CALIBRACHOA…Worth a Million Bells!


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Nature

May 9, 2022 by Sue Ercolini - Views: 74

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CALIBRACHOA…Worth a Million Bells!

S327-1.jpgI fell in love with Calibrachoas the first time I saw them; and even though it took me years to learn how to pronounce their name (kal-ih-bruh-KOE-a), I just had to have several for my hanging baskets.  Their color and texture are a gardener’s delight but more so for butterflies and hummingbirds.  One cool morning when working in my garden, I saw an early arrival of a ruby-throated hummingbird visiting last year's Calibrachoa.  Only one night did I bring it into our garage, the night of the ‘all-night freeze’ and back out it went the next day with a fertilizer cocktail.  It started blooming within a week and by the middle of March was full of flowers and a hummingbird.  That photo of the Calibrachoa was in the Nature Section of the April Simpsonville Sentinel. 

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Few plants have become so popular so quickly as the Calibrachoa.  No one had ever heard of the genus Calibrachoa until the Japanese company Suntory launched the Million Bells series of hybrids in 1992.  I remember our garden nursery didn’t even know what to call this new plant and sold it first as mini-petunia!  The new plant caught on immediately and the Calibrachoa, still called million bells by the public, is now among the most popular annuals in the world!  In fact, the National Garden Bureau in 2018 named it the ‘Annual of the Year’.  

This prolific bloomer is from the Solanacea family, same as the nightshade plants tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers.  It is closely related to the petunia.  However, it was determined in 1985 this plant had many chromosomal differences from the petunia, so it was given its own genus.  Over the years there have been many new developments in breeding.  Calibrachoa flowers now come in a rainbow of colors, including yellow stars, speckled colors, veined and segmented petals, and sometimes combinations of all.   Many breeders have given new selection series names like Aloha, Million Bells, Callie, SuperBells, MiniFamous.  The 2014 Kabloom series includes Deep Pink, Deep Blue, Red, White, and Yellow varieties.   And in the plant world, this development has been over a short period of time, less than 30 years compared to hundreds of years for most plants.  

S327-3.jpgCalibrachoa does best in full sun and is fast-growing with hundreds of small petunia-like flowers from spring through late fall.  But I have found that they do best with some filtered afternoon sun but at least 6 hours of sun or flower production will decrease.  Most of the work that’s gone into their breeding has been to make these plants day-neutral.  This means that they bloom all season, no matter how long or short the days are.  The plant is self-cleaning and has a low-growing, compact growth habit…perfect for my hanging baskets.  They grow so fast; they quickly cover over any old blossoms.  This is a plus for the low-maintenance gardeners, as there’s no need for deadheading.  One thing to note since it is such a fast grower, it will need regular fertilizing.  If flower production slows and leaves start to turn yellow, it needs to be fed!  Since they produce very few seeds, the plant's energy is devoted to producing more flowers rather than ripening seeds.

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Calibrachoas will bloom all summer long if their needs are met.   And, keeping them happy is relatively simple…sun, fertilizer, soil and water.  You can grow them in the ground where there is good drainage, but best performance is in containers with good drainage.  They are heavy feeders, so I give them water-soluble fertilizer every two weeks.  My grandmother used Miracle- Gro on all her annuals so I use it too at half strength with a little fish emulsion.  Potting soils give them exactly what they prefer, light and fluffy soil and slightly acidic.  For bedding display, soil should be well amended and drain quickly!  Water when the top couple of inches of soil feels dry.  During hot, dry weather, they can dry out quickly and may need daily watering.   If they start to get leggy, as they often do by mid-summer, clip or pinch them back to encourage branching and new flowers.  Just don’t trim off more than 20 percent of your plant at one time, this can cause them too much stress. 

Calibrachoas are relatively pest free but can suffer from root rot from over watering.   Even the deer don’t seem to find them particularly tasty, however, they are not classified as deer resistant. 

There are more than 300 varieties of Calibrachoa currently available in several series.  The plants vary in size and habit, some trailing and others have a bushier habit.  Flower types are single to double in just about every color you can think of.  They are attractive in the garden and attract butterflies and hummingbirds.   

I have been growing them for years because of their dazzling colors and outstanding garden performance, that makes them worth a million bells to me! ■ 

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