On Gardening: Fall planting of Supertunias: A great idea for the South


Fall planting of petunias was a great idea. The period right after Christmas has always been kind of like a breather for garden gurus as we pause to evaluate plants and ideas that we have put into place in our landscape or perhaps watched other seasoned professionals try

Back in the fall I was reading a publication written by my friend Dr. Allen Owings, professor emeritus (horticulture) with LSU. He was recommending planting petunias as a fall crop in September, October and as late as November in Louisiana. Years ago, I do remember watching them bloom all winter in some city window boxes in Louisville, Mississippi, which is right on the zone 7 line. I suppose at the time the supply chain kept me from trying and it slipped my mind.

The Garden Guy decided to give it a try in Midland, Georgia, and I am beyond thrilled. Midland is a little northeast of Columbus. Since I am not too far for the hills of zone 7, I am sure if I have found success many of you will too.

In the fall I created a new bed kind of as a test plot if you will, for new Hydrangea paniculatas coming out in the spring of 2021. They are Lime Light Prime and Fire Light Tidbit. I partnered the hydrangeas with some drifts of Supertunia Picasso In Purple, Supertunia Vista Bubblegum, and in another area with Supertunia Vista Fuchsia. At the time I didn’t dream that the hydrangeas were going to color up so well. Their shades of white, pink, mauve and even cranberry really surprised me and were perfect for the petunias.

This bed was created in an area that was Bermuda grass. I passed on the prospects of using a sod stripper and simply killed the grass with a non-selective herbicide. After the grass died, I broke the soil up only at the actual planting site up and incorporated very little organic matter. The soil in this part of my landscape is pretty good and drains well. Typically, I would suggest raised beds and the use of more organic matter or a planting mix.

Through the fall we’ve had a lot of rain, especially with the last two hurricane related fronts. The petunias persevered and flourished in blooms looking incredible as we ended November. The petunias were then exposed to 24, 26 and 29 three nights in a row and several more nights in the same range. I remember doubting my project one morning as I looked through the window, seeing the gleam of frost.

It turned out no problem other than a cycling of blooms similar to what we see in Camellias when they get hit by frost. Foliage is still perfect, and actually growing into much larger plants and flowers are forming. I also wanted to try a fall planting of petunias in containers. Obviously in containers they are even more exposed to the cold temperatures.

I planted Supertunia Vista Paradise, which was new to me. It is an iridescent red with subtle hints of varying red shades. It really is a beautiful petunia. I partnered it with Goldilocks lysimachia and White Knight sweet alyssum. There were some Truffula Pink gomphrena still looking good in the containers so I left them. When the frigid temperatures arrived the Truffula Pink died but everything else is looking good. Everyday it gets warm the Supertunias seem to be a favorite of the Cloudless sulphur butterflies and even visited by the Zebra longwings who were here through mid-December.

Fall is a crazy time when selecting cool season flowers, and even more so with the COVID challenges. I will always love pansies and violas. But after this season of trying Supertunia petunias, I know those of us in the South have some other great choices. Thank you Dr. Owings for giving us that reminder!

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