Calibrachoa Winter Care: Can You Overwinter Calibrachoa Million Bells

By: Shelley Pierce

I live in the Northeast U.S. and I go through the heartbreak, upon the advent of winter, of watching my tender plants succumb to Mother Nature year after year. It’s tough to see the plants you put your personal touch, time and attention to throughout the growing season simply perish in the dispiriting cold that casts over the region. This is very true of one of my favorite plants, Calibrachoa, otherwise known as million bells.

I just love their showy petunia-like flowers and don’t want to see the final curtain fall. I had to ask myself, “Can you overwinter Calibrachoa? Is there a way of overwintering million bells and, if so, how?” Let’s see what we can find out about Calibrachoa winter care.

Can You Overwinter Calibrachoa?

Given that I live in zone 5, which experiences full-blown winter, maybe it’s just wishful thinking that I could keep a zone 9-11 plant, such as Calibrachoa million bells, ringing throughout the winter. However, sometimes wishes do come true. It turns out Calibrachoa can be easily propagated from cuttings. This means it is possible to keep Calibrachoa plants over winter by taking cuttings from existing plants, rooting them and growing them indoors in a brightly lit space.

You can also try keeping Calibrachoa plants over winter in a container indoors. Before the first frost, carefully dig up the plant, being careful to retain as much of the root system as possible. Place in a container with fresh potting soil and transport to a cool space that stays above freezing – a garage should do nicely. Cut back the stems to about 2 inches (5 cm.) above the soil and water sparingly during the winter months.

In mild winter regions, there are steps you can take to help ensure the resurgence of your Calibrachoa million bells in the spring. Upon the first signs of dormancy, overwintering million bells is achieved by cutting them back within a few inches of the ground, raking up and discarding the clippings, then covering with 2-3 inches (5-8 cm.) of mulch. The mulch will be removed upon the advent of spring and, hopefully, to signs of new growth.

If your Calibrachoa enjoys a warm sunny spot year round, then Calibrachoa winter care isn’t as much of a concern to you. There is very little maintenance to do during the traditional winter months other than a little pinching back here and there to keep the flower blooming and in nice form. If the plant were to become overgrown or unruly, however, you could encourage a thrush of spring renewal by cutting it back, fertilizing and mulching it and watering when needed.

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Different Calibrachoa Varieties

A member of the Solanaceae family, some authorities such as the RHS do not recognise calibrachoa as a separate variety of plant. Instead they are classed as a petunia cultivar and are officially described as Petunia Million Bells.

Most calibrachoa varieties reach a height of 6 to 12 inches. They can produce trailing stems up to 30 inches in length and have a sprawling habit of between 12 and 24 inches.

While they may not be officially recognized, there are numerous calibrachoa varieties available. Some of the most popular include:

  • Calibrachoa Superbells Pomegranate Punch, this cultivar produces attractive velvet-red flowers that are dark at their center, becoming lighter as they reach the edge of the petal.
  • Million Bells Terra Cotta is prized for its orange blooms that are decorated with red and gold streaks.
  • C. MiniFamous Double Blue produces double flowers in a deep purple-blue shade.
  • C. Cabaret Hot Pink, as the name suggests, is known for its bright pink flowers.
  • C. Cabaret Purple Glow is known for its attractive purple blooms.
  • Superbells Grape Punch is a hybrid variety that produces burgundy or purple flowers with a yellow eye.

There are also a series of reliable hybrid cultivars available. Known as Kabloom these can be grown from seed and come in shades of blue, red, yellow, pink and white.

You will find calibrachoa in most garden stores. More unusual varieties and seeds can also be purchased from plant nurseries.

Calibrachoa can be started from seed or purchased as small potted plants, ready for transplanting into the garden. While purchasing young plants is easy, growing from seed is more affordable and offers you access to a wider range of plants.

In order not to increase the acid environment of the potting soil of magic bells, one should water with lime-poor rainwater. Magic bells do not tolerate waterlogging, so it is important to water evenly, but not too much, and to ensure good drainage in the pot.

Magic bells have a high nutrient requirement. For fertilizing, either use slow release fertilizer or add some liquid fertilizer to the water every week. In both cases, you should only use special fertilizer for petunias – it is perfectly adapted to the needs of the small flower wonders.

How to Care for Calibrachoas

Calibrachoa 'Can-Can' Bumble Bee Pink

Each bloom of calibrachoa 'Can-Can Bumble Bee Pink' has a sunny yellow star in its throat.

Photo by: Ball Horticultural Co.

Each bloom of calibrachoa 'Can-Can Bumble Bee Pink' has a sunny yellow star in its throat.

To keep your calibrachoas happy, water them when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch. They don’t like to stay wet, so let the soil dry out before watering again. If you’re in an area with high temperatures and low humidity, you may have to water twice a day, especially if your plants are in containers. Cut back on watering when the temperatures cool down.

Calibrachoas are treated as annuals in most areas, but they grow as tender perennials in USDA Zones 9-11. They do best in temperatures from 55 to 65 degrees F and can usually tolerate a light frost. You don’t have to dead-head these beauties they’ll drop their own blooms, so they're very low-maintenance. However, because they grow fast, they do need regular fertilizing. Read the directions on your product for how much and how often to feed them. If they start to look yellow, that may indicate a need for nitrogen.

Watch the video: how to transplant calibrachoa seedlings, how to transplant million bell seedlings

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