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Petunias are beloved garden plants because of their bright range of bloom colors -- yellow, orange, red and white to blue, green, lavender and purple -- and because they bloom prolifically from May through to the first frost, or to the following year, depending on their hardiness. Although they are winter-hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 and 11, they are most often grown as an annual even there. There are hundreds of petunia varieties falling into several groups: grandiflora, multiflora, milliflora and ground cover.
Petunias grow best in full sun, where their growth and flowering reach optimum levels. They do, however, tolerate several hours of light shade a day, although the number of blooms they produce declines accordingly. Petunias need at least five or six hours of solid, uninterrupted sunlight a day, though full sun all day is even better. In very hot climates, where the heat of summer may cause plants to decline, some light afternoon shade is appreciated. You can overwinter special plants by bringing them indoors in containers and placing them in bright light.
As long as drainage is adequate, petunias tolerate poor soils. Amending soil with compost, peat moss or manure, however, improves drainage and soil fertility. When amending soil, spread it 2 or 3 inches thick across the top of the planting area, then till it in with a rototiller or garden fork. When overwintering petunias indoors, place plants where they’ll receive plenty of light but remain cool. Although you can collect and plant petunia seed, most plants will not be true to the parent type.
Petunias work well as borders and ground cover and in beds or as edges. You can also plant them in window boxes, containers or hanging baskets, where their trailing tendrils hang down full of blooms. Their fragrant blossoms attract birds, butterflies and hummingbirds to the garden; if you like wildlife, planting petunias is the way to go. They are also resistant to deer and therefore are a good choice for areas of the garden where other plants are in danger of being eaten.
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