I thought calibrachoa was a tender perennial. That’s what it said on the label: hardy to zone 9, a zone-ruling I’ve tried to believe I could actually get away with in my area, if I protected the plant. Yet unless we have unusually warm winters, a zone-9 classification usually means the kiss of death.
I bought calibrachoa at my local drugstore, one of my sources for those cheap common annuals I pretend to despise but actually find pretty handy for tucking in between perennials when they are drooping, flagging, dormant, or nonflowering. Calibrachoa is a newly-fashionable plant, generous in its flowering, good in containers.
It’s no accident that it looks like a minature petunia; the two are closely related, and calibrachoa was once in the same genus. (Some people argue that it still should be. Lumpers vs. Splitters, round 873.) Like petunias, calibrachoas are from South America, but they took more time to get into gardens outside their home country. Suntory, the Japanese breeding program that has come up with heat-tolerant fuchsias, started working with calibrachoas in the late 1980s. Their work has obviously come to fruit (or flourish), since you can now find plentiful-flowering calibrachoas in every nursery and drugstore.
So I tried calibrachoa last year, thinking of it as an annual, and I was pretty pleased with the combination in this pot (photo at the top of the post): the dull purple of purple sage (not the Zane Grey kind, the culinary kind: Salvia officinalis ‘Purperascens’) sparked up by small, pink-orange trumpets of Calibrachoa calimor ‘Desert Shine’. I didn’t expect it to be more than a seasonal show.
But hark. I was repotting some perennials which badly needed it (we can often get away with doing this in January in our climate; January is bare-root-planting time here, and we generally get a warm spell that makes it fairly pleasant to do) – I was repotting perennials when I saw something that shouldn’t have been there: green calibrachoa leaves, peeking out of the sage pot.
Since we’ve had a winter ranging into the mid-teens F (in the neighborhood of -8 C), cold for us, we have definitely dropped below zone-9 minimums. The University of Illinois website, where I got some of my calibrachoa information, says they are hardy to “zones 8 or 9”, which may be good enough if you live in Illinois, but is entirely annoying if you live in more-or-less zone 8. In the hills, no zone is sure. I’ve had to drain the water pipes several times this year, usually a sign that every borderline plant I have (brugmansias spring to mind) will be deader than a doornail.
So: is calibrachoa actually hardier than advertised? That would make a refreshing change. Or (my secret hope) do I have some hardy calibrachoa sport, some maverick that will change the world of calibrachoas as we know it?
It’s dangerous to draw conclusions. I’ll just keep my eye on that calibrachoa and see what happens.