Thursday, September 8, 2011

Ready to pop!
Low Maintenance Plants
Plant Name: Platycodon grandiflorus
Common Name: Balloon Flower
Overall Low Maintenance Rating:  4.7 Stars

Overview
Balloon flower is one of those plants that should be found in every garden. The delicate star-shaped flowers open from balloon shaped buds and both stages are quite beautiful.
Platycodon, flower and bud

They begin flowering in early July and continue until frost. Their soft colors mix well with most other garden flowers and foliage.
Balloon flower with Heuchera
They also are wonderful flowers for drawing different insects and pollinators. Bumblebees are constant visitors, as are hummingbird moths.

Bumblebee on Balloon Flower

Hummingbird Moth on Balloon Flower

Platycodon requires very little care, performs well in most soils and comes in both a tall and short variety. The colors include blue, purple, pink and white.  In all honesty, while the breeders list the blue and purple colors as separate, I have never been able to see a difference between them. It’s a fine, bluish purple, whatever they call it.

There is also a short variety called 'Fairy Snow' which is white with blue lines radiating from the center. It is shorter than most balloon flowers, only getting 12 inches tall, so put it up front! It can be a little hard to find, but well worth it.
The shorter variety only gets between 18 and 24 inches and is reliably hardy up to zone 4. One exception to that is a variety called ‘Miss Tilly’, a short blue variety, which is only hardy to zone 6. Look for the Astra series or ‘Sentimental Blue’ for colder zones.

The taller variety is also hardy to zone 4.
Disease                                                                         5 Stars
Planting balloon flower in wet, boggy soil can lead to fungal diseases and root rot. They prefer average to dry soil.
Pests – Insects                                                              5 Stars
None, unless you don't like a constant flow of bumblebees!
Pests – Animal                                                              5 Stars
Animals avoid this plant due to the bitter, milky sap. You won’t have a problem with Bambie or Thumper!
Invasiveness                                                                 4 Stars
Balloon flower only gets 4 stars for invasiveness because it can seed like crazy. I don’t find this to be a huge problem, first, because I love this flower and welcome it wherever it might sprout and, second, because the sprouts are very easy to pull if they hit an area I don’t want them.
General Maintenance – Water                                   5 Stars
With its large tap root, platycodon has its own water supply for drier times and doesn’t require extra watering. As noted above, too much water can cause rot and fungal problems.
General Maintenance – Fertilizing                             5 Stars
No extra fertilizer required.
General Maintenance – Pruning/Cleaning                4 Stars
Balloon flower loses a point on maintenance because it has a tendency to hold on to dead flowers and look a bit ratty as time goes on. There’s no real way to prune the plant either as it blooms all over the stem at once. 

Platycodon with both current and past flowers
One other problem is the tall variety often requires staking. I find it easier to encourage the plant to grow near shorter plants which can support it.

4 comments:

GreenGardenMom said...

Nice.

The Sage Butterfly said...

Lovely and thorough post! I never thought of growing it by heuchera. I really like the color contrast...very nice.

NHGarden said...

Great post! I wouldn't mind finding some of those shorter ones hardy to zone 4.

Sharie said...

Thanks, all!

@GreenGardenMom - Thanks for visiting!

@Michelle - it only works with the short ones or if the tall ones fall over like that one did. I should have staked it up but I thought the colors really looked neat together!

@Chris - keep your eyes open for 'Sentimental Blue'. That's my favorite of the short ones - tough as nails and reliably perennial. Some of the Astras are nice, but they don't seem to persist like SB.