Plant Profile: Petunias - Surfinias and Tumbelinas

Picture of last year's hanging basket outside our front door
Last year's scented hanging basket - Surfinia 'Purple Vein', Tumbelina 'Priscilla' plus Bacopa

It's almost time for summer hanging baskets. Mine's resting in the cold frame at the moment, getting its last shot of hardening off before it goes up at the end of the month.

My needs are simple: a large willow basket stuffed with scented annuals ready to greet our visitors when they reach the front door. There are all kinds of fancier options available, but I find the use of trailing plants works well. I think of it as a horticultural 'horn of plenty'.

I used to plant ordinary petunias, but as you know they don't really like our English weather, particularly rain. I discovered petunia's descendants, Surfinia 'Purple Vein' and Tumbelina 'Priscilla' (the double variety you can see) not long after we moved here and they've been my plants of choice ever since.

Lots of people like to ring the changes every year, but I'm happy with the cool look of these scented beauties. What's your choice for 2015?

Cultivation Notes

My choices are only available as cuttings raised plants as they're protected by plant breeders rights, so I don't need to feel guilty about not growing them from seed. I buy them at the beginning to mid-May and harden them off over a couple of weeks in my cold frame. About half way through this process, I plant up the basket and then let everything settle down over a week or so. I use 10-15 plants in my basket, to give it a 'burgeoning' look. Pinching out the tips of the plants when I buy them also helps to create nice, bushy plants.

I water sparingly in the last couple of days before the basket goes up, so that it's not too heavy for me to lift, then I give it a good drink afterwards.

Once up, regular dead heading is key to ensuring the plants keep on flowering well into the autumn. The stems can get a bit woody after a while, and I find cutting them back to a healthy set of leaves, plus giving them a feed with a liquid seaweed fertiliser gives them a second wind. I also give them a regular feed every 7-10 days.

Most advice says baskets must be watered every day. I've found I can get away with watering every other day because my basket is north facing, plus I add water retaining gel to the compost. I also put a small terracotta saucer at the bottom of the basket, which absorbs some water and helps keep the compost moist. 

I've also found a wood-pulp based compost such as Sylvagrow doesn't dry out as quickly; though beware, looks can be deceptive. The compost may look dry on the surface, but digging down with a finger may reveal it's still damp. 

Further References

  • The Gardener's Almanac article on Surfinias
  • The RHS's general cultivation advice on Surfinia 'Purple Vein'
  • David and Priscilla Kerley's website - breeders of the world's first double Tumbelina petunia - Tumbelina 'Priscilla'. This plant was derived from crossing a SurfiniaⓇ with a double Petunia
  • Interview with David Kerley - a fascinating insight into the plant breeding process and the amazing story of how 'Priscilla' came to be launched 20 years ago
  • The Surfinia Revolution - a magazine published by MNP Flowers in 2020 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of SurfiniaⓇ breeding. Their celebration is set to continue into 2021 owing to the coronavirus pandemic

You may also like

  • My Crazy Petunias - I tried a new petunia variety a couple of years ago called 'Crazytunia', with some interesting results

Latin without tears

Petunias hail from south America and their name is derived from the French word petun, which in turn was derived from a south American word for tobacco. Petunias are in the Solanaceae plant family, which also includes tobacco.

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  1. That's a really pretty basket. I sometimes make them, usually with surfinias, but I didn't bother last year. You've inspired me though, so maybe I will this year. I agree, once you find a combination that works well together, why change. The front of my house has two hooks for baskets and is north facing, so I think they'd work well there.

  2. Beautiful!
    Hope you are having a wonderful day!

  3. I also love these plants for front containers...and plant Purple Vein every year. They are perfect and non-stop with blooms.

    1. Non-stop is the perfect description :)

  4. What an attractive greeting for your visitors VP and for you too when you return home. I'm always intrigued by the fact that it seems to be just the purple shades of petunias that are scented.

    1. Try the blue ones Anna - I've found those are scented too.

  5. Your basket is certainly a good advert for your plants, a lovely welcome for your visitors and the postman/woman!

    1. We have posties of both varieties Pauline :)

  6. I love those surfinia's the perfume is so heady and they go on practically forever. I usually buy a mixed pack of plants designed specifically for hanging baskets and containers, unfortunately the ordinary petunias attract slugs like moths to a flame so they don't get much of a look in in my garden.

    1. Mine have been pretty slug resistant in the past - or perhaps they've found choicer plants elsewhere ;)


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