This season I’m trying out some forthcoming Wave petunias that are faring well. Although pleased with them, I’m now saddled with a chore I don’t enjoy. If you’ve grown petunias you know what I’m about to say — they are sticky.

Petunias are easy to grow and can do well in harsh locations, so we’ve been adding them to our gardens for a long time. Many varieties produce an abundance of blooms, but if you want a profuse display you need to redirect their energy from setting seed into producing more flowers. The easiest way to do that is to pinch off their spent blooms just below the seed capsule at the base of the flower’s petals. Here begins the ick factor.

Deploying a chemical arsenal of sticky goo to deter hungry insects, the garden petunia is actually quite a fighter. In fact, our little friend comes from a family of plants that have developed sophisticated battle skills.

Petunias are members of the Solanacea family. The Latin word "sol" refers to the sun and plants in this family often produce flowers with a sun-like ray pattern. Several of these plants also produce alkaloids: Acidic chemicals render them distasteful, and in some cases highly toxic.

Another interpretation of the Solanacea family name comes from the Latin verb solare, which translates as “to soothe or soothing.” Several members of this family, probably the most notorious the deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna) and Jimson weed (Datura stramonium), have pharmacological properties — a little brings relief, but a lot can kill.

Back to my new garden residents, they are part of the Wave petunia collections. For more than 25 years, the developers have introduced new plants to join the Wave brand including Easy Wave, Shock Wave, Cool Wave, Tidal Wave, and others. What sets these petunias apart are their extended bloom times, enhanced ability to thrive in a variety of weather conditions, and revved up colors.

These aren’t the petunias of my childhood, but I do find myself wondering if we really need more petunias to choose from — it turns out that it’s a good thing we do.

Producing flowers is a big business. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the wholesale value of North Carolina’s petunia crop exceeded $15 million in 2018. Year after year our state ranks in the top ten as a producer of many popular garden flowers — so the competition to find the next must-have plants is fierce.

These plant breeders have hit the mark with their forthcoming introductions. Watch garden centers for their newest addition to the Shock Wave series, ‘Purple Tie Dye’. Producing smaller blooms that hold up in wind and rain, this petunia combines deep, rich purple flowers with others highlighted with white.

I’ve paired Purple Tie Dye with the other new petunia Rose Fusion, part of the Easy Wave collection, for a display that has presence enough to hold its space throughout the season. I’ve planted Rose Fusion in a bed that gets full sun and another location that suffers from shade late in the day and I’m pleasantly surprised that it holds its color well in both locations.

Happily, the developers of these new petunias haven’t done away with their ability to deter hungry insects: so far, they’ve been insect and disease free this season. Yes, these petunias still employ a sticky arsenal to protect themselves, but I’m willing to endure the ick factor to have these beauties in my garden.

Absent from their gardens, Kit and Lise enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of horticulture and suburban living. More on Instagram @AbsenteeGardener or email: info@absentee-gardener.com.

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