The dream of every flower gardener is to create beauty for humans while pleasing pollinators and fellow creatures. This is why you should try growing salpiglossis, which features the most vivid blossoms of the tomato family – open, trumpet-shaped flowers comprised of petals with contrasting veins and throats.
Often called painted tongue or stained-glass flower, salpiglossis is a fast-growing annual suitable for beds or containers. Resistant to nibbling by rabbits and deer, salpiglossis also makes a decent cut flower.
Native to Chile, salpiglossis was introduced to global gardeners starting in the 1820s. The multicolored flowers became treasures of the garden in the early 1900s, but never achieved the popularity of their petunia cousins because they are so difficult to breed. The self-fertile flowers often start pollinating themselves before they start to open. This brilliant botanic talent for the plant has proved frustrating to humans trying to breed bigger and better salpiglossis. Flower breeders had much better luck with petunias.
Growing Salpiglossis Seedlings
Salpiglossis is not difficult to grow from seed, or you can start with purchased plants in spring. Start the tiny black seeds indoors eight weeks before your last frost date, and set them out in late spring, after the danger of hard freezes has passed. Or, wait until conditions warm in spring and start seeds directly in containers. You may read elsewhere that salpiglossis seeds require darkness to germinate, but the seeds are not aware of this and typically sprout within seven to ten days at normal room temperature. As soon as seeds sprout, move them to very bright light, and grow salpiglossis seedlings as you would petunias or tomatoes.
Whether you start sapiglossis seedlings yourself or buy them, it is important to avoid restricted roots every step of the way. Shift seedlings to larger containers when roots become visible through the drainage holes. When potting up purchased plants with crowded roots, tease the roots apart with your fingers as you set the plants in larger pots. Salpiglossis plants that are badly stressed by crowded roots often start flowering when they are small, and die at a young age.
In the garden, a backdrop of pink cosmos is a wonderful way to frame vibrant salpiglossis blossoms in feathery foliage. Or, combine salpiglossis with yellow dwarf marigolds or nasturtiums. Do allow good access to the plants for staking, cutting and deadheading, and for close-up viewing.
Growing Salpiglossis in Containers
Containers have a dwarfing effect on salpiglossis, so pot-grown plants are smaller than normal, but they still produce stems clad with gorgeous flowers. One of the advantages of growing salpiglossis in containers is that you can move the plants to your favorite sitting spot when they start blooming, making it easy to admire the intricate color combinations of the petals, and perhaps view them backlit by the sun. Soft yellow petunias or dwarf yellow marigolds make good pot partners because they echo the yellow streaks and splashes in most salpiglossis blossoms.
Summer Care of Salpiglossis
Salpiglossis makes rapid progress in the early days of summer provided the roots are kept moist and cool. Mulch with organic matter to keep the soil from drying out, and treat the plants much as you would tomatoes.
Like tomatoes, the leaves of salpiglossis are covered with hair-like trichomes, which work like tiny sticky traps for small insects. The trichomes also taste terrible to most animals, and except for desperate tomato hornworms, few insects can get beyond their first bite of salpiglossis leaf.
Especially in the open garden, salpiglossis grows tall enough to benefit from staking to keep plants from toppling in the wind. Install stakes just as the plants elongate and show little flower buds. Staking is an optional step, but because salpiglossis becomes an instant focal point when it blooms, you will want the plants to look well-tended.
Salpiglossis works well as a cut flower for a couple of days, but the sticky stems make them a bit messy to handle. Removing dead flowers can prolong the bloom time, but summer heat usually spells the end for salpiglossis. Enjoy the fun while it lasts, and then replace plants with asters, chrysanthemums, or other late-blooming garden flowers.