Pretty petunias, all in a row, furnish a riot of color

When you think of pretty flower boxes, pyramidal plantings, and flower beds that keep right on blooming until a really hard frost hits, think petunias. They are favorites of the boxes you see from the balconies in Switzerland and Germany. For the price of a dozen plants you can buy seeds enough to make your place a people-stopper.

Petunias come in many colors and varieties. Some are dwarfed, others trailing. Some are double and large and some are single. Whatever variety you choose, they can be easily grown from seed indoors if you have no hotbed or greenhouse.

Select your seeds from a reputable garden supply store or seed catalog. Remember that larger masses of color are more spectacular than a conglomeration of many nondescript colors. For example, a pink and purple garden shows up better if there are considerable patches of each color rather than a tweedy-like mixture.

Double petunias give large blooms but often do better when interspersed with other varieties of single petunias, since double petunias do not pollinate as freely. You should select colors that have a reputation for resisting drought and the fading rays of the sun.

Petunias are actually one of the hardiest of annuals.

Double grandiflora petunias are available in mixes that contain red, rose, salmon, blue, purple, and white. A pink hybrid called Blushing Maid grows large , double blooms that are suitable for corsages. A single grandiflora petunia called Sunburst yields large, ruffled single blossoms that contrast well with blues and red. Sunburst is a creamy, sunshine-yellow petunia.

A single, free-blooming variety called Heavenly Blue resembles the well-known morning glory by that name. Of the reds available, I would call Comanche the brightest and most fade-resistant. Candy Apple is another scarlet petunia, which grows more spreading than upright. Glacier will give you ruffled, single white blossoms that last a long time. Blue Border is perhaps the bluest of the blues in petunias.

once you have selected your seeds, plant them in a flat or jiffy pots filled with a sterile growing medium, such as Jiffy Mix.

If you use potting soil that is mixed from your garden soil, sand, and peat moss, you may sterilize the soil by baking it in a slow oven to kill weed seeds and bacteria. Thirty minutes at 250 degrees F. is sufficient to make the soil safe for petunias.

Remember, petunias are not disease- or insect-prone.

Allow water to which a few drops of dish detergent has been added to soak into the flat or filled pots. Then mix the petunia seeds with an equal portion of cornmeal. Make a shallow indentation in the soil with a blunt knife handle or pencil. Then sprinkle the seeds and cornmeal into the indentations.Cover with one-quarter inch of soil or vermiculite. Water again, enough to dampen the soil over the seeds.

Cover the flat or pots with a plastic bag or clear plastic wrap. Place in a warm window but not in direct sunlight. After about 14 days the seeds should germinate and you can remove the plastic wrap or bag. The flats or pots can then be moved to a sunny window.

Keep the flats or pots slightly moist until the seedlings are 3 or 4 weeks old. Then the seedlings may be separated and reset, burying the first two leaves to create a stronger root system.

When the seedlings are a few weeks old the tip may be pinched out of the plant to encourage side branches and more flowers. Petunias may be sown indoors as early as February or early March and should certainly be planted 80 days before the time of planting outdoors in your location. Plants started indoors in early March will be ready to bloom in window boxes in May.

Keep a record in your garden notebook so you will know which petunias gave you the most satisfactory bloom. Make a simple sketch to help you remember spectacular combinations and arrangements with other flowers. You may like to vary your flower beds each year, but you may want to repeat some of the most eye-catching combinations.

As soon as the petunia seedlings are four inches tall, apply an all-purpose plant food in whichever form you choose. You may use granules, liquid, stakes, or add it to the water you use on the seedlings. This is especially important if plants are grown in a growing medium instead of soil. Plants that are fed according to the directions on the food you buy will yield more flowers.

Petunia ask very little in the way of care. However, if the faded blossoms are removed as soon as they begin to wilt, new buds will form sooner and the petunias will blossom more freely. European gardeners pick the old blossoms off every morning to create some of the world's most spectacular flower boxes.

Full sun is the favorite environment of petunias, although you will get a surprising number of flowers in partial sun. they combine well with sweet alyssum, marigold, salvia, and ageratum.

Petunias have many pluses. They have long been a favorite of gardeners who don't want to be troubled by pampering fussy flowers. A universal flower, petunias adapt to many environments.

When you think flowers, you have a right to think pink, especially if pink means success to you. Petunias put you in the pink, whether you are creating a centerpiece, cutting them for a small vase, or making a corsage.

There is a dwarf petunia to edge your flower bed or a trailing one to hang over the edge of the garden wall or the window box. You may select a petunia with a face as bright and honest as a morning glory or a ruffled one as dainty as a waltz gown. Some giant double petunias are as big as your fist.

Variegated colors, two-toned mixtures, muted pastels, and bold colors -- all add to the joy of selecting petunias for your garden. There are a few with contrasting throats, giving them a starlike look. Star Joy is one of these, a scarlet petunia with a white star in the middle.

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