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What is a Petunia?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 27 September 2016
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A petunia is a flowering herbaceous plant. Petunia is a plant genus comprising a number of species, some of which are referred to with the common name “petunia.” Most commonly, this name is used to refer specifically to hybrids developed for commercial propagation. Petunias are among the most popular flowering plants in cultivation and they are readily available at nurseries and garden supplies in the form of both seeds and seedlings.

In their native habitats in South America, petunias prefer climates similar to those found in United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) zones nine and 10. The stock developed for cultivation are equally tender, but can easily be grown as annuals in almost any region of the world. As long as no frost is present, petunias can grow. In regions where it is warm, people can choose to grow these plants as perennials, and they may become very well established.

Petunias are famous for their sprawling growth habit and trumpet shaped flowers, coming in a range of colors including purple, pink, white, and yellow. The foliage is small, and the plants have a faint odor that can be difficult to describe, but is similar to that of nightshade relatives like tomatoes, eggplants, and potatoes. Petunias are also hairy and slightly sticky, and some people find them somewhat unpleasant to handle.

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Grandiflora cultivars have been bred to have especially large, showy flowers, while multiflora petunias are grown for their numerous blossoms. Many petunias can be grown in hanging baskets for a cascading effect, and the flowers can also be grown in containers on the ground, as well as rockeries, beds, and borders. Gardeners commonly select petunias for areas where plantings are regularly rotated and they want to add some color quickly. With some fertilizer, petunias will grow rapidly and can quickly cover a bare area of the garden.

The petunia needs moderate to rich, well-drained soil, and it has moderate water requirements. It prefers full sun. These flowers do not like to be allowed to dry out completely, but soggy ground can make them prone to mold and mildew. It is also advisable to deadhead the plants to promote the development of additional flowers, especially when they are being grown seasonally to add color to the garden. For people who don't like the sticky texture of petunia flowers, leaves, and stems, shears or scissors can be used to snip flowers off, instead of pinching them by hand.

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