HARDINESS: Zones 3 to 8
PREFERRED SOIL pH: Near neutral
PREFERRED SOIL TYPE: Average, moist, well-drained
PREFERRED LIGHT: Sun to partial shade
ATTRIBUTES: Large blue, pink, or white flowers with a unique shape in bud
SEASON OF INTEREST: Early to midsummer
FAVORITES: 'Fuji', 'Mariesii'
QUIRKS: Lax stems require support when heavy with flowers
GOOD NEIGHBORS: Columbine, daylily, iris, lady's mantle, pansy
WHERE IT GROWS BEST: Average soil; sun in cool regions, afternoon shade in warm regions
POTENTIAL PROBLEMS: Occasionally slugs and snails
RENEWING PLANTS: Lives many years, division seldom necessary
CRITTER RESISTANCE: Excellent
SOURCE: Young stem cuttings taken from the root in spring and planted
DIMENSIONS: 8-20 in (20.3-50.8 cm) tall, less than 14 in (35.6 cm) wide
Balloon Flower in the Landscape
A unique perennial for the summer garden, balloon flower is dependable and persistent, flowering year after year with minimal care.The plants common name accurately describes its flower buds, which swell up like inflated balloons before popping open to reveal 5-pointed, star-shaped blossoms in blue, pink, or white.
Late to emerge in spring, balloon flower can be interplanted successfully with many spring-flowering bulbs and hardy annuals, such as pansies. Its bloom time often coincides with that of lilies, which make excellent companions. In fall, its foliage briefly turns an attractive shade of yellow that can be a good foil to late bloomers, such as asters or chrysanthemums. In a large bed, place balloon flower near the front, where its curious flowers can be appreciated.
A Bouquet of Balloons
Balloon flower is a fine source of rich indigo blue color for the early-summer garden. Blue varieties include 'Fuji', which can be grown from seed or from nursery grown plants, and 'Mariesii', which is grown only from cuttings and sold as nursery plants. 'Fuji' is also available in pink or white. The blooms of pink balloon flowers tend to be pale, aging to nearly white.
Compact forms have the same basic appearance as taller ones but are more suitable for edging or growing in containers, and their extreme hardiness helps them overwinter in pots. Indigo-flowered 'Sentimental Blue' reaches only 8-10 in (20.3-25.4 cm). Double-flowered selections offer a significantly different look, producing blooms that, individually, resemble those of delphiniums. However, the weight of the double flowers makes staking these plants essential.
Growing Balloon Flower
Easy to grow, balloon flower prefers moist, well-drained soil. It requires nearly full sun in cool summers to look its best. In hot-summer regions, balloon flower can handle up to a half day of shade, and looks the better for it. Full-sized balloon flower plants can fall over once they become heavy with blossoms, so plan ahead and stake them early. Linking wire stakes work for small plants; use wire peony grids for big clumps.
Balloon flower rarely needs division, so you can leave a plant in the garden, undisturbed, for many years. Its heavy gnarled roots resent disturbance, so the preferred way to propagate from old plants is to use a sharp knife to dig down and nick new shoots off along with a piece of the root in spring, when the new stems are about 4 in (10 cm) long. Transplant them into pots, and they should be well rooted and ready for the garden in about 6 weeks.
Few pests or diseases bother balloon flowers. If slugs and snails do feed on the leaves, hand collect them or set out saucers of beer as bait, to attract and drown them.