloom. Other annuals look tired at the end of the season, but not petunias. In the autumn, they hold their own with the chrysanthemums. Even if you do not keep snipping off old blossoms and seed pods, a job really worth doing, plants will continue their exuberant performance.
Adaptability to many situations has made the petunia a popular summer flower everywhere. Luxuriating in full sun, it will bloom freely if given sun for a few hours a day and will also tolerate partial shade. Not fussy about soil, petunia will flourish in poor soil. It is also one of the few annuals that will flower satisfactorily in soil too rich for other kinds.
In recent years, breeders have developed useful types-balcony petunias for window boxes, as well as forms that are single, frilled, or double. The extensive color range includes red, rose, pink, salmon, blue, lavender, purple, pale yellow and white.
Types of Petunias
Petunias are divided into several groups, including singles and doubles and according to growth habit, type of bloom, and use. Outstanding for their vigor, florifer-ousness, and uniformity of growth are the multiflora hybrids-the red Comanche, rosy-salmon Linda, salmon Silver Medal, white Paleface, and red-and-white-striped Glitters. Equally remarkable are the grandiflora fringed hybrids like deep salmon Ballerina, salmon-pink May-time, deep scarlet-salmon Tango, rose-pink-on-white Crusades, and the white but yellow throated La Paloma.
Doubles include such favorites as the rose-with-white Gaiety, scarlet Allegro, rose-pink Caprice, scarlet Mrs. Dwight D. Eisenhower, rosy purple Rhapsody, and white Sonata. In large boxes, where bedding effects are desired, grow the nana compacta, or dwarf compact petunias. The bright blue Admiral, deep salmon Cheerful, red Fire-chief, pink Rosy Morn and the yellow-throated White Perfection are some in this classification.
For small containers or the edging of boxes and planters, choose the miniatures-the rosy Bright Eyes with a white throat, rose-starred white Twinkles, light Silvery Blue, and white Igloo. For hanging baskets, window boxes, shelves, and wall brackets, there is nothing prettier than the balcony types with their cascading habit. In this group are the mahogany Black Prince, deep Royal Blue, and clear Royal Rose.
Try petunias, too, in pots and tubs, boxes and movable planters. Window boxes and small planters on driveways, walks, terraces and porches offer excellent settings for their summer cheer. Since they are easy to raise from seed and inexpensive to buy as seedlings, keep extra petunias on hand to replace other plants that pass their prime in the planters attached to the house. Petunias are ideal for window boxes with emphasis on one variety. Alone the frilled rose-pink Prima Donna or the red Co-manche will give a striking effect.
Petunias combine well with geraniums, heliotropes, lobelias, sweet alyssum, dwarf marigolds, patient Lucy, coleus, vinca, and German ivy. Some gardeners dislike petunias with the distracting foliage of coleus, but plain white petunias with red- or pink-leaved coleus make a pleasing picture. In front of evergreens, the colors of petunias seem more intense, a good reason for using them with yews, junipers, boxwood, and hollies in large planters.
In containers petunias can be planted six to eight inches apart, closer than in the garden. For their more confined roots, the soil mixture should be well prepared, with bonemeal or superphosphate added. If soil is heavy, lighten it with sand or peatmoss. This will also make it porous. When feeding during the growing season, use a high phosphorous combination-5-10-5 or 2-6-2. Plants will need sun for several hours a day if you expect bountiful results.
When plants are a few inches high, pinch out tips to encourage branching, and as they grow keep pinching to keep plants compact. If you snip the first blossom, the plants will flower more profusely. Remove faded blooms each day or at least twice a week to improve the plant's appearance and prevent seed formation.
Water petunias when they need it, usually when the surface of the soil looks dry. Allowed to dry out completely, plants will wither, yet with too much water they may rot. Apply fertilizer, preferably in liquid form, every three to four weeks, one teaspoon of a balanced type to one gallon of water. Heavy rains will spoil blooms. If possible, move containers to shelter. Avoid watering plants with sprinkler or hose, for water spots petals, particularly the dark purple varieties. New blooms, however, replace the old in a day or two of clear weather.
In wet seasons, petunias may become infested with aphids, which can be checked readily with malathion or nicotine sulphate. Wet weather or too much water may cause stem or root rot, especially in spring. Always avoid overwatering your plants.
More Easy Annuals for Containers
Free-flowering and readily grown from seed or from small, inexpensive seedlings, annuals return the most for your time, effort, and costs. And you can easily try out different kinds each year to fill your containers with fresh material.
Many annuals can be grown in containers, but keep in mind the matter of scale. Tall cosmos and African marigolds are out of place in window boxes, but not in large planters. Though most annuals are easy, some require special temperatures. Verbenas, dimorphothecas, nierem-bergias, portulacas, and California poppies like heat, while nemesias, stocks, pansies, and calceolarias do better when grown cool. In pot gardening, you can grow the cool-climate annuals for spring and early summer. In the warmest parts of the country, annuals can be treated as winter plants.
Here are a few annuals well suited to containers:
Ageratum. Low annual, with fluffy lavender flowers, excellent for edging planters in sun or light shade. Avoid nitrogen; it encourages too much leaf growth.
Lobelia. Dwarf plant for edging, a favorite in window boxes. Small blue, lavender, or white flowers all season. Give sun or part shade and cut back after first flowering for more bloom. Plants trail just enough for planting in hanging baskets with taller flowers in the center. Cambridge Blue is a delightful sky-blue variety.
Marigolds. Tall African types and dwarf French hybrids in new and improved strains are excellent for window boxes and large planters. Give full sun and a lean soil for plentiful bloom. Yellow and orange dwarfs look well with blue ageratum, lobelias, or browallia.
Snapdragons. Hardy annuals, with dark green shiny leaves and spikes of red, maroon, yellow, orange, pink, rose, and white flowers. Pinch young plants to encourage branching, though this will delay flowering somewhat. They do well in part shade.
Stock. A fragrant annual with spikes of lavender, purple, pink, rose, and white flowers. Provide an alkaline, not too rich soil, to promote bloom. Arrange pots around living areas where the sweet scent can be enjoyed in the evenings.
Sweet Alyssum. An ideal edging plant for planters in white, lavender, purple, and pink. Plants bloom six weeks from seed. If tops are sheared after the first bloom, more flowers will appear. Royal carpet is a good purple, Little Gem, a white.
There are many other suitable annuals for pots, boxes, and planters-balsam, blue lace flower, blue salvia (a perennial where hardy), browallia, clarkia, cleome, di-morphotheca, feverfew, lantana (so treated), larkspur, linum or flax, love-in-a-mist, Madagascar periwinkle (Vinca rosed), nicotiana or flowering tobacco, nierem-bergia, patient Lucy, phlox, salpiglossis, scabiosa, schizan-thus, statice, venedium, verbena, and viscaria.