Balloon flowers (Platycodon grandiflorus) are clump-forming perennials and members of the easy-to-grow bellflower family of plants although the blooms do not resemble bells. Instead, puffy, balloon-like buds swell up to produce the 2- to 3-inch star-shaped flowers. This easy-grower blooms all summer long with intense blue-violet flowers, but there are also cultivars with white and pink blooms. Balloon flowers are generally planted in the spring after the danger of frost has passed, growing quickly to bloom in the first year.
|Common Name||Balloon flower, Chinese bellflower, Japanese bellflower|
|Botanical Name||Platycodon grandiflorus|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous perennial|
|Mature Size||1– 2 1/2 ft. tall, 1–1 1/2 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun to part shade|
|Soil Type||Rich, loamy, medium moisture, well-draining|
|Soil pH||5.5–7.5 (acidic to slightly alkaline)|
|Flower Color||Blue-violet, white, pink|
|Hardiness Zones||3–8 (USDA)|
|Native Area||China, Korea, Japan, Russia|
Watch Now: How to Grow and Care for Balloon Flowers
Balloon Flower Care
Balloon flowers make excellent plants for border gardens or rock gardens and the blooms attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies thanks to their wide-open petals. These perennials will self-sow their seed, though they aren't aggressive spreaders. Overall, balloon flowers are fairly low-maintenance plants and are quite pest- and disease-resistant outside of root rot in areas with large amounts of rainfall.
The taller varieties of balloon flowers can become a bit floppy. You can stake them or plant them in clumps to let them support one another. Start with nursery plants or grow your balloon flowers from seed.
You will get the most flowers if you plant balloon flowers in full sun (at least six hours of sunlight on most days). However, they will be fine in part shade and might actually prefer some shade from where the afternoon sun is especially hot.
Balloon flowers prefer organically rich, loamy soil that has good drainage. They don’t grow well in dense soil, such as clay. They like a soil pH in the 5.5 to 7.5 range.
Keep the soil of young plants consistently moist but not soggy. Once established, balloon flowers like a moderate amount of moisture in the soil, but they can tolerate short periods of drought. They won’t need a lot of supplemental watering unless you have a long period without rainfall that causes the soil to dry out.
Temperature and Humidity
Balloon flowers are hardy and do well in USDA growing zones 3 to 8. Their ideal temperature range is between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, but they can withstand higher temperatures if they have some shade in the afternoon. Frost can kill young plants and will cause established plants to die back into the ground in the fall. Balloon flowers tolerate both humid and dry air conditions, provided they have the right amount of soil moisture.
Balloon flowers typically don't need supplemental feeding if you have rich soil. But a layer of compost in the fall can help them replenish the energy they expend blooming during the growing season. If you have poor soil, use an all-purpose, slow-release fertilizer in early spring.
Types of Balloon Flowers
There are several popular varieties of balloon flowers, including:
- Platycodon grandiflorus Astra series: This type grows double flowers with 10 petals in blue, pink, or white. They're an ideal choice to start from seeds.
- P. grandiflorus Fuji series: This is the most commonly sold variety, as well as the tallest, with 30-inch stems and flowers in blue, pink, or white.
- P. grandiflorus 'Komachi': The purple-blue flowers in this variety stay in their puffy pillow stage even after blooming.
- P. 'Sentimental Blue': This dwarf variety grows about 6 inches tall with lots of 1- to 2-inch purple flowers.
Pruning generally isn't necessary with balloon flowers, though you can do so for appearance. To achieve stockier plants, you can cut back tall stems by about half in the late spring. This can help to prevent the plants from flopping over. Also, deadheading your plants (removing spent blooms) will keep them looking good and repeatedly blooming. Don't remove the whole stem, just the faded flowers. The remaining buds on the stem will continue to open.
Propagating Balloon Flowers
Balloon flowers are favorites of gardeners because they are solid and fast performers so the more the merrier, but you have to be careful how you propagate the plant. Propagating by division is generally not recommended for balloon flowers because the deep taproots do not like being disturbed. Instead, you can propagate by taking stem cuttings.
- Use sterile, sharp pruners to trim a 4-inch length of stem, and remove the lower foliage to expose the bare stem.
- Use a rooting hormone on the bare stem if you wish, and then pot it in moist soil.
- Keep the soil moist (but not soggy) as you wait for roots to take hold.
- Once you see leaf growth and feel resistance when you give the cutting a gentle tug, you’ll know roots have grown. Then, the plant is ready to be transplanted into the garden.
How to Grow Balloon Flowers From Seed
Start seeds indoors in the early spring about six to eight weeks before your area's projected last frost date, using seed starter mix or ordinary potting soil. Barely cover the seeds with 1/16 inch of soil. Place the container in a warm location until the seeds germinate. After the weather has warmed, you can transplant the seedlings outdoors. If you plant seeds directly in your garden, do so after your last frost date, but know they likely won't flower in their first year.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases
Balloon flowers generally attract slugs and snails, as do many other outdoor bloomers, which can be coaxed off the plants with bait. However, the plant may become afflicted with crown rot, root rot, botrytis gray mold, powdery mildew, or fungal leaf spot. Crown and root rot may cause plants to die over the winter. Leaves presenting powdery spots, mottling, or blotching can usually be treated with a fungicide. Quickly discard plants with gray mold so it doesn't spread, then use a preventative fungicide on remaining plants.
Are balloon flowers easy to care for?
Balloon flowers will thrive in just about any condition, except for especially hot environments.
How fast do balloon flowers grow?
Planted in the early spring after the threat of frost has passed, balloon flowers should bloom during their first season. However, you also can plant them later in the growing season (spring to fall), though you might not get blooms until their second year.
What is the difference between the balloon flower and the balloon plant?
The balloon flower and the balloon plant are two completely different species. The balloon plant is a shrub that is part of the milkweed family, grows over 6 feet tall, and produces yellowish balls of fruit.
Can balloon flowers grow indoors?
Many people grow balloon flowers as houseplants and use them in indoor container gardens. Put balloon flowers in a cool and bright spot to watch them bloom.
Jeon, Chi Sung et al. Root Rot of Balloon Flower (Platycodon grandiflorum) Caused by Fusarium solani and Fusarium oxysporum. The plant pathology journal, vol. 29, no. 4, 2013. doi:10.5423/PPJ.NT.07.2013.0073
Gray mold in the flower garden. University of Minnesota Extension.
Balloon Plant, Gomphocarpus physocarpus. Wisconsin Horticulture.