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How to Grow: Clown Flower
part sun, part shade
Bloom Period and Seasonal Color
early summer to fall in colors such as red, violet, purple, white and bicolor
Mature Height x Spread
6 to 12 inches x 6 to 9 inches
attracts hummingbirds, deer resistant
If you want an annual to flower in the shade in New England, this is one most gardeners overlook. Torenia or clown flower is a low growing, mounded annual flower that produces tubular blooms in variety of flower colors. Often the blossoms will by bicolored with contrasting colored throats. The flowers tend to be in the cool pastel color range making them a relaxing when viewed in the hot summer. Because it’s a small plant that doesn’t get out of hand, it a perfect plant for window boxes, hanging baskets and containers. Because it doesn’t require much light to bloom, you can also bring pots of clown flowers indoors to place in a sunny window to enjoy for weeks after the last frost.
Where, When and How to Plant
Because Torenia seed are small and slow to germinate, it’s best to start them indoors under grow lights 8 to 10 weeks before your last frost date. Garden centers often carry a few varieties of clown flowers as well, but you’ll be able to enjoy a wider range of colors if you start your own from seed. Plant seedlings in compost-amended soil that is well-drained about 6 to 8 inches apart. Torenia flower best with some morning sun and won’t flower well in a deep shade area, such as under an evergreen.
Keep the plants well watered, especially during hot, windy spells. Feed plants every three weeks with a balanced organic plant food. Torenia will self-sow, but not as readily as cleome and calendula. Look for seedlings to keep or remove the following spring.
Regional Advice and Care
You can deadhead clown flowers to encourage more flowering. However, the seedpods are attractive too and some gardeners like to leave them on the plants. During cool, rainy summer periods, slugs and snails are attracted to the clown flower plants. Spread iron phosphate bait or use beer traps to thwart them. Humid weather can also cause fungal rots to kill plants so plant clown flowers on well-drained soil. Remove diseased plants so they don’t spread to healthy plants. Avoid using mulch around the plants during wet weather to slow the onset of diseases.
Companion Planting and Design
Grown clown flowers in front of and with other shade loving flowers, such as hosta, ferns, and astilbe. Clown flowers can add much needed color to a shade and woodland garden area. Grow them in containers with begonias, impatiens and other shade-loving annuals
The ‘Summer Wave Series’ comes in a variety of flower colors, such as blue and violet, and can tolerate heat and humidity better than other clown flower varieties. ‘Duchess Mix’ features white, blue and pink colors on each flower on well-branched, dwarf plants.
Excerpted from my book, New England Getting Started Garden Guide.