How to Grow Balloon Flowers

Balloon Flowers (Platycodon grandiflorus)
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Overview and Description

Although balloon flower, Platycodon grandiflorus, is usually grown for its whimsical flower buds, this plant is one tough cookie. Balloon flower is in the easy growing Campanula family and you will notice the resemblance right away.

The botanical name means "broad bell", but the open flower is really more of a star shape. However it's the puffy bud that intrigues gardeners and entices them to grow this plant and that gives it its common name of "Balloon Flower".

These are long-lived perennials that rarely need dividing and are deer resistant.

  • Leaves: Alternate, bright green leaves grow along the stems. This is a clump forming plant.
  • Flowers: The flower bud swells up into a puff and slowly opens, passing through a bell shape to a swept back star with five petals, joined at the base. The purple-blue varieties are the most commonly grown, but it also comes in white and shades of pink.

Botanical Name

Platycodon grandiflorus

Common Name:

Balloon Flower, Chinese Bellflower, Japanese Bellflower

Hardiness Zone

Balloon flowers are widely adaptable perennial plants, growing in cold climates or drought and are reliably hardy in USDA Hardiness Zone 3 - 9.

Sun Exposure

You will get them most flowers if you plant these in full sun, however they will be fine in partial shade, especially if the shade comes in the afternoon.

Mature Size

The mature height of balloon flower will vary with the different varieties and growing conditions.

Most will grow to about 1 - 2 ft. tall x 1 ft. wide. Dwarf varieties stay under 1 ft. tall.

Bloom Period

Balloon flower can start blooming any time from mid-summer or later and will repeat bloom, if kept deadheaded.

Suggested Varieties

This is one of those classic plants that is often sold as an unnamed variety.

Don't be afraid to purchase plants without pedigrees; they will grow fine and look lovely. However there are some excellent named varieties to also look for.

  • Platycodon grandiflorus Astra series:The flowers are double with 10 petals in blue, pink or white. A good choice to start from seed.
  • Platycodon grandiflorus Fuji series: These are them most commonly sold varieties and the tallest, with 30 in. stems and flowers in blue, pink or white.
  • Platycodon grandiflorus 'Komachi': purple-blue flowers that remain in their puffy pillow stage.
  • Platycodon grandiflorus 'Sentimental Blue': A dwarf variety that grows about 6 in. tall, with lots of 1 - 2 in. Purple flowers.

Design Suggestions

The plants are very late to emerge in the spring. Mark their spot, so you aren't tempted to plant on top of them.

When you're considering companion plants, keep in mind that Balloon flowers won't really start flowering until mid- to late summer, but will continue to flower into fall. The blue varieties go especially well with the pale yellows of lilies, Ratibida and yarrow.

Because the pink and white varieties can be paler than many fall blooming flowers, give extra thought to where you tuck them. They look great next to ornamental grasses, and spiky plants, like Persicaria, Celosia and Liatris. They also shine next tot bold color like cosmos 'Cosmic Orange'.

Growing Tips

Soil: Balloon flowers prefer a slightly acidic soil pH, in the 5.8 - 6.8 range.

Planting: You can start with plants or seed, although seed grown plants will not bloom the first year. Balloon flower seed will require stratification and are a good choice for winter sowing.

Start seed indoors in early spring, Gently press the seed on top of moist soil. They need light to germinate, so do not cover the seed with soil. Seed should germinate within 2-3 weeks. Move seedlings into larger pots and slowly harden off, before transplanting outdoors.

You can try making divisions, but the root system is dense and chunky, with a long taproot and doesn't really like being disturbed.. To propagate by division, instead of digging up the whole plant, slice a piece of the plant off with a sharp knife. Make sure you get at least a ½ in. piece of the root. Pot it up and keep it moist. If you plan on trying to divide, do it early in the season, when the plants are small, and expect them to take a season or two to start blooming again.

Maintenance:

Once established, balloon flowers won't need a lot of supplemental watering. They can handle short periods of drought.

Balloon flowers are not heavy feeders, but a top dressing with compost in the fall, will help them replenish the energy they expended blooming. It's also good to add some granular organic fertilizer to the whole bed, in the spring.

For stockier plants, you can pinch them back when they are about 6 in. tall. Deadheading will keep the plants looking good and repeatedly blooming. Don't remove the whole stem, just the faded flowers. The remaining buds will continue to open.

The taller varieties of balloon flower can become a bit floppy, but rather than staking them, just plant them in large drifts and let them support each other.

If you like to cut the flowers for displays, be sure to sear the cut ends of the stems, to preserve them, or they won't last long.

Pests & Problems:

Balloon flowers are virtually pest free. Even the deer don't like them.