Monday, January 10, 2011

Wave Petunias

I finally went on line and ordered my seeds yesterday. I often have the seeds in the soil by this time most years.  However, last year I ran out of indoor space before I could get into the greenhouses, and a lot of my plants were overgrown before I had customers wanting them.  I also found I tossed a lot of leggy older plants at the end of the season, because I had propagated too many.  So the lesson I learned from all that was that I would not get in as big a rush this year in starting my plants.

Now this may backfire if we have a cold wet spring.  Maybe I won't have enough plants ready in time.  But the die is cast, we will be starting later than usual.

Our main product we grow is wave petunias. I'm just a hobbyist, I can't compete with the big chains.  Nor do intend to try.  I try to offer different colour choices and the service of planting your baskets with your selections if you so desire.

Wave petunias have certainly changed the face of landscaping.  First, they were the initial mainstays of the hanging basket phenomenon that hit the gardening world a decade or so ago.  Suddenly virtually everyone who had any sense of beauty at all, had a container garden.  A basket can be purchased in full bloom, no prep, no planning.  All it requires is a daily dose of water, and a biweekly shot of fertilizer, how simple is that?

A lot of people have found out it is not that simple.  Forget to water for a day, your plants hang limp and wilted. Then for two weeks they sulk while they decide whether to live or die.

So for a few years everyone was delighted with the crawling ways of the freshly-bred wave petunia.  But as with all fashion trends, soon baskets had to be different, bigger and better than the Jones's.  The seed companies fought to introduce new trailing species to compete with petunias.  Staggering improvements were made in other species in regard to trailing habits, leaf variegation, colour introductions (petunias sadly lacked in the yellow/orange/red category) and season extenders.  For a year or two it almost seemed the pioneering petunia had completely lost favour in the container world.

However I note there seems to be a bit of an upsurge again in this department.  I think people have realized that few plants have the resilience, length of season, ease of care and dependency of bloom,  that the old tried and true plant has. I also note that the petunia breeders have been busy, trying to compete and maintain gardener interest.  Last season I noted an improved yellow, a white/burgundy star, several different picotee combinations (white rim around a solid colour) and a bricky red (the closest the petunia world has come to actual orange).

Commercial baskets tend to be shying away from petunia monoculture.  Perhaps the old adage of not putting all your eggs in one basket is a good philosophy.  A drought resistant vine, a lime green coleus, a red spike, or something truly yellow or orange (million bells, bidens, gerbera etc.) do all add charm, variety and versatility, when planted with our old faithful standby.

Let's talk about wave petunia types for a few minutes. Much engineering has gone into the lowly petunia that our forebearers deadheaded in years gone by.  For one, most petunias are now self cleaning, meaning you never have to remove spent blossoms. They just continue to flower in profusion, because they are not so concerned with expending energy,  producing seeds as they once were.  RP, They are kind of like leghorn hens who no longer have any urge to brood.  Their sole focus seems to be production of cackle berries, but I digress!

Two distinct lines appeared in the 90's.  There was the tried and true bush forms, and then this new-fangled creeping crawling plant (actually it was not as far removed genetically from the original wild plants as you might think). Thus was born the wave.

Since that introductions, the wave world has split into several sects and denominations as well, and I suspect will continue to do so.  The first waves, were somewhat genetically unstable, that is they did not come true, or pass all the desired characteristics on to their offspring.  This meant, to get plants you could really only propagate them vegetatively, ie cuttings.  In the next few years, plants were carefully selected, and the genetics somewhat stabilized.  Wave petunia seed became available commercially.  This seed was consistent and suddenly anyone could start waves from seed in their own home (albeit expensively). These plants can be further categorized as True Waves and Easy Waves (not as viney as the former).

However, some new colours are not readily available from seed, see the above listed intros for last season.  Also such favourites as the sky blue ( it's more mauve than blue) are still not available as seed.  These colours must still be propagated vegetatively, and are usually purchased as cuttings or rooted plugs.  This includes the patent-protected Surfinia lines.  What this means is that you can enjoy the plants you purchased, but don't dare take a cutting off it, or the plant police will appear on your doorstep.

A couple other sub branches have also appeared.  Tidal waves were a new introduction a few years ago.  Available in four colours, these plants are the giant of the petunia world.  They crawl three feet and will go straight up the same,  under good conditions.  Suddenly you have a petunia shrub.  I speak from experience. These are massive, impressive plants and a few will fill in a perennial border in short order.

A year or so later the Shock Waves appeared.  These are similar to regular waves, but have smaller and more abundant numbers of flowers.  I think these may be an attempt to rival the million bell market.  About the same era the Ramblin series arrived.  These are similar to waves, perhaps not quite as viney and a little more bushy perhaps.  The beauty of these plants are that they work in baskets, but equally as well on the ground as an annual border specimen.

So there you have it, hardly a technical analysis, but a brief history and explanation of the wave petunia as I see it.

And that is about I have to say for today.

Musings and meanderings from the Musical Gardener.

1 comment:

  1. Growing things is tough in the desert. I typically now grow only things that are perrenial and have survived! Once the heat of summer peaks, any new annual is gone.

    What is the best fertilizer. I am contemplating some container vegie gardening this spring. Other gardens have flopped--too hot and take too much water, and I'm too white to be out there weeding!


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