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"Possibility and promise greet me each day as I walk out into my garden. My vigor is renewed when I breathe in the earthiness and feel the dirt between my fingers. My garden is a peaceful spot to refresh my soul." Meems

Welcome to my Central Florida Garden Blog where we garden combining Florida natives, Florida-Friendly plants, and tropicals.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Before and After: Mexican Petunia

Blogger's Note July 2008: There is an edit/update to this post here. It appears that this post receives many google hits with folks inquiring about mexican petunia. You will want to read the follow-up if you are curious about mexican petunia habits.

Who doesn't enjoy watching the transformation of people, gardens, homes - whatever the case may be?

Hoe and Shovel has been steadily gardening through the winter months. Typically nothing dies here (due to freezing, at least) - including the weeds -BIG sigh- so we are constant gardeners. As I looked through my photos for 2008 I came across several I haven't posted yet which has turned this post into a 'before and after' series. I've also gotten some questions from readers about the care of certain plants and shrubs grown in my garden which I will try to answer along the way. Again, my answers aren't based on any formal training - only what I've discovered while getting my hands in the dirt over the years.

Photo from May 2007 featuring Mexican Petunia in the center of a backyard flower bed. If you look closely you can see the 4-5 foot stalks are being held up by decorative fencing placed strategically to keep them upright. Otherwise they would curve toward the ground. Everywhere a stalk touches the ground it will root and develop more plants. This is good only if you could remove every other desired vegetation from your garden and harvest this perennial for lots of money. Unfortunately harvests of Mexican Petunia is not big business so it must be snipped and pulled up on a regular basis.

Mexican Petunia, Ruellia Brittoniana isn’t even a cousin (as far as I know) to the two common classes of grandiflora and multiflora petunias. The Mexican Petunia flowers enthusiastically on vertical semi-woody stalks that grow 3-4 feet in height typically. As an evergreen perennial displaying trumpet shaped blossoms at the tips, it is easily grown in most southern gardens and virtually free from disease or pests. I have found it to be happy throughout the hottest seasons here. It grows best in full sun with moist soil but also maintain their flowering habits (in my experience) in part shade. Once they are established they will adapt/tolerate drought conditions which we experienced last summer and continue to hold to those conditions at this point in our year.

I’ve seen many an admiring butterfly swarming the blue/purple flowers when in full bloom which makes for quite a showy garden spot.

So with all the accolades they should be highly recommended in Zones 8-10 where they are hardy. Except for one slight problem. Mexican Petunia has been listed on the invasive plant list for all of Florida. I can certainly see that if one does not stay persistent in keeping the runners clipped these otherwise hardy growers could easily make a weekend gardener more frustrated than pleased.

I've planted Mexican Petunia in two separate beds. One at the back side of the garden where there is plenty of room for plants to randomly meander more than in the contained beds. The other is featured here in the photo above. This bed is just beyond the screened lanai and more visible on first notice.

In the second week of February I trimmed the Mexican Petunia (shown above) to 2 feet --cutting back a good 3 feet of green growth and then pulled up every runner beyond its borders. It was severe and even though in past years I managed to only trimmed it about a foot I felt it was due for a good pruning. I did the same to the other planting in my back bed.

Variegated Schefflera
Now that the Mexican petunia is nice and tidy, what do you think about that variegated schefflera?
What started out as an accent and a border to a short pathway across the bed has become a focal point I'm not particularly pleased to have. Typically I only trim it to keep it from looking spindly. In Florida the variegated Schefflera is used in landscaping as a hedge or row. I'm not fond of it used in this way when the stalky base of the plant is visible. But I am fond of it for its colored foliage used as an accent in a grouping of other plants. So I always plant it in places where the eye sees the top of the foliage in mass which makes more of a subtle statement rather than asking it to carry off a center stage performance planted individually.

My answer was to severely cut back the branches which eliminated almost all the foliage. If I had not been this strict it would have returned as a focal point in a few short weeks. As a side note: I was tempted for a moment not to trim it at all just from my observance of the yellow cloudless sulphurs making the underside of the leaves their resting place. I reasoned the Schefflera is planted in numerous other places in my garden so I was counting on them to find those if they hadn't already.

This is a closer photo taken just yesterday of the same area 5 weeks later. That (poor) Schefflera is just now starting to bud new growth on its stalky branches. There are four mature plants closely planted in a 3 x 3 space as an example to my theory of mass planting verses a line or row. This design makes the difference between a "scraggly-something's-missing-feel" or a full bushy appearance.

My theory is rather than trying to spread your landscaping thin-- focus on one area and put all your dollars into that area to create a lush planting. When one area is complete - move on to the next as finances are available. In Florida all too often folks get discouraged by the many oppositions to gardening in the heat and humidity once they've planted. By starting out slowly and making certain you like what you are doing, you will end up with a garden you love and one that appears finished rather than the sprawled out -sort of here and there plantings often seen here.

Well, I have to say in this case the before photos are lots more fun than the after photos. Patience is the virtue employed this month as I wait for my garden to fill out from their winter make over. I know too well actually, it won't be very long until the nights will turn warmer than you thought possible which in turn makes every plant and flower shout loudly for constant attention to keep them kempt and tidy.

Next in the 'before and after series' we'll look at some additions to Hoe & Shovel.


  1. Greetings from Vermont!

    I just posted a picture of Eucharis grandiflorum and received an inquiry about where it is hardy. It's listed as zone 10 so I am wondering if you grow it in your gardens? Amazon Lily.

    George Africa
    The Vermont Gardener

  2. If that Mexican petunia roots whereever it touches the ground, I can easily understand why it's on the invasive list. Too bad, it's quite pretty. I grow the much better behaved (& Midwestern native) cousin Ruellia humulis. It gets only about a foot high.

  3. Meems, we can buy Mexican Petunias here as annuals, but I don't have enough sun for them. I love them though. I love blue flowers. If I had enough sun I'd definitely have some. We don't have to worry about them being invasive here.

  4. Your garden looks like it is adapting to its pruning. I had never heard of the Mexican Petunia. It sure is pretty. Your varigated Schefflera is a nice specimine too. I still think it odd to see house plants growing so vigorously in someones garden. It always seems wrong.I have to tell myself that it is far away from me and ok. Ha.

  5. Hi Meems - I just have to comment on your varigated schefflera - I have it in a couple of dark spots and love how the white brightens them right up! I also love to cut branches and bring them in to lay across the dining room table. Tuck votives in and you have an instant casual dining arrangement that lasts for days with not water. I guess cutting my schefflera for tabletop decor keeps me from having to do much pruning on it!
    Love your gardens!
    Mary Beth

  6. I just faved you over on Blotanical. I visited your site and being fond of good garden photograpgy I had to include your site on my list. Very nice photos. I'm in Florida too but my garden has a ways to go to look as nice as yours.
    Rees Cowden

  7. I wondered what that Mexican Petunia looked like if allowed to grow. We get it here as an annual but I wasn't impressed with it. I grow Brazillian verbena to get the look of tall blue flowers. Nothing beats blue to cool things off. Your gardens are such a treat to visit. Thank you.

  8. Hi Meems, your garden looks like it is well tended by a caring gardener. We grew the tall ruellia in Houston in a space bounded by buildings on three sides and lawn on the other where it could go crazy, and did, but the butterflies went crazy for it also. We are trying to grow it here in TN. and it does winter over, but emerges so late that by the time it flowers the frost gets it in most years. It still comes up very far from the original planting, maybe this year we will see some flowers for the butterflies and hummingbirds. Thanks for showcasing it.
    Frances at Faire Garden

  9. nancy: Thanks, Nancy, and also thanks for picking this post over at Blotanical. Concentrating on one area can really make a gardener feel accomplished don't you think?

    George: Welcome.Thanks for making the long journey down here to Florida. :-)

    I actually don't grow the Amazon Lily in my garden although it is one I have looked into lately. Maybe next year I'll add it to the newbie list.

    MMD:We do have a dwarf variety that behaves itself very well under the same conditions. while many folks choose to grow it I still prefer the taller- "wilder" appearance of the Brittoniana- in my garden anyway.

    GardenGirl: Isn't it so interesting that what is an annual for you is invasive here? I'm convinced you would love the color it would offer your garden. Maybe you could put it in a pot and find a sunny spot- it could be the thriller of your container.hmmmm.

    Lisa: Houseplants?Are you saying the Schefflera is a houseplant where you are? This particular variety is not to be confused with the larger leafed solid green Schefflera. (I have grown those in the house). The Schefflera featured here would be considered sort of a miniature version with the dapple of yellow added to the foliage.

    Mary Beth: I've not tried using them without putting them in water. That is very interesting. I DO however often use the branches as a filler for my fresh flower arrangements in vases. I'm not one to make use of the ordinary "floristy" looking displays so the Schefflera serves me well in so many ways. Thanks for the tip.

    Rees: Thanks for the fave and thanks for visiting.Always a pleasure to find more Florida gardeners.

    Anna: I'll have to check out the Brazilian- not familiar with it.

    Frances: I do hope you see some flowers this year. Not surprising it comes up far from the original planting.It is a magnet for many types of butterflies- the skippers seem to be partial to it.

  10. I saw the words Mexican and petunia and got all excited, as generally, petunias are a winter flower here.
    I think I have Mexican petunias growing as volunteers in all my pots, that and artillery ferns, now I am going to have to take a closer look.

  11. Meems, what lovely photos you showed us today. I really like the whole before and after thing, it helps so much when trying to make a point.

  12. Hey! 8-] My computer is feeling neglected this week. The weather, except for a couple of REAL cold nights, has been fabulous! The dogwoods are doing their jaw-dropping thing right now. And the wisteria is giving them a run for their money. This has to be one of the prettiest places in the country right now.

    Your pics have inspired me again, so I'm thinking I might zip up to Lowe's tomorrow and see how much my little car can haul home. 8-]

  13. Theresa: The common petunia is also a winter flower here. My wave petunias are still doing well while we have cool nights. That won't last long and the those petunias will wilt when the warmth takes over in a few short weeks. The Mexican Petunias however, LOVE the heat and will start blooming soon and last through the fall.

    Melanie: Photos are always helpful to tell the story. I am a big fan of before and after in any situation. Results... I like results.

    Sophie: Hey!I know what you mean.Cool nights and mornings, blue skies, low humidity, sun shining at just the right angle...

    Now's the time to be inspired. Not much sweating involved in hauling those plants around.Just a lot of good wholesome fun!

    We are heading up your way in a couple of weeks for a visit with our son & his wife. Looking forward to seeing the glorious blooms of the dogwoods.

  14. Meems,Is this white, crinkly flower a kind of a jasmin? It is really beautiful.(I want one!please!) Thanks for your comment. I think I have seen this Guzmania in your garden, is that right? You know Bromeliads have also subnames, like Tillandsia, Neoregelia, Aechmea, Guzmania. Nidularium and more. It's hard to keep them all. Have a lovely day.

  15. Trudi: the white flower on my entry photos are Confederate Jasmine just beginning to bloom. All those names for Bromeliads - I have so many different varieties --I honestly don't know the names of any of them. I sure love the ease of them though.

  16. The bloom on the Mexican Petunia is pretty...too bad it is such a thug!
    Your garden area there looks very nice, excellent choices.

  17. I have just picked up some of those variegated sheffelera's. I love the leaves! Good job on placement!!

  18. Your garden looks amazing. With everything still brown here it's hard to imagine what it would be like to garden year around.

  19. Connie: Even though it's a thug I love it anyway. fortunately I'm willing to stay after it so I make it behave.

    Lets Plant:The Schefflera propogates very easily, too. You will like the way it performs for you in your location I'm sure.

    Kathleen: welcome to Hoe & Shovel. Gardening year round has its challenges but honestly I don't think I could live any place that didn't have 'green' all year. I thrive on being outdoors.

  20. MEEMS: I am guessing it is ok for ME a new comer to your site to call you that.

    What do you think of Plumbago in the garden? I have some planted in South Florida and I am thinking I might try it in North Florida too. I love the baby blue flowers.

  21. Thanks for sharing the Swallowtail pictures. I've newly discovered the butterfly hobby, but sites like yours make it easy to learn.


Have a blessed day,

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