Petunia flowers are wonderful mixed in planters with other benficial attracting flowers to help with our organic pest control
Petunia flowers are wonderful mixed in planters with other benficial attracting flowers to help with organic pest control

President Obama the other day put a special council together to address the  “bee decline”  due to insecticide use in our country. Well, it is about time, but it may be too late to correct some of the damage if we all don’t do something now instead of waiting for a “council” to make suggestions.You can plant natural pesticides in your garden today + make a difference instead of waiting.The annual petunia is one that can pack a punch in your garden with pests and also provide beauty. It not only helps protect plants in the nightshade family like tomato, eggplant, peppers and potatoes it also looks beautiful + smells delightful in an evening garden.

Old-Fashioned Vining Petuna floating in a strawberry patch
Old-Fashioned Vining Petuna floating in a strawberry patch

In old Victorian Gardens, they use to have “fragrance” it was the most important part, but today all we care about are big double blooms where the fragrance has been ignored by breeders. It is just like our McMansions we built in the 80’s, we think bigger is better. Well, it is not always better when we try to “over improve” on things in nature. We lose some of the best parts of our physical world. Think about the tomato, the green shoulders have been bred out of our tomato which was what gave it the flavor, but we have perfect “red” tomatoes.“Those green shoulders turn out to be more significant than you might think. In the journal Science, they found that when green shoulders disappeared from modern plants, some of the tomato’s taste went with them.Now which would you prefer, pretty vegetables, or ones that taste amazing?

Big Daddy Blue Petunia
Big Daddy Blue Petunia

I use companion planting in my garden every year and as the years pass by, I have found certain petunias to be more fragrant than others. This year the star for  fragrance is Bid Daddy Petunia! I grew them early spring and they are just jumping out of their containers!

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I found Big Daddy “out scented” Old fashioned and some of my other heirloom petunias by a mile. It was a surprise to me since I just assumed the “old-fashioned” petunia were the best scented. I had tried several others that were different colors, sizes, shapes, and doubles( yes even I can give into eye candy at times-lol) which had no fragrance. I started Palm Rae Potager 14 years ago, to have food to eat, feed pollinators, and create a  fragrant garden.

Old-Fashioned Vining Petunia is a wonderful flower, but it can get a big large and lanky if you  don't keep it in check
Old-Fashioned Vining Petunia is a wonderful flower, but it can get a bit  large and lanky if you don’t keep it in check

A few summers ago I grew heirloom petunias  “Old-fashioned Vining + California Giants” which did wonderfully, but the only one that had fragrance was Old Fashioned Vining.The California Giant was beautiful , but had no fragrance which was one of the reasons I decided to just keep the seed and try some others.

The Big Daddy Blue only get about a food high and spread nicely in the front of the beds or containers
The Big Daddy Blue only get about  8 inches to a foot  tall and spread nicely in the front of the beds or containers.

 This year, I started Big Daddy Blue under lights to use in my containers, and what a difference.

They do not droop like other petunias
They do not droop like other petunias. Big Daddy is a large grandiflora-type with wavy edges that stand up to rain…

I read somewhere that the “purple veining” was responsible for the fragrance + only the purple , or white ones carried the scent gene.

Petunias help protect your brassica crops from the cabbage worm. I am not seeing holes in my brassica crops this year, but there are some cabbage butteflies hanging around
Petunias help protect your Brassica crops from the cabbage worm. I am not seeing holes in my Brassica crops this year, but there are some cabbage butterflies hanging around

Petunias are recognized as nature’s version of a pesticide.I plant petunias around my tomato, peppers, and eggplant. The petunia is part of the nightshade family + will  provide protection with pests that can destroy a nightshade’s crop.An annual petunia repels asparagus beetles, leaf hoppers, some aphids,cabbage worms,tomato horn worms, Japanese Beetles, cabbage loopers, weevils,and Mexican bean beetles to name a few.

I only grew Old-Fashioned Vining this year since the California were not as fragrant, and I also found many Old-Fashioned petunias reseeded throught my garden beds.
I only grew Old-Fashioned Vining this year since the California were not as fragrant, and I also found many Old-Fashioned petunias reseeded through my garden beds.

I also found this year my “old-fashioned Vining ” petunia reseeded in all my vegetable beds, so I did not have to save seed  I find the old-fashioned a bit leggy, but do enjoy it  rambling through my vegetable beds. I  like the compact form of the Big Daddy Blue Petunia a bit better since the old-fashioned can get quite large and crowd out other vegetables , flowers and herbs. I will edge my vegetable beds next year with Big Daddy + let my Old Fashioned Vining reseed where it feels each season. I just pull them as seedlings if I do not want them  to grow in a particular place.

 As you grow petunias in your garden, you will find not all petunias are so heavily fragrant.  The best scents  come from blue and purple petunias.Petunias’ trap the cabbage worm which eats holes in your Brassica family plants like kale, broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts and cauliflower. The petunia traps the cabbage worm. If left unchecked the cabbage worm will eat through an entire crop of Brassica, so by  planting petunias with your Brassica crop it is the best organic method  to eliminate this problem.

I also started 3 new Concord Grape vines in our urban potager this year and learned that petunias protect your grapes from nematodes, mites, aphids,and moths. Nematodes have been known to attack grape-vine roots which can lead to stunted growth. By planting petunia near your grapes, you are insuring healthy plants, protection to pests, and this year I found protect against drought for they act as a mulch by covering the roots near your vines and other plants. Petunias are very drought tolerant!

Petunias are  a great  “natural pesticide”  you can add to your gardens to protect against a wide variety of pests. and also their pleasant smell will attracts a variety of pollinators such as  bees, butterflies, and moths to your garden which are all beneficial to the health of your natural oasis! Next time you see a petunia think about how it will help you fight pests and attract through a lovely fragrance pollinators to your garden….

When you see  petunias wandering through your vegetable beds, you have the benefit of protection and “eye candy” which is not so bad when you are trying to grow food and create a place people + pollinators want to spend time! 

 

Written by Robbie

M.S. Education, , Organic Gardener, soil + nature lover, former modern dancer

54 comments

  1. I took copious notes while reading this post 🙂 I love petunias and grow them in baskets and containers every year. This coming spring they will be included in my vertical garden of veg 🙂 I have never noted ‘Big Daddy’ variety here but will be sure to have a good look for it – just in case it is. As always your photos are simply stunning, your garden would be a joy to visit!
    I appreciate you taking time from your outdoor world to help educate me 🙂 xoxo

    1. I have grown them the past few years near the vegetables + I am not seeing all the holes in my brassicas,and have not seen any tomato hornworms in my garden in years, so there must be some truth to all of this companion planting! I do have to come inside sometime-lol, to sleep…tee hee!

  2. I am learning so much from your blog! Thanks for the good info and the beautiful photos 🙂

  3. Love all your beautiful photos and good info on petunias! My local grower is having his end of season sale this weekend. I think I’ll go down and load up the car with petunias to fill in all the blank spots left from the spring bulbs dying down!

    1. awww…that made me feel good, to know you enjoyed the info and photos of the simple annual petunia:-) I am finding the simple flowers are the workhorses of our gardens:-)

    1. thank you, I am so glad:-) Good to hear from another gardener that does not use chemicals, we should have signs in our yards-lol. It is MUCH easier not to be dependent on those chemicals, I am on year 15 and I am seeing many of the problems, I use to have gone:-) There really is something to all this “chemical free” + “companion planting”, it works!

  4. Fabulous post as usual with wonderful photos. I love Petunias but I had no idea that they were useful too. I have recently found my newly planted asparagus decimated by asparagus beetle;, I didn’ t even know there was such a thing until a few days ago. I shall plant a skirt of petunias round the bed to see if that will help, as well as picking the horrid little grubs off and squashing them. The eggs are really hard to remove they seem to be stuck to the stems with superglue!

    1. thank you:-)I am so glad it is helping people some of this info:-)I just put in purple passion asparagus, two small beds this spring. I have not seen any beetles, but I would be upset if I did see them after all the work it takes to get the asparagus bed cleared, planted etc. I have tried a variety of annual flowers + herbs in my beds the past few years( I am on a 3 yr rotation), and the past few, I no longer see tomato hornworm or cucumber beetle:-)I would also use calendula ( I found a lovely dwarf mix bonbon which keeps on giving), petunias, borage ( a must in my garden), Tagetes tenuifolia ‘Lemon Gem, french marigolds, alyssum, basil,cleome and zinnas. I just added Candytuft/Iberis sempervirens this year to the edging which is for the bees.
      This year “none” of my brassica have holes ( that is a first!) in the leaves, so there must be something to this companion planting. I don’t know for sure which “one’ plant it is , so I use all of them that help, but I can tell you so far this year I have not seen any of those nasty pests. I did let the petunia reseed in the beds, too throughout the potager, but next year I will use the shorter petunia for edging all my beds with the others, there is just something to this!:-)

    1. Theresa, thank you, I needed that today, you always seem to lift spirits with your beautiful blog + spirit:-) You are a blessing to us all:-)

  5. What a lovely tribute to an underappreciated plant! You don’t happen to know how they tolerate heat do you? I worry they’d shrivel here.

    1. I have found them to be very drought tolerant here in zone 5 midwest. Our summers are very humid + hot during the summer, and they seem to do well in the cooler weather,too:-) They do have new cultivars that do not collaspe when it rains, so that is a good thing!

  6. VIP–Very important post!!! Question: Do you not plant them directly in the soil with the veggies? If not, is it because they are a part of the nightshade family? I have read about marigolds in vegetable gardens but not petunias. Thanks for any info!!!

    1. They say they are okay near the other nightshades. That is what I did + no problems with them being near them in the past few year I have done it:-)I would use the fragrant one which is all I have used.I plant them in both places and I have not seen any cabbage worms eating holes in my brassica this year, and I let some reseed near my tomatoes. I tend to edge my tomato beds with a mix of calendula( dwarf), petunias, basil( not this year though-hmmm just forgot, but have basil in another bed near), french marigolds, signet marigolds, candytuft, and a borage plant next to each tomato plant( borage keeps tomato hornworms away, too). Also let cleome reseed all over. There is something to this companion planting, so I am still in the experimenting stage, which takes time, for you have to grow it out and wait till next year to try another approach from your previous year observations:-) GArdening is not for people that are impatient-lol, or it teaches you to be patient!

      1. Yup, patience *is* a gardening virtue, alright!!! Thx so much for your detailed answer! PS, did not have any problems so far with cabbage worms this year. The baby bunny beat them to the brassica!!! Sigh.

      2. Oh my, that is hard with those baby bunnies! They are so darn cute:-) it makes it hard to not like them when you see their sweet faces, but they are destructive. I felt so badly this year, I had a nest in my garden, but my dog found it and, well, you know the rest of that story….I felt so badly, but mother rabbit moved to the front yard or my neighbors yard after that…. It is hard when aniamals are so cute in your garden, but destroy your food. I did plant some clover at the edge of the garden for them + my grass has clover, so maybe they will find it + be happy with it. My dog does keep them away.

  7. So helpful as always Robbie. I just started using petunias as companions with my beans and cukes. They seem to be helping. Funny I hadn’t read about them for nightshades. Pulled four hornworms off one tomato yesterday so I’ll have to get more petunias! Thx as always 🙂 sheri

    1. I know + it is funny that they are in the same family, but they do help a lot in the garden. The workhorse in my garden is “borage” which seems to just take care of everything:-) I put together an “army of plants” to fight pests in my garden. I also use, cleome, calendula,frnech marigolds, basil, parsley, + signet marigolds which have a lovely aroma and are edible:-) There is no scientific proof for all this,but as the years roll by I have seen fewer and fewer pests in my yard. This year I have only seen one cucumber beetle, now that is progress:-)

      1. I’m trying to do the same. Nasturtium and marigolds mainly, borage and herbs around the tomatoes. It does seem to help and looks pretty too! I’ve got more beneficials hanging out for sure. Worms are showing up on my cukes though, any thoughts on that?

      2. Actually they might be army worms after all. I thought those were black but I just read that young ones are light green with stripes. No beetles I’ve seen. I’ll try soapy water and DE and look into companions to deter. Thanks Robbie 🙂

      3. I think at this point “hand pick” them-YUCKY! Your right, soapy water and dump them. I hate doing the chore, but well worth the effort:-) This year we got a break from the japanese beetle, our ground froze so deeply killed them! No soapy water this year for me-YEAH, so all that cold weather was worth it:-)

      4. :-)…if you have any suggestion for the squash borer do share, this year I only grew thin stalked squashes since all my others they just destroyed, so far good, keeping my fingers crossed!

      5. I’ve heard that you have to find the eggs in the stem and destroy them. I think people also use insecticidal soap but destroying the eggs is key. I just found cucumber beetle larva on my lemon cukes. Not a happy camper. But isn’t gardening fun? 😉

      6. 🙂 kill them now in the soapy water and they won’t be beetles–score one you! I look at it as a competition, I just have to beat them before they beat my plants!

  8. Like Pauline I am taking notes, scratching them down on bits of toilet tissue (unused…) etc. in order to keep names and pack drills for our approaching spring. I have to admit something here…up until this post I HATED Petunias. Yes. Hate is a very strong word but was pretty much indicative of how I felt about the blowsy droopy gaudy over the top nana flowers that made me twitch whenever I saw them. As a horticulturalist I scorned them en masse but when I saw that lovely old fashioned variety I instantly fell in love with it. Not gaudy, not blowsy or frumpily frilly but tall and willowy and lovely. Just found the petunia for our garden methinks…here’s hoping that the pests that they repel also include “wallabies” and “possums” and that they can trap them as otherwise their newly installed reign on Serendipity Farm may be extremely short lived 🙂

    1. lol..I just chuckled when I read your comment….you are so right! I hated them, too for many years + it was not until I researched them and found them to be great companion plants. It was also after I got a “whiff” of them as the sun set one evening, OH MY GOODNESS…I never smelled anything so wonderful…just perfect for sitting outside on a summer evening…fragrant!
      I found the seed for my old fashioned at ( organic) http://www.southernexposure.com/ or http://www.seedsavers.org/. I just thinned some out today…geez, I need to post this week, but my schedule this week is moving too quickly…:-) I love the fact they reseed themselves in the garden beds..lazy me!

      1. I can’t access seed from outside Australia but I will look for them on the Mainland heritage websites. I am sure that I will find them there 🙂

      2. let me know how it goes…I could save some seed for you( if I remember to catch them, they are tiny!), but I figure it is hard to ship to Australia, all the rules! Old- fashioned Petunias are what you want, or ones that are purple/light blue and have the vein( some whites, too), but the best thing is to grow a variety and find out if they acutally smell. I took the word of some seed growers, about a few types + they were not very fragrant( for me), so the past few years, I grew out the ones I thought would be + selected the best! It truly is an amazing fragrance that you won’t want to miss in your garden!

      3. I am still wondering whether or not the possums and wallabies are going to scoff them the night that I plant them 😉

      4. I did have a racoon eat them in the spring , so I had to put them away from his path! I read somewhere they are even edible to us, but don’t taste too good:-)

      5. It was seedlings in the early spring, so protect them early spring. They were just eating them when there was nothing else out there, but once the area greened up, they left them alone-HOPE!!!!

      6. I think I would have to put them in the glasshouse to protect them and even then I am not sure that they would be completely protected as we have had possums fall through the glass and into the glasshouse before on their climbing quest for scoffing rights…

      7. oh my…well, just throw the seed out and see what happens:-) I do that sometimes and I am pleasantly surprised + sometimes not-lol

      8. I harvested all kinds of seeds that escaped gardens locally and were growing on road verges this year. I figured if they were hardy enough to be growing on road verges in the middle of our long dry summers they MUST be able to survive in our garden 🙂

  9. Great article on this wonderful plant. I’ve always loved petunias and you’ve given me a lot more reasons to like them. I had no idea they were such a good companion plant. I put in a whole row of deep purple ones across the front our our home this year and they smell wonderful and look so great with their deep purple color. I love them and have had great success in years past with ones I grew from seed. These I bought, but that’s another story. I didn’t do too well with my starts this year I’m afraid. Maybe next year, eh? I knew there was a reason I was drawn to the purple petunias and you’ve told me why. Thanks for posting all this and showing us your amazing garden. It’s incredible what you’ve created in just 14 years. I can hardly wait till I’ve been at it that long myself in this garden. I have years and years to go to catch up tho and I never will I suspect. You are such a good inspiration to me with all you do. I’m just so impressed and delighted to see your work and to read your words. You write as well as you garden. Thanks for sharing all this great info..
    All the best to you, 🙂
    Steve

    1. awww ….steve, that was so kind. I have to admit, I never appreciated them until that one summer, I got a “whiff’ of their evening fragrance, and my views on petunias were forever changed! Then I started reading more about how they benefit the organic gardener + well, you know the rest of the story, it is history! Right now my garden is going through a transition since I took out a VERY LARGE overgrown redtwig dogwood that did not fair too well the last two years in our drought. It has left a big hole in my middle garden, but it will be a great mixed bed next year:-) My garden is never really finished, it just evolves as I do over the years:-) I feel your garden is AMAZING, and I admire how you get so many “show stopper” plants in your city lot!

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