Rising Star - The Petchoa 'Supercal'
Offering the best traits of both the Petunia and Calibrachoa, the Petchoa is as hardy as it is beautiful
Submitted by Jimmy Turner, Senior Director of Gardens, Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens
Meet the vigorous new offspring of petunias and calibrachoa
I bet you’ve probably never heard of the genus ‘Petchoa’ or the variety ‘Supercal’ before. I certainly hadn’t 3 years ago when we received our first plants for the Dallas Arboretum Trial Gardens. I remember my first question was “what the heck is it, or did they misspell the names on the tag?” I had to do some research and call the breeding company to discover that Petchoa is a new hybrid genus of the closely related Petunia and Calibrachoa (Million Bells), with ‘Supercal’ as the variety name.
I was just getting familiar with the genus Calibrachoa, also commonly called Million Bells, which only appeared on the garden scene a few years back and now breeders have gone and crossed it with Petunias! As usual my first question to the breeder was “why the heck would you do that?” They answered it would offer the best of both parents making a “better” plant for our extreme climate. Between you and me, I was skeptical. To be truthful neither petunias nor Calibrachoa really excel in the Dallas area, so how was this new hybrid really going to do for me? Well come to find out after 3 years of testing they have become one of our favorite cool season hanging basket and container plants, outlasting both of its parents every year.
‘Supercal’ Petchoa really does have the ideal combination of its parent’s traits. Unlike petunias the foliage isn’t sticky, so dead flowers and debris doesn’t stick to the leaves. The plants are more alkaline tolerant than Calibrachoa so they don’t turn yellow the moment you plant them. Seldom do they suffer from that bane of all Texas gardeners Powdery Mildew. Petchoa are also “day-length neutral”, which means they bloom early and keep on flowering. Super vigorous plants quickly fill out baskets and will grow 12-16” tall and spread to 24-30” wide. When in bloom the plants are so completely coated in flowers it is truly hard to see the foliage, and you never have to deadhead. ‘Supercal’ comes in 7 colors with ‘Terracotta’ and ‘Vanilla Blush’ adding a whole new unique color palette.
The current colors are; ‘Purple’ a true deep royal color, ‘Velvet’ a rich rose red, ‘Neon Rose’ an aptly named super bright rose-pink with a yellow eye, ‘Blue’ a true deep blue, ‘Cherry’ a rich cherry-red and two unique colors ‘Vanilla Blush’ which has soft creamy yellow flowers blushing to pale pink at the edges, and my personal favorite ‘Terracotta’ which has soft orange flowers with just a hint of pink.
No matter which Petchoa ‘Supercal’ color you choose, all grow best during cooler weather and do best in containers. Though I’ve have had good luck holding this new genus through our infernal summers, I would never guarantee it. There are much better plants for June through August, but Petchoa ‘Supercal’ really does excel at the shoulders of our growing season. Invariably we all get the gardening itch really bad in late February or early March after a couple of days of warm sunny weather. Even though we know it’s going to frost again, we head to the local nursery to see what we can be found. Usually its only geraniums and petunias, but now I bet you will find my new favorite ‘Supercal’. Early spring is the perfect time to use this plant. They have excellent tolerance to our erratic spring weather of 70 one day and 30 the next. Matter of fact, I’ve had great luck with them the last 2 years planted in baskets in fall. They flowered heavily from September to December and then over-wintered taking temperatures in the upper 20’s with no damage to the foliage.
I do not recommend planting ‘Supercal’ in the ground; they really do much better cascading out of hanging baskets, large containers and window boxes. Unless you live on deep sandy soil this cool season performer really does much better in well drained pots. Like its parents ‘Supercal’ must have excellent drainage, especially after our monsoonal rains. I like using terracotta pots for this plant, since they dry out quickly since the sides are porous. ‘Supercal’ is a vigorous growing plant that requires heavy feeding to look its best. I’ve found that liquid feeding with a balanced fertilizer every time I water really rewards me with the most flowers. Unlike many of our other cool season container plants this one can survive an occasional drying out if you forget to water. The plants will look limp and sad, but will perk right back up after a good soaking. In early spring or fall Petchoa ‘Supercal’ does best in full sun. If you are just absolutely bent on keeping it through the summer, I would move them to a spot with filtered afternoon shade. The foliage holds up much better if they are protected from the harsh June through August blazing sun.
If you’re shopping this spring or this coming fall for a hanging basket plant par excellent, or a substitute for petunias or Calibrachoa in containers then I hope you’ll try out Petchoa ‘Supercal’. Though the name is a little unusual, the plant has out survived almost every petunia and Calibrachoa in our container trials and has done well enough that I even use it in my personal garden every year. I believe that ‘Supercal’ may just be the first in a whole new generation of improvements we’ll be seeing to old familiar plants. I hope you’ll add some ‘Supercal’ to your garden this year making it the most supercalifragilisticexpialidocious on your block. Ok I couldn’t resist the obvious pun with the name, but I when you’re at the nursery this spring I bet you won’t forget the name now!
At a glance
Common Name: Supercal
Flowers: 1” petunia shaped
Foliage: non-sticky small medium green leaves
Size: 12-16” tall and 24-30” wide
Hardiness: Cool season annual
Soil: Well drained
Exposure: Full sun to afternoon shade
Water usage: Medium
Sources: Local nurseries
This article was originally published in the March/April 2011 issue of Neil Sperry's Gardens: Definitive Word in Texas Horitculture