These Blooming Bells Ring My Chimes! Calibrachoas

April 11, 2013 | By | Comments (2)

Could you use a splash of color? How about a tsunami? Photo by Steve Bender.

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?

Window box

Rosy-red and purple Calibrachoas grow with light-blue violas, deep pink snapdragons, and holly ferns in this window box. Photo by Steve Bender.

Or maybe you prefer a nifty hanging basket like this sensational orange-yellow-red-blue mixed one shown here.


MiniFamous Calibrachoa basket. Photo by Park Seed.

Of course, you could be looking for just something to fill out a purty pot to impress your friends.


Superbells Double Lavender. Photo by Proven Winners.

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.


  1. Anton

    Don’t know about anyone else but Calibrachoa are impossible to keep happy in the home garden. They seem to be a producer and retailers million bucks delight and a gardeners waste of space. They need acidic conditions at all times and they rot and die with the very first rain, in fact they start dying the minute you water them unless you don’t get the leaves wet and mix fungicide into the water. They like 6hours cool sun but not heat or humidity. So basically a completely and utterly useless garden plant that will just survive if you start poisoning the environment with fungicide and you don’t get any rain at all and your weather stays from 13-23 %C, no cloud at all times. Sigh. Under cover they might do better but who grows garden plants under glass. Im wondering if they would do better planted as seed that can acclimatise better or build up a level of resistance as it grows. No idea but I see seed available very recently so maybe this would be worth a try? Otherwise and unless someone else has had better luck by some miracle don’t bother buying them. Yes they are absolutely a “low maintenance super star”, plant them out, sit back and watch them keel over, no more worries. The intenet is awash with people who’ve had the exact same money wasting experience. Unless in a climate controlled green house forget it. They say dont water untill the soil is completely dry but the plant collapses if you don’t, once collapsed its tickets they don’t recover because you have to water but this then kills them. In fact they start collapsing the minute you plant them out. Keeping them absolutely dry in the garden is impossible as is always watering from the bottom even in containers. One week of gentle rain is enought to kill them even if by yet more miracles your rain is the perfect PH. Feeding is also critical however even mild salt build up and slight PH changes from the fertiliser kill them……….is there a point in these things one has to wonder?! I think the hype is pure marketing and certainly not consumer led with this one. No one has any luck with them, much like the diseased early petunias no one could grow they were so delicate and fussy and prone to various pathogens and diseases. Most of these pathogens are always present in any ordinary soil, so if a plant cant even take soil even if its free draining then we are in trouble. All the advise in the world doesn’t make them grow outside of sterile factory conditions. Hopefully this changes and resistant weather proof varieties become availble but it’s not there yet, certainly not. I just wish they would stop selling them. I cant think of another plant so over hyped and so underwhelming as this. Unfortunately garden writers seem to still be plugging on, makes you wonder if they’re getting kick backs at our expense. It honestly does! Million Bells are million diseases starting when you hand over your cash.

    February 14, 2017 at 2:50 am
  2. Million Bells Ring My Chimes – The Calibrachoas – Plant Care Today

    […] These Blooming Bells Ring My Chimes! Calibrachoas […]

    April 14, 2013 at 4:00 pm

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