Plant of the Month – April, 2011

The petite blossom of Petunia ‘Soleil Purple’. Photos by Jimmy Turner.

Petunia ‘Soleil Purple’

The dark green foliage (above) and the masses of blooms (below) of ‘Soleil Purple’.

Latin name: Petunia ‘Soleil Purple’
Common name: Hybrid petunia
Flowers: 1” semi-double, pointed, purple
Mature size: 10-12” by 2’ wide
Hardiness: Annual
Soil: Well-drained
Exposure: Full sun
Water usage: Low
Sources: Local nurseries 

With the current drought in Texas, I thought I’d tell you about a new plant we’ve been trying at the Dallas Arboretum that really likes it hot and dry — Petunia ‘Soleil Purple’. Yes, this really is a drought-tolerant petunia; as a matter of fact, if you water this one like any other petunia, you’ll kill it!

‘Soleil Purple’ petunia comes to us from an Australian breeder who was searching for a petunia that could handle the harshest of climates. The first thing you’ll notice about this particular variety is that it doesn’t look like a petunia at all. The semi-double 1- to 1½-inch purple flowers are star-shaped instead of the classic rounded petunia flowers. And then there is the foliage, which doesn’t look or feel anything like a petunia. The small, dark green leaves are thick and almost succulent feeling, and the stems feel like they have been reinforced with wire.

Growing ‘Soleil Purple’ is easy, as long as you forget everything you know about growing other petunias. It requires very well drained soil, which is why I really prefer to use it in hanging baskets or containers. Plant them in the ground only if you are blessed with sandy soil. If you are cursed with clay (as we are in Dallas), make sure to amend it with copious amounts of expanded shale. ‘Soleil Purple’ is best watered only when it shows signs of wilting, which often takes several days. Do not be tempted to give it a little drink each day or to set your irrigation to water automatically. If you water it too much, it will stop flowering. This one really needs a little drought stress to kick it into blooming. I have even been extremely surprised with how long this petunia can survive without watering, resurrecting itself from completely limp to lush after a good soaking.

I hope I’ve encouraged you to look at your local retail nurseries and ask about Petunia ‘Soleil’. Just remember to keep this plant drained and dry, and you’ll have purple flowers all summer long, right up until fall. This petunia truly was bred to take the heat and dry soils of Texas.

About the author: Jimmy Turner is the senior director of gardens at the Dallas Arboretum. Visit for more information on his trials.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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