The pink petunias your grandmother planted are not the same petunias that you now find at garden centers.
Today's petunias are tougher, standing up to summer's hot and dry conditions — and to busy lifestyles with fewer hours to garden.
Contemporary petunias are prettier, available in solid colors like burgundy, stripes like red and white and splashes like pink mixed with cream.
Their names are even fancier — Crème Brulee, Orange Zest and Confetti Passion.
Petunias rise to garden fame started 15 years ago when easy-care, eye-catching Wave petunias were introduced.
"They, like the name says, just make a wave of color," says Devin Trippe, head grower at Anderson's Home and Garden Showplace in Newport News.
"Also, no deadheading is required."
There are four series of Wave petunias, including Tidal Wave, Wave, Easy Wave and Shock Wave.
Tidal Waves are the tallest, reaching heights up to three feet and an equal spread, says Devin. "They make an awesome bedding plant but are not good for baskets or containers. They hold up great when we get heavy thunderstorms and also hold up nicely during drought."
Wave petunias grow about a foot tall but one plant can cover an area up to six feet wide. Easy Waves grow lower but spread far and wide. Shock Waves are tight, mounding petunias with small blooms, making them perfect for window boxes and pots.
Once Waves began touting their flower power, others joined the petunia parade — Supertunias, Million Bells and Potunias. They also spread, mound and trail, making your garden a showcase with little effort.
"Next year, a black Supertunia hits the market," says Devin.
The arrival of that hard-to-develop color means petunias are a genus that covers almost the entire color spectrum – only orange is missing, according to Ball Horticulture, which unveils its black petunia line in 2011.
Because petunias bloom and bloom with no deadheading, they are easy plants to have around. They do, however, need ample fertilizer to keep all that flower production going.
Devin, who oversees more than 30 types of greenhouse-grown petunias, recommends you use a slow-release fertilizer like Osmocote at planting time, followed by a liquid fertilizer application every two weeks.
"Double the recommended dose on the package," he says.
When you fertilize petunias, make sure they are watered before and after the application.
"Petunias do not like to go to a hard wilt so check water regularly," says Devin.
Give your petunias full sun and well-drained soil, and then watch them entertain you with never-ending flowers. You'll also find butterflies and bees are attracted to the nectar-producing petals.
Should your petunias get leggy looking or unsightly due to heavy summer thunderstorms, give them a light trim with old scissors or pruners and they'll spring back to life with great vigor.
"You can never go wrong with petunias in your garden," says Devin.
•Join Norfolk Botanical Garden horticulturists for a live chat about hydrangeas – and summer gardening in general -- noon-1 p.m. Wednesday, July 14, at http://www.dailypress.com.
•Learn what plants like it hot and dry and how to control pests like spider mites and Japanese beetles at http://www.dailypress.com/digginblog.