How to make petunias bushy?

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Petunias make for gorgeous colorful hanging baskets and decorative lawn borders, lush with varied flower heads that last all summer long. Or they should. The thing the garden centers don’t advertise is that most varieties of petunias are fairly high maintenance.

The only type of low maintenance petunias is Milliflora Petunias, which require no deadheading – removal of spent flowers. Names of this variety include the tradename Supertunia, Picabella and Petunia Fantasy.

Spreading (Wave) Petunias are another type that don’t need pinching back. Every other variety needs regular pruning, frequent watering and fertilizer to be added.

The two most commonly available types of petunias are grandiflora and multiflora. These plants do become leggy easily without the right attention.

Something to note is that petunias are full sun plants. During blooming season, they need 5-6 hours of full-sun, all round, meaning no side of the plant should be kept in the shade.

If you have petunias in a hanging basket, perhaps on your porch where the back of the planter is in the shade, an idea is to rotate it regularly, or move the basket onto a plant stand and place that somewhere in your garden where it can get full sunlight for longer.

It may not need this every day, however the more sunlight the plant gets, the fuller petunias grow.

How to Tell Which Type of Petunia You’re Growing

If you’re not sure what type of petunia you’re growing, a good tell is the size of the flowers produced when in bloom.

  • Grandiflora petunias produce the largest flower heads, usually 3 to 5 inches.
  • Multiflora petunias have flower heads that are roughly 2 inches.
  • Milliflora petunias are 1 to 1.5 inches.
  • Wave petunias are a spreading variety with flower heads a little larger than multifloras of 2 ½ to 3 inches in diameter. Wave series are faster growers.

The reason you need to know the type you’re growing is because milliflora and spreading petunias are low maintenance, and don’t need pinching back. Multifloras and grandifloras do.

How to Keep Grandiflora and Multiflora Petunias from Getting Leggy

The trick is hacking as much as you can as often as you can. You can’t be shy giving these fast growers a regular haircut.

Provided you’re feeding the plants right (see more tips in my full care guide), they will bloom all summer long with the right water feeding combined with a good balance of trimming the plants.

To Keep Grandifloras from Getting Leggy…

Water weekly, or at least every ten days, and fertilize monthly. If the plant is already leggy, you can cut it back to about half it’s size. These rebound fast, so you can cut back a fair bit and essentially start from scratch.

One of the key components of successfully growing petunias in hanging baskets is maintaining the plants hydration. The Flower Shop Network use a good test to know you’ve given the plant the right amount of water.

Pull out a small amount of soil from the basket and roll it into a ball. If you can squeeze water from it, you’ve fed it too much. If you can’t roll the soil into a ball without it blowing away, it needs to be watered. The right balance of watering is when you can roll the soil into a ball and no water releases.

This won’t work when you’ve just watered the plant, however, the next time you water your plant, take a note of how much water you feed it. Then the next day, test the soil to see if you can roll it into a ball without releasing water.

As you should be watering the plant weekly, within a few weeks, you’ll have a good baseline of the amount of water to feed your plant each week to keep it growing strong.

To Keep Multiflora Petunias from Getting Leggy…

When multiflora petunias are planted in a good area of the garden getting full sun daily, they’ll grow faster than grandiflora petunias. Because of this, it can mean the flowers yellow faster, or you’ll find the color is fading frequently.

One of the things you can do to help grow fuller petunias of this variety is to get rid of the flowers as soon the color starts to fade. If you find any yellowing flowers, pinch them off.

This will stop the plant from spending its energy producing seeds, instead channeling more energy towards blooming. The result is more color and a bushier stem in general.

It’s also worth nothing that in wetter climates, less frequent watering may be required, as overwatering can cause petunias to wilt too.

Deadheading and Pinching Back is How to Grow Fuller Petunias

Both multiflora and grandiflora petunias will produce seeds. Deadheading is the process you need to be using to get rid of those seeds early and pinch the leaves back to encourage lush stem growth instead of seed production.

The proper way to deadhead petunias is to pinch spent flowers early by pinching the stem with your thumb and forefinger (or pruners) just above the first set of healthy leaves. Leave the leaves intact, snap the stem and the plant will produce fresh flowers throughout the summer months.

With petunias, it is best to get rid of the flowers losing color to encourage the growth of new ones. The result is the plant’s energy will be used for producing thicker, bushier stems and leaves, resulting in more vibrant flower heads.

If you’ve never pinched back plants, watch this quick video showing how it’s done (properly):

Notice how there’s no gloves worn? That’s because thick gloves can get in the way of effective pruning as it’s more likely you’ll hurt the plant by pinching back too much.

This is a part some gardeners hate because of the stickiness of the leaves on petunias. If you’d rather wear gloves, wear thin ones so you pinch back the part of the plant you intend to without damaging any other part of the plant.

Rejuvenating Petunias and Keeping Critters from Eating Them

It’s not uncommon to get your petunias growing fuller, only to find them being damaged by something mysterious when the sunlight goes down.

Often with petunias, it’s in the mornings that you’ll notice there’s damage done to the plant, but nothing in sight to explain how it happened.

A number of insects will eat petunias at night. These include, aphids, mites, caterpillars (most notably the budworm) and leaf miners. Slugs can be a nuisance too.

A number of problematic pests can be controlled by Bacillus Thuringiensis (BT), however, it is advised this is only used as a last resort. Neem oil is handy for repelling mites, and insecticidal soap will repel many garden critters.

But, the best way to prevent anything nibbling on petunias anywhere in the garden is frequent deadheading, as is required anyway.

Due to the speed that petunias grow and bloom, the more often you remove spent flowers, the more likely it is that anything trying to eat at your plants will find their way into your trash instead.

In Summary

The most common causes of leggy petunias are over or underwatering, a lack of fertilizer and/or inadequate pruning.

Water weekly, use a water-soluble fertilizer once monthly and deadhead your petunias every week or every other week to prevent petunias from becoming leggy and encourage bushier, fuller growth of your petunias with far more vibrancy in color.

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5.5kshares How to Make Petunias Fuller and Keep Them from Getting Leggy was last modified: August 20th, 2019 by The Practical Planter

Spreading petunias are generally classed as multiflora. Their flowers are plentiful but not exceptionally large. Their growth habits, however, differ from standard garden petunias, which makes them easy to care for (no pinching!).

Standard petunias branch from a main stem, which is why you must keep pinching them if you want them to stay tidy. And their growth is upright, at least until a summer rainstorm or the weight of their flowers flops them to the ground.

Spreading petunias grow outward, rather than upward, and they send stems up from the crown of the plant, creating new waves of flowering stems over the old. The lower stems of spreading petunias will eventually lose their leaves and bloom only at the tips, just as standard petunias do. But because the plant is always covered with vigorous new flowering stems, it never looks ragged.

While the plant throws out new stems, the lower ones keep growing. Used as a ground cover, Purple Wave or its sister, Pink Wave, will easily overspread a square yard; in a window box, it will drape gracefully several feet. Some of the vegetatively propagated petunias are said to be even more vigorous, capable of growing to four feet or more.

The tradeoff for this pinch-free display of petunia magnificence is that the spreading petunias require more water, more space and more nutrients than their standard cousins. I use six standard petunias in a 10-inch hanging basket or patio container; two or three spreading petunias will amply fill the same space. If they grow too large, they can be cut back.

Spreading petunias grown in containers will need fertilizing every week; those planted in the garden should be fed every three weeks. It would help to mix in a little slow-release fertilizer before planting.

My Petunias Are Getting Leggy: Learn How To Stop Leggy Petunias

Petunias in full bloom are simply glorious! These showstoppers seem to come in every hue, tint and shade imaginable. Search for “petunia” in the images section of your web browser and you’ll be treated to a cornucopia of color. But be careful. Viewing petunia photos might inspire you to run out to your local nursery and buy every petunia plant in sight.

One of the fabulous features of petunias is that they blossom all season long. Whether you place them in a hanging basket or position them as a focal point in your annual flower beds, these prolific bloomers just keep producing. There is a caveat, however. Many gardeners find themselves back at the nursery complaining that “my petunias are getting leggy.” All the flowers end up at the end of the lanky bare stems. The look just isn’t very attractive. How disappointing. Don’t fret. You can learn how to stop leggy petunias.

How Do I Make My Petunias Fuller?

Preventing leggy petunias requires diligence and care. First, make sure you keep your petunias moist. If you have petunias in a smaller pot or basket, you may need to water them every day. Get into the habit of checking their moisture level each morning and give them a good drink of water. If your petunias are in the ground, then you may need to water them every three to five days.

We all know that petunias bloom most prolifically if we deadhead the spent flowers regularly. But removing the petals isn’t enough. You also need to remove the seed if you want to learn how to stop leggy petunias. The seed pod looks like a little green (or tan if it is mature) chocolate chip nestled at the base of what looks like five skinny green leaves in a star-shaped pattern. Snip or pick off the flower below this section.

Have you ever asked yourself, “How do I make my petunias fuller?” Preventing leggy petunias requires that you cut back the branches by ? or ½ on a regular basis. This may be hard to do, as your petunia plant may be in full bloom when you do this. You can cut back all the branches at once. You will have a full, compact blooming petunia plant in a couple of weeks.

You can also cut back (by 1/4 or 1/2) just some of the branches scattered evenly throughout the plant. Those branches will regenerate and rebloom, and then you can cut back the remaining branches two weeks later. Keep up this cycle throughout the season and you will be rewarded with a full look and an abundance of splendid petunia flowers.

Problems with Petunias

Petunias form blooms at the end of their stalks so continual clipping is necessary to keep them flower-filled all summer.

I was signing books at a local bookstore when a woman walked in with the ugliest hanging basket I’ve ever seen. Stringy, yard-long stems holding yellowing leaves cascaded over the rim of the pot. At the end of these leggy stalks were a few pitiful pink blossoms.

When petunias are in their prime, they are a mass of colorful flowers. But some gardeners end up frustrated that their plants become a tangle of long green stems with only some flowers at the end. Others find that their plants stop flowering mid-season, and the hanging basket that looked so colorful in May looks dreadful by August first. “Why do some people’s petunias look great all summer,” people question, “but mine become a mess by the end of July?”

Keeping petunias attractive all summer begins with knowing which variety you have so you can treat the plant appropriately. Next, some on-going maintenance is necessary in order to keep petunias blooming, especially if you’ve purchased a hanging basket that is already full and flowering in May. Finally, regular fertilization is important, particularly if the plants are growing in baskets or pots.

If you look at your petunia plants you will notice that they only form flowers at the END of the stems. So as the stems grow longer all the flowers are at the edges of the plants, with bare stems leading up to them. This is the case if you are growing the Wave, Super Petunias or regular ones.

In order to keep the plants full, bushy and not “stemmy” – you need to clip some of the stems each week. Ideally, this will start when you buy the plants and take them home, but unfortunately many people are hesitant to clip stems on a plant that looks good. Trust me, if the stems are already eight inches long or longer, you should start from week one. If you are starting with small plants that have stems less than eight inches, you can wait to start pruning.

Once an annual plant has produced a number of seeds it considers its job done, and stops flowering. So to keep regular petunias filled with colorful blossoms all summer, clip the stems just underneath the wilted flower right after the bloom fades.

Every week, clip three or four stems in half. The plant will produce two new growing tips (which will start to flower soon) just below each cut, so if you do this regularly from the start you will keep the flowers over the entire plant.

Be sure to water petunias that are planted in the ground deeply every four or five days remembering that a deep soaking less often is better than a little every day. Don’t hand water: you’ll get bored long before the soil has been deeply watered. Use a sprinkler or soaker hose. Fertilize every three weeks or use a combination of organic and time-release fertilizer when you plant. (The organic fertilizer becomes available to the plants just about the time when the time-release product has released all it’s nutrients.) If you are using a liquid fertilizer that isn’t organic, be sure to water the plants well before you fertilize, and let the plant become well hydrated before feeding: never fertilize a thirsty plant.

Deadheading only has to be done on regular petunias that form seeds. Varieties such as Wave and Super Petunias don’t make seeds so you don’t have to deadhead. Deadheading is CLIPPING THE STEM below the spent flower. I stress the stem because you can’t just pick off the wilted flower – you have to remove developing seeds that are BELOW the flower. If you use scissors to clip the stem below the wilted flower you will be clipping off the seeds, and the plant will flower more in pursuit of making more seeds.

What should you do if your plant is “stemmy” or has stopped flowering? Clip the stems back by 2/3 and fertilize. You could clip all at once, or do a third at a time (randomly over the plant – clip a third every week or 10 days) so that the plant isn’t cut back all at once. Either method will mean that the plant will take about three or four weeks to start blooming well again.

You can also root the ends of the stems you clip off – cut them to 8″ long and put them in fresh, damp potting soil after coating the stems with rooting hormone. Keep the pots out of direct sun but in a light place, and keep soil moist. Your cuttings should root in two or three weeks. After they start to grow, pinch the tip off to make it branch out, plant or pot it up and begin to fertilize regularly.


Petunias can be some of the most eye-catching summer flowers, but they can also start to look a little sad as the season wears on. Today I’m sharing what to do to fix leggy petunias so they’ll look full and beautiful all summer long!

I’ve definitely had some good petunia years and some bad ones. Sometimes they seem to stay full and beautiful all on their own, and some years they seem to get really scraggly-looking within just a few weeks. I had one particular type that I just couldn’t keep up with a couple of years ago and they made me almost swear off petunias completely because they looked so disastrous, but luckily I’ve learned that it’s not the petunias, it’s me. 🙂 Turns out my petunias just need a proper pruning. Here’s how to fix leggy petunias and make them look fuller if yours are looking a little sad this summer.

First of all, here are my petunias that I’ve been kind of neglecting for the past few weeks in anticipation of this post. It’s pretty common for petunias to look like this by this point in the summer.

Tips to Help You Fix Leggy Petunias

Lots of Water

It’s no coincidence that my best petunia years have been the years where we’ve had a ton of rain. I’ve actually never really had to develop great plant-watering routines because my plants have always mostly been watered naturally by the rain. Every once in awhile, like this year, we’ll have a dry spell and these are really the beginning of the end for my beautiful petunias. Although I’ve done a pretty great job of keeping up with the watering overall – if I do say so myself – it’s just not enough for the petunias. During these really hot and dry spells, petunias in containers may actually need to be watered more than everyday. Twice a day is probably what you’re looking at for best results.


A lot of annuals need regular deadheading during the summer to look their best and petunias are probably one of the most needy of the bunch when it comes to deadheading. If you’re looking to fix leggy petunias though, and make them look more full, simply removing the spent blooms isn’t going to cut it. Here you can see a spent bloom next to a new bud that’s about to bloom any second now.

To properly deadhead a petunia, you also need to remove the entire seed pod from the plant. This is the tiny little green nub that remains after you remove a spent bloom.

As the seed pods get a little bit older, they’ll start to turn brown, so look for the brown nubs as well. The whole stem below the little nub will turn brown as well and you can just clip that whole section off. The nubs and stems don’t come off as easily as the spent flowers do, so grab a pair of garden shears to make the job easier and cleaner.

More mid-season flower care from: The Creek Line House – How to Revive a Hydrangea


One thing that I didn’t realize early on in my petunias struggles is that petunias actually need regular pruning to remain full and more compact. If you don’t prune your petunias, you’ll often end up with long, empty stems with a flower or two at the very end AKA leggy petunias. 🙂

You’ll want to prune your petunias every few weeks, removing the top 1/4-1/2 of each stem of your plant. This can feel a little tough to do, especially when everything is in full bloom, so feel free to prune just a few of the longest stems one week, and a few others the next week. That way you’ll have some stems in full bloom and others that are regenerating themselves at all times.

When you go to prune your petunias, try to leave at least a few leaves on each stem, and trim just above a “node”, which is the spot where a pair of leaves meet the stem.

As you can see, I removed quite a bit, but I’m left with a really healthy looking little plant full of fresh new leaves and very little of the crispy brown leaves and stems that were covering the old plant and making it look so sad.

Here’s everything I removed.

And here’s the little friend that came along to watch. 🙂

Follow Up Steps to Fix Leggy Petunias

After you’ve completed your pruning steps for making your petunias fuller, things should start to look pretty great within a couple of weeks. You’ll want to keep up with your new watering schedule on an ongoing basis if your weather is really hot and dry and make sure you’re deadheading correctly at least every 3 days. When you start to see a few long, lanky stems getting out of control again, it’s time to start pruning!

If you’ve ever wondered how people are able to still have beautiful, full planters of petunias well into the fall months, this is what they do!

Have you ever dealt with leggy petunias? What are your favourite petunia tricks?


  • How to Revive a Hydrangea
  • How to Propagate Rose of Sharon
  • Properly Cleaning Flower Pots
  • How to Sharpen Pruning Shears
  • How to Rescue a Completely Overgrown Garden
  • The Creek Line House Gardening Archives

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