Proper Pruning for Petunias—Keep them compact and blooming all season.

Petunias are beautiful, quick, and fun to grow. Here’s how to keep them pretty all summer.

Trude visited us the other day. She said, “John, you said you would tell me how to grow a well-shaped petunia, but you never did.”

I reached for the pruning shears and led her over to a nice plant that needed a bit of care. I handed her the camera and then cut a tip from a stem that was getting too long. “It’s sort of like giving the plant a hair cut.

blog prune petunia 1

careful pruning makes the petunia plant stronger

I cut another tip and then another. Trude said, “I usually just cut mine way back in June or July after it gets stringy and stops blooming but it never does well after that.”

I replied, “I like to trim them every three weeks or so—just about when I notice that they are getting straggly. This does several things, it makes the plant more compact and therefore much stronger, it increases the number of leaves that are available to make food for the plant, and it furnishes more and healthier blooms. This sort of pruning also takes care of the need for dead-heading.”

blog prune petunia 2

Give the plant a “haircut.” It will grow out quickly.

I pointed. “When the tips are removed, all of the growth that is developing on the stem will begin to grow out and develop. With good care, this growth happens quickly and the plant will be back in full bloom in a week or two.”

blog prune petunia 3

cutting the tips will allow this new growth to take off and grow

Trude reached in and removed a dead bloom, “I always go through and remove all of these,” she said. She showed me the dead bloom.

“You didn’t get the ovary,” I replied. She looked at me with a question asked by raised eyebrows.

blog prune petunia 4

merely pulling off the dead bloom doesn’t do the job. You must get the ovary containing developing seeds

I thought for a moment, “Here’s the concept,” I began…

This plant is an annual. It seems to know that it has only one season to grow and reproduce so it makes lots of blooms. When these blooms have been pollinated and when the ovaries are full of developing flower seeds, the plant’s chemical sensors relay that its job has been done. When the plant has made plenty of seeds, it doesn’t see a need for more. It’s sort of like a lady who had several children but wanted a daughter. She tried one more time and got twin boys. She said, “It’s time to stop.”

I pinched off a flower and set it in her hand. “Look closely at the lump at the bottom of the flower. This is the ovary where the seeds are formed. If you just remove the flower and not the ovary, you haven’t really accomplished anything.”

blog prune petunia 5

The petunia bloom showing developing seed pot (ovary).

I finished cutting the tips from the plant. “If you just cut the tips carefully, you will accomplish the task of dead-heading and shape the plant at the same time.”

Here is the plant after I practiced proper petunia pruning procedures:

blog prune petunia 6

A well-trimmed petunia plant will grow out quickly and produce many fore flowers

“To keep the petunia growing strongly, I like to give it lots of light and to feed it every couple of weeks with a well-balanced plant food. If your plant is in a Mother’s Day hanging basket, you may wish to put it in a larger container to give the roots plenty of room to grow.”

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Your petunia basket will grow better and longer if it is transferred to a larger pot

You may also want to read my article titled “The basics of pruning.”

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How do I trim mixed flower plantings to keep them from getting leggy and spindly?

Pruning is an art form. One of the best ways to practice your pruning techniques is by taking care of your mixed flower plantings as the summer progresses. (You may wish to look at my most popular article of all time, “Pruning as an Art Form” Click here).

One of my clients loves her window boxes which we plant in coco fiber lined wire containers. Last year about the end of May she told me how good the planters looked and I remarked that we needed to trim them up so that they wouldn’t get leggy and spindly. She wouldn’t let me touch them and, sure enough, they got all stretched out and leggy and falling over. This summer—the end of May—the window planters looked like this:

A beautiful window box but to stay beautiful it needs to be trimmed

A beautiful window box but to stay beautiful it needs to be trimmed

I remarked on how pretty the window planters were and she said, “We need to trim them up this week. I don’t want them to get all ugly like they did last year.” I was impressed. Someone was paying attention! I find that the tailgate of my truck makes a wonderful portable work table. Here’s one of the planters before cutting:

Window planter before trimmimg

Window planter before trimmimg

We were just in time to do the project. Some of the begonias were getting all stretched out and falling over.

stringy begonia needs pruning

stringy begonia needs pruning

If we cut the tops out of these plants, the remaining stalks will get much stronger and the plant itself will branch out and produce many more flowers. Even though it pains you to cut off some of the flowers, you may rest assured that you will get many more in return.

Pruning the begonia properly causes it to branch out and become stronger

Pruning the begonia properly causes it to branch out and become stronger

Plants that trail and vine tend to bloom only on the ends of their stems. If we cut them back a bit they will branch out and therefore will have many more stem ends to bloom from. On this bacopa below, I’m just going to grab a handful and whack it off,

I just cut the trailing plants off by the handfull

I just cut the trailing plants off by the handfull

I love petunias but if they aren’t pruned back several times during a season they will just not perform satisfactorily. They become leggy, stretched out and funky looking. (“funky looking” is a technical term).

petunias need periodic  pruning throughout the growing season

petunias need periodic pruning throughout the growing season

Sometimes with petunias I just grab a handful and cut it off. These plants will branch out and start blooming again in two weeks.

trimming petunias helps them to branch out and stay pretty

trimming petunias helps them to branch out and stay pretty

I cut the dragon wing begonias way back, being careful to make the cut right above a leaf axil. This is where the new growth will come from

prune dragon wing begonias just above the new growth

prune dragon wing begonias just above the new growth

I was being careful to cut enough to do the job but not so much that I would freak the lady out, but she surprised me by saying, “I don’t think you’re cutting enough off.” Then she asked me to show her how to do it. The pile of cuttings on the ground at her feet attests to her aggressiveness. I was impressed.

pruning them to perfection

pruning them to perfection

Below is a picture of a planter that has been properly pruned. It will grow back stronger, healthier, and more floriferous.

A well-pruned window planter

A well-pruned window planter

An article you may find interesting “Mixed flowers in a wire basket with coco fiber” Click Here

And another one on “Plants in containers for summer color” Click Here

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

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