How to grow balloon flowers?

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Balloon Flowers – Tips For Care Of Platycodon Grandiflorus

Balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus) is one of those fun plants to grow in the garden with kids. Balloon flowers get their name from the unopened buds, which swell up prior to opening and resemble little hot-air balloons. Kids are fascinated by these plants and will typically pop them for sport by squeezing the sides, making them burst open with a soft, popping sound. Growing balloon flowers with children can be quite fun.

The opened flowers resemble those of bellflowers, their kissing cousin. While most often deep blue or purple, white and pink varieties are also available. And depending where you are, the balloon flower may also be known as Chinese or Japanese bellflower.

Growing Balloon Flowers

The balloon plant is easy to grow and hardy in USDA Zones 3-8. It will thrive in sun or partial shade. It likes well-drained,

slightly acidic soil; and although the balloon flower plant will tolerate dry conditions, it prefers (and needs) plenty of moisture. This cold hardy plant also prefers cooler conditions in summer, so afternoon shade is a good idea for warmer regions.

Seeds can be directly sown in the garden or started indoors in early spring. It is not necessary to cover seeds; simply moisten the area and within a couple weeks you should have sprouts. Thin these to about a foot apart. Generally, balloon flowers bloom within the same season they are sown.

Caring for a Balloon Plant

Not only are they easy to grow, but these plants are easy to care for as well. If desired, they can be fertilized with a slow-release fertilizer in spring. From there, you simply water as needed.

With exception to occasional bouts of slugs or snails, balloon flower pests are few. Basically, all you’ll need to do for these plants is sit back and enjoy these long-blooming plants throughout summer.

Of course, they may require staking if falling over. You can also add them to cut flower arrangements. Since the succulent stems have milky sap, you’ll need to lightly singe the cut ends with a candle (or match) immediately after cutting to make them last longer.

In fall you can add an ample layer of mulch for winter protection.

Balloon flower plants don’t really like being disturbed; and although division can be done, it’s often difficult. Therefore, propagation by seed is better or cuttings can be taken in spring, if desired.

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Balloon Flower

The unopened flowers of platycodons resemble hot-air balloons, for which they are named. Balloon flowers are clump-forming perennials with alternate leaves of light green on stems that usually grow between one and three feet tall. They bear two- to three-inch balloon-shaped buds that open to bell-shaped flowers with five points, in pink, blue, and white.

How to grow: Balloon flowers like moist, well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade. They prefer places with cool summers but are easy to grow in other areas, too. Plan the plant’s position carefully and mark it, for spring growth is late to appear.

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Propagation: By division in mid-spring or by seed indoors in winter or outdoors.

Uses: Blooming for most of the summer, balloon flowers are attractive in borders, with the smaller types growing best along garden edges.

Related varieties: Fuji White is dwarf and bears white flowers; Mariesii has blue flowers on 12- to 16-inch stems; and Shell Pink bears soft-pink flowers.

Scientific name: Platycodon grandiflorus

One of the most unique flowers that I remember my mother growing in her garden when I was a child is the balloon flower. I remember “popping” the blooms to make them burst open into beautiful purple, pink, or white flowers, and as I grew into an adult, I wanted to add these lovely plants to my garden, I had no idea how to care for these wonderful plants. Since this plant stems from Asia, I thought that this might be common amongst gardeners in the states, so I decided to make this guide to cover how to care for, prune, and grow a healthy balloon plant.

Growing Zone and Facts

The balloon flower is a hardy plant that is able to grow in both dry climates as well as cold climates. Typically, they can be found in growing zones three through nine, which covers the majority of the United States. When properly cared for, most varieties of balloon flowers will grow to be about two feet tall and about one foot wide, though dwarf varieties tend to be about half that size. The plant will begin blooming during late July or early August.

These plants are non-aggressive, which means that you can plant them in your garden without worrying that they are going to take over the other plants. In addition to making your garden beautiful and vibrant, the leaves can be crushed and used as a supplement that can have several health benefits. However, the leaves at the base of the plant are said to be slightly toxic, so only the top leaves should be used in culinary dishes.

How to Plant and Care

When you plant balloon flowers from a seed, chances are that you will not see any blooms during their first year of growth, but with patience and proper care, the second summer, you will see some stunning blooms. The seed should be planted in the spring of the year, and it should be started indoors until the seed germinates. Simply press the seed onto the top of moist soil so that it gets plenty of light to grow. After a few weeks, you can transplant the flower into a small pot or your outdoor garden.

To properly care for the plant, it will need:

  • Soil – These plants prefer rich soil that is well-drained.
  • Sunlight – These plants prefer full sun, but they grow well in part shade as well.
  • Water – They require regular water, but the soil should never be wet to the touch.
  • Fertilizer – Fertilizer is not necessary, but it can help the plant replenish some of the energy that it spends during the blooming process. Slow release fertilizer in the spring will help the plants grow and bloom.

Growing in Containers

Since these flowers have a complex root system, it can be difficult to transplant them from one container to another after they grow to a certain height, but during the first and even the second year of growth, these plants can thrive in a medium-sized pot. They will need a lot of sun, especially in the north, and to be watered on a regular basis. If you live in the southern part of the country, afternoon sun will suffice. Once the plant starts to grow, you may need to stalk them for support. Once they become this large, growing it in a garden is recommended because it this is a plant that does not like to be disturbed.

Pruning

To start, you are going to want to soak your pruning shears in a bleach solution to make sure they are not carrying diseases from your other plants to your balloon flowers. Pruning should be done in the early spring when the new growth can be seen. Stems that are old and dying need to be removed at the base, but be cautious that you do not cut the crown of the plant. As far as height, you should cut the plant back by about half its height so that it can grow in a more compact fashion that will not require stalking. Don’t forget to pinch off dead blooms so that the plant does not quit blooming prematurely.

Winterizing

Once the plant has finished blooming for the year, it has been pruned, and there is only a few inches of growth sticking out of the soil, you will need to finish preparing the plant for the cold winter months. Typically, you can simply cover the plant in an inch or two of mulch to protect it, but you can also use compost or leaves that fall from the trees to cover the plants and keep them moist and warm all winter. When spring arrives, uncover the plant so that it can start to grow.

Propagation

Propagation can be performed using the seeds that can be found in the dried out blooms. Each brown pod has hundreds of seeds inside, which you can either allow to fall to the ground and hope new plants grow or snap off the pod and place it in a brown paper bag until it is fully dried. The seeds should be planted in the spring.

Dividing a plant can prove to be the more difficult option because balloon plants have a long, complex root system that does not like to be disturbed. So, the best way to divide the plant is to cut a piece of the plant off without uprooting it entirely. You will need at least half of an inch of root for the plant to take root.

Common Problems

Pests are not common with the balloon plant, though slugs and snails can be bothersome from time to time. Root rot can become a problem with these plants, especially if the soil that it is planted in during the winter does not drain as well as it would in the spring or summer of the year. Adding sand to the soil may help it drain better. The leaves of the plant can also suffer if they are too damp, so thinning the plant can help the air circulate better. If pale spots become visible on leaves, they should be removed from the plant.

Plant Varieties

There are quite a few different varieties of this plant that you can choose from that vary in size, shape, and color, but some of the most common ones are:

  • Astra Series – These are a variety that can have double the petals with blue, pink, and white bloom options.
  • Fuji Series – This is the tallest variation of the plant; in fact, it can have stems that are up to 30 inches long.
  • Komachi – These are a variety that are only purple or blue, and the blooms never leave the fluffy balloon shape that the plant is named after.
  • Sentimental Blue – This is a smaller variation of the plant that is typically only about six inches tall. The blooms on the plant are blue or deep purple in color.

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The balloon flower is a popular plant. Lushly green foliage sets off massive five-pointed flowers that open up like stars from a puffy, balloon-like bud, and they make the perfect edging plant or container garden.

But how does one grow these Asian plants to their utmost potential? We’re going to explore that in detail, and when you’re finished reading, you’ll know exactly what you need to do to make these gorgeous plants thrive.

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Good Products For Taking Care Of Your Balloon Flower:

  • Garden Safe Slug & Snail Bait

Balloon Flower Overview

Balloon flowers blooming. Source: santafeegret

Common Name Balloon flower, platycodon, Japanese bellflower, Chinese bellflower, kikyo, doraji
Scientific Name Platycodon grandiflorus
Family Campanulaceae
Light Full sun to partial shade (partial shade in very hot locations)
Water Prefers deep, consistent moisture, but does not like boggy conditions
Temperature 60-80 degree temperatures preferred, can survive hotter if given shade midday
Humidity Tolerant of humidity
Soil Well-draining loamy soil with compost mixed through it for moisture retention
Fertilizer Slow-release nitrogen fertilizer prior to planting
Pests Snails and slugs
Diseases May be susceptible to root rot if soil is too soggy, but otherwise tends to be disease-resistant

All About Balloon Flower

Platycodon grandiflorus in bloom. Source: Jim the Photographer

The balloon flower originates in eastern Asia, as evidenced by names such as kikyo (Japanese) or doraji (Korean). Also referred to as the Chinese bellflower, the Japanese bellflower, or the platycodon, its name comes from the buds that puff up like tiny balloons before they open.

These beautiful flowers can grow from six inches to up to three feet in height. Some of the more recently-developed cultivars have specifically been bred for their dwarf size, making them much easier to plant as an ornamental.

With blue, white, or pink flowers that reach 2-3 inches wide, the balloon flower is an excellent attractor for birds or other wildlife. It’s such a popular plant that many cultivars have been awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.

In some parts of Asia, Platycodon grandiflorus is grown as an edible plant. Its roots are widely used as edible root vegetables and it is referred to as doraji (Korean). It also is believed to have medicinal properties and is used in China and Korea for various medical conditions.

Amongst the Japanese, the bellflower is considered one of the seven autumn flowers reknowned for its beauty. The kikyo flower shape is also used as a kamon or crest for some Japanese clans.

Caring For Balloon Flower

A good view showing a pair of unopened but “ballooned” flowers behind an open blossom. Source: Jim the Photographer

For the most part, caring for a balloon flower plant is a very simple process. They’re very tolerant of many weather conditions and can be grown throughout most of the United States and in many other countries. But what are the best conditions for your plant? Let’s go over that.

Light & Temperature

Balloon flower prefers locations with cool summers, but can be grown in hotter conditions if careful attention is paid to the plant’s needs. While in cooler climates it prefers full sun, hotter locations should opt for partial sun conditions.

Platycodons grow easily in growing zones 3-8 in the United States. They’re also commonly grown in zone 9 but can have some difficulty in the peak of summer.

Areas with winter frost or freeze conditions should provide mulch in the fall to at least 2-3″ in depth over the plant’s base. This keeps the plant’s crown protected from the colder conditions and allows it to overwinter well.

Water & Humidity

A closeup of the center of the balloon flower showing the petal veining. Source: dspindle

Watering your balloon flower plants can be a bit tricky. These plants are very thirsty, and so require lots of moisture. However, they don’t like boggy conditions or soggy soil, so you’ll have to be careful.

For these plants, using soaker hoses for irrigation may be of great benefit. The balloon flower has a deep taproot, and doing slow, deep irrigation should keep you from over-watering while still ensuring that they have enough for their thirst.

Soil

Due to their desire for moist but not soggy soil, having an organically rich soil base is a good idea. The plant matter in the soil will hold some moisture while the excess drains off easily. I recommend opting for a well-draining loamy soil with some compost worked through.

Your balloon flower can tolerate sandier soils as well, and is often grown in a rock garden environment in portions of its native east Asia. It can also grow easily in containers or as a bedding/border plant, where soil conditions are typically very well-draining.

Not picky on soil acidity, balloon flower plants will accept soils ranging from 5.6 to 7.5 pH. Aiming for the neutral ground in the middle is usually your easiest bet to ensure it doesn’t go too heavily alkaline or acidic.

Fertilizer

An abundance of balloon flowers in bloom. Source: knoxilla

Platycodon grandiflorus does not really need heavy fertilization as long as it’s got lots of organic matter in its soil. I recommend to work in a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer directly into the soil before planting, but otherwise, it should be fine for the rest of the first year.

In subsequent years, you can scratch some nitrogen fertilizer into the upper portions of the soil surface, or add a layer of nitrogen-rich compost around the plant’s base and water it in well. It isn’t a heavy feeder, so avoid over-fertilizing.

Balloon flower can be propagated most easily from seed, but can be propagated by cuttings or by division as well.

However, I honestly recommend planting from seed. Cuttings are extremely slow to develop roots and can fail before the roots ever fully form. Division is tricky because the platycodon root system is fragile and prone to injury.

In addition, balloon flowers don’t like being disturbed once they’ve become established in a location, so while division is possible, it’s something I truly don’t recommend. You’re as likely to risk severe damage to your plant as you are to propagate more.

Repotting

As I just mentioned, your balloon flower plants don’t really like to move once they’re established. They develop an extremely long taproot with lots of fragile tendrils extending outward from it. If possible, plant your Chinese bell flower plant in a permanent location initially.

However, if it’s absolutely necessary to repot or transplant your balloon flower, be extremely careful with its root system. Try not to pull much of its existing soil away from the root structure, instead opting to transplant both the plant and its soil.

Work very slowly and cautiously to ensure that you do not slice through the wide portion of the taproot or damage too many of its tendrils, and make sure that the plant’s crown is planted at the same depth it was originally planted.

Most of your pruning duties for your balloon flower will focus on deadheading spent flowers. Removing the spent flowers can prolong its blooming period significantly, sometimes well into the fall months.

Once fall arrives, you may wish to leave old plant stems in place throughout the winter. This helps you to identify the locations of the plant, as they’re slow to regrow in the spring. Once new growth begins, you can trim off the old stems and allow the plant to produce new shoots.

If you have one of the taller varieties, consider cutting back the plant stems by half in May to reduce your plant’s size and avoid staking or other support structures. This should be done prior to blooming, and while it’ll slow the flower show, it won’t grow as tall and thus won’t flop over.

Balloon Flower Problems

A closeup of the center with pollen from the side of the flower. Source: tanakawho

Your balloon flower plant should have very few problems. These are very easy to care for! However, what few you might encounter are laid out for you below.

Growing Problems

Taller varieties of balloon flower may start to flop over without adequate support. A ring support or stakes may be necessary to maintain their upright position. Alternately, prune as indicated above to encourage shorter growth at the time of flowering.

Your platycodon may be slow to emerge in the springtime. Don’t expect an immediate flush of new growth once the final day of winter has passed, as your plant will still be dormant. It may take a couple weeks in slightly-warmer spring weather before it comes back to life.

Pests

Very few pests tend to bother the balloon flower plant. In fact, the only problems tend to come from snails and slugs, which find young foliage to be absolutely delicious.

To protect your platycodon plants from the slug and snail army, be sure to use an organic bait such as Garden Safe Slug & Snail Bait to draw them away from the planting area. You can actually create a ring of bait around plants if you need to, just to keep damage away!

While deer may nibble on your plant from time to time, it is generally considered to be deer-resistant. They don’t seem to like the taste of anything other than the newest young leaves. Once your plant’s leaves mature, the deer will move on.

Diseases

Diseases are not common among Japanese bell flower growers. In fact, the only thing which may be a concern is root rot if your soil is overly wet for too long. This generally is not a problem through the winter and early spring, but may become an issue during summertime.

Because of this, it’s important to be sure your soil’s moist, but not soggy. Use well-draining and organic-rich soil that can hold some moisture within to supply your thirsty balloon flower’s beverage needs, but that won’t hold excess water captive.

Frequently Asked Questions

A wide-open balloon flower as it starts to fade. Source: Just chaos

Q: Is there a difference between Platycodon grandiflorus and Platycodon grandiflorum?

A: These are both terms used to refer to the same balloon flower plant. Its actual botanical name is Platycodon grandiflorus. However, many websites out there refer to Platycodon grandiflorum when discussing doraji root, and it’s become a bit confusing.

It is quite possible that the Korean botanical name for this plant is Platycodon grandiflorum, as that name shows up in medicinal studies from the region. However, the names are interchangeable, as they refer to the same exact species of plant.

The Green Thumbs Behind This Article:
Lorin Nielsen
Lifetime Gardener
Kevin Espiritu
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Ballon Flower Seeds – Platycodon Grandiflora Blue Flower Seed

Flower Specifications

Season: Perennial

USDA Zones: 4 – 9

Height: 18 inches

Bloom Season: Summer

Bloom Color: Blue

Environment: Full sun to partial shade

Soil Type: Well-drained, pH 5.8 – 6.8

Planting Directions

Temperature: 65 – 70F

Average Germ Time: 14 – 21 days

Light Required: Yes

Depth: Do not cover

Sowing Rate: 4 seeds per plant

Moisture: Keep moist until germination

Plant Spacing: 10 inches

Care & Maintenance: Balloon Flower

Balloon Flower (Platycodon Grandiflorus Blue) – Easy-to-grow from flower seed, Balloon Flowers are an old-fashioned favorite, and they are as lovely in the garden as they are in the vase. This flower has unique star-shaped blue blossoms, and it blooms late summer and into the fall. Platycodon Grandiflorus has been around forever, and some of their biggest fans are children. They love to watch the balloons form (the buds) and then grow until the right time to pop open and form the lovely star-shaped flower. Balloon Flower plants are very hardy perennials that can withstand periods of drought, and they are rarely bothered by disease or insect problems making them virtually a maintenance-free perennial.

Sow Balloon Flower seeds indoors 6 – 8 weeks before last frost, and transplant outside. This flower seed requires sunlight to germinate, so do not cover the flower seed with soil. Just lightly pat them into the soil so good contact is made and water lightly. You can also sow the flower seed directly outdoors after last frost. Platycodon seed is one of the last perennials to come up in the spring.

The care information provided in this section represents the kind of practical advice is available for all the plants in this web site if you subscribe to the monthly customized newsletter Yardener’s Advisor. .
Watering Balloon Flowers
Balloon flowers prefer 1/2 to 1 inch of water per week from rainfall or watering, but they tolerate dry soil and will do well with much less water. They grow poorly in soggy soil, especially in the winter.
Fertilizing Balloon Flowers
Sprinkle a handful of slow release nitrogen fertilizer on the soil around each group of balloon flower plants in the spring for the rain to soak in . Do not over fertilize. For more information see the file for Choosing Fertilizers
Mulching Balloon Flowers
A 1 or 2 inch layer of organic material such as wood chips, chopped leaves, or shredded bark spread on the soil around balloon flower plants controls weeds, conserves soil moisture, and keeps dirt from splashing up on the flowers during the blooming season. After fall clean up and the ground has frozen, a thicker layer will offer winter protection. For more information see the file on Using Mulch
Pruning/Grooming Balloon Flowers
Balloon flowers do not particularly need special attention. Removing faded flowers, called deadheading, is not essential, but it will encourage more flowers to bloom and the plants will look better
Staking Balloon Flowers
The taller types benefit from staking as they mature and come into bloom. Use green tidy bamboo stakes available at garden centers or something similarly unobtrusive. . Push several into the soil around the perimeter of the plant and then loop green string around them around the circle and then across from one side to another to form a matrix to support the flexible plant stems.

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