At first glance, Calibrachoa (pronounced callie-bruh-KO-a) looks like a miniature version of the petunia. That’s not so weird. The two belong to the same family. But Calibrachoa offers colors that petunias don’t — strong yellows, terra-cottas, oranges — as well as red, pink, rose, burgundy, blue, lavender, purple, and bicolors. Boatloads of single or double flowers appear from spring to fall. And that’s why you need to look for them at the garden center this weekend.
Now, Calibrachoa is an awful name to give any plant. No one who first sees it can either pronounce or remember it. That’s why the first series of them introduced in the late 1990’s was named “Million Bells.” Ahh. That’s much better — and descriptive too!
The plants we see in garden centers today result from crosses made between about 25 species native to Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. Since the first “Million Bells” hit the market, great strides have been made in improving the plant’s appearance, performance, and color range, as evidenced by such series as Superbells, Can-Can, Caberet, Colorburst, and MiniFamous.
Calibrachoa features tiny, closely set leaves, a trailing or mounding habit, and flowers that never need deadheading. Trailers grow 3 to 7 inches high, while mounding types grow 8 to 15 inches high. Although you can certainly plant them in the front of a garden bed, they grow like gangbusters in containers. How do you like this window box?
Or maybe you prefer a nifty hanging basket like this sensational orange-yellow-red-blue mixed one shown here.
Of course, you could be looking for just something to fill out a purty pot to impress your friends.
How to Grow
Growing these babies is easy. They tolerate heat and drought. Give them sun and well-drained soil that’s acid (pH 5.5-6.2 — basically, the same pH range azaleas like). In neutral to alkaline soil, the leaves turn yellow and the plants decline. Where soil is alkaline, grow them in containers and always use a quality, brand-name potting soil such as Fafard Complete Container Mix. Never use peat humus, topsoil, or soil from the yard. These soils are too heavy, don’t drain well, and lead to root rot.
Be careful not to overwater. Let the top inch or so of the soil get dry before watering again. Too much water kills. Fertilize every couple of weeks with a water soluble fertilizer like Miracle-Gro. If your water is alkaline, substitute an acid-forming fertilizer such as Holly-Tone to lower the pH.
Keep these same principles in mind when planting in the ground. Make sure the soil is loose, fertile, acid, and well-drained. If you plant in heavy clay, these bells won’t be ringing for long.