Calibrachoa for Baskets, Borders, and Butterflies

When I saw my first Million Bells plant in a local plant nursery a few years ago, I immediately fell

When I saw my first Million Bells plant in a local plant nursery a few years ago, I immediately fell in love. The tiny petunia-like blossoms were brilliantly-colored and unbelievably numerous, and the plant tag promised easy care and no dead-heading.  I scooped up several colors and happily took them home, eager to see them in my own garden – and I wasn’t disappointed. I loved their color and spreading habit, and was very pleasantly surprised when they turned out to be a butterfly magnet!

Million Bells is the commercial name for calibrachoa, a genus of plants closely related to petunias; they are also sold as Superbells and Mini-Petunias. They are all hybrids of a species of calibrachoa native to South America, and most are patented and trademarked by the companies that produce and grow them. You won’t find seed available, but fortunately the plants are so popular that gardeners in any part of the country should have no trouble getting their hands on a few each year.

Though they tolerate some frost and are considered hardy in zones 9 – 11, most people grow calibrachoa as an annual. In warmer zones, grow it in the cooler seasons, fall through spring (they tolerate more heat than petunias, but usually can’t outlast a Deep South summer). In cooler areas, plant them outside after the last frost, and expect top performance all summer and into fall. Choose sunny areas, or those with afternoon shade in warmer climates.

Though not terribly picky, these plants do like regular watering (though they can’t tolerate soggy soil), and a little fertilizer will help them thrive throughout the season. They grow only a few inches tall, but spread nicely, so they make excellent choices for hanging baskets or garden borders. One particularly nice way to enjoy these blooms is to add a few in hanging baskets on shepherd’s hooks in your butterfly garden – this brings the flowers to eye-level where you can get the best view of the butterflies enjoying them!

If you’re looking for new and interesting color combinations you may not find at your local nursery, you can try ordering plants from catalogs and online. Park Seed has a wide selection of Superbells live plants available, which they’ll ship right to your door when planting time arrives. I’m particularly drawn to a new cultivar available this year called ‘Lemon Slice’ – the yellow and white stripes make for some of the most cheerful blooms I’ve ever seen! There are also double-bloom versions on the market now, though I can’t attest to their performance.

Do you grow Million Bells? What tips do you have for their success? We’d love to hear your ideas in the comments.

Jill Staake
Jill lives in Tampa, Florida, and writes about gardening, butterflies, outdoor projects and birding. When she's not gardening, you'll find her reading, traveling and happily digging her toes into the sand on the beach.