Perennial charm

THE PETUNIA is one of the hardiest and most easily grown winter annual and perennial from South America. It is a genus of about 40 species belonging to the family Solanaceae.

These sticky-haired houseplants are excellent for hanging baskets, vases and winter-boxes. Simple ovate to lance-shaped leaves are mostly alternate; upper leaves may be opposite, 5 to 12 cm long and hairy.

Five-lobed, frilled, single or double saucer or trumpet-shaped flowers are borne on the upper leaf axils — 30 cm across — in a variety of colours, mainly pink, red, pale yellow, violet, blue or white. Some have dark veiny throats in contrasting colours.

Two groups

Petunia is divided into two groups. Grandiflora petunias and Multiflora petunias. Grandiflora petunias have large flowers — 10 cm across. They are delicate and best grown in sheltered hanging baskets and containers.

Multiflora petunias are bushier than grandiflora, with smaller flowers, 5 cm across, and are produced in great quantity. They are more tolerant to wet weather and ideal for summer bedding or in mixed borders.

They are fast spreading and good for ground cover. The flowers may be bright red, orange, pink, magenta and white. Petunia `Purple wave' is more popular.

It spreads around and has vibrant magenta flowers. `Surfina purple' has magenta flowers with purple veins.

Grandiflora picotee bears dark red flowers with broad ruffled white margins.

Grow petunias in loam-based compost in full light. Water freely and apply a high potassium fertilizer every two weeks.

Outdoors, grow in light well-drained soil in full light, sheltered from wind.

Propagation is by seeds or soft cutting.