This heavy bloomer gets its name from the way each flower bud swells before its starry petals unfold. The Chinese bell flower A.K.A Balloon flowers are one of the easiest perennials you’ll ever grow, and they bloom in profusion in mid to late summer, when many other perennials are beginning to fade.
The upward-facing flowers bloom throughout the summer and into early fall in shades of blue, pink and white. The plants form a low, neat mound and bear 2- to 3-inch cuplike blossoms accented with delicate purple veins and yellow stamens. Balloon flowers are a cottage garden standard, and they are excellent for cutting. To make the flowers last in the vase, sear the stems with a match or candle flame immediately after cutting.
Balloon flowers grow in Zones 3-8. They thrive in full sun or light shade in well-drained garden soil. They appreciate a little afternoon shade in zones 7-8. You won’t find a more carefree perennial! Just work a little slow-release fertilizer into the soil in spring, and pick off the flowers as they fade to encourage more blooms. Moderate drought conditions aren’t a problem, but it helps to water the plants deeply when the soil dries out too much or if drought conditions persist. Balloon flowers are seldom bothered by insects, and they are very cold-hardy.
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Be careful when weeding the garden in spring. Balloon flowers don’t sprout until other plants have begun to grow, and it is easy to dig them up inadvertently or pull them thinking they are weeds. Mark the area where they are planted to prevent this type of mistake.
Start new plants from seeds in spring, just after the last winter frost, or summer, up to 2 months before the first fall frost. When starting indoors, sow in individual pots 6-8 weeks before the last expected frost. Seeds require light to germinate, so press them lightly onto the soil, and don’t cover. You can expect flowers the second year.
Plants are difficult to divide, but cuttings can be taken in late spring. When the new stems are about 2 to 4 inches long, push back the soil to find the point where the stem joins the root, and with a sharp knife, cut off a stem with about 1/2 inch of root attached. Pot up your cutting in a good potting medium.
Clumps of balloon flowers are very well behaved in the perennial garden – they don’t spread and never crowd their neighbors. The blue shades of balloon flowers are striking when planted in combination with gold or deep orange cosmos or yarrows.
If you’re looking for a carefree perennial that produces reliable blooms year after year, you can’t beat balloon flowers.