Scaevola (Fairy Fan Flower) Plant Profile

Blue fan flower

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Scaevola plants fill a niche for gardeners seeking a heat tolerant plant for their summer containers: its thick stems ensure drought tolerance in full sun locations, even in triple digit temperatures. Scaevola plants are intriguing specimens for the hanging basket, where you can observe their hand-shaped delicate blooms up close. The plants will die at the first hint of frost, but it's easy to pot up a few cuttings for the next season.

Botanical Name Scaevola aemula
Common Name Fairy fan flower; fan flower
Plant Type Annual
Mature Size Six to 12 inches tall, trailing to two feet
Sun Exposure Full to partial sun
Soil Type Average and well-drained
Soil pH Acidic; 5.5-6.0 is ideal
Bloom Time Spring, summer, fall
Flower Color Blue, purple, white, pink
Hardiness Zones USDA growing zones 10-11
Native Area Australia
Fairy fan flower
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Scaevola container garden
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Scaevola rock garden
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How to Grow Scaevola

Scaevola plants earn brownie points in hot climates for powering through the dog days of summer without any blossom drop. Scaevola plants don't need much pinching or fertilizing. When scaevola plants fail, it's usually due to excessive irrigation or poor soil drainage. Your plants will be low maintenance performers as long as you give them warmth and sunshine, and an occasional drink.

Light

Choose a site with full to partial sun for best scaevola performance. Plants in hot, dry desert areas may remain more pert when placed in a location with dappled shade.

Soil

Rich soil isn't necessary for thriving scaevola plants. While soil of average fertility is fine, good drainage is an important ingredient of healthy plant growth. When growing in the ground, amend heavy clay soils or use raised beds.

Water

Scaevola plants prefer to be on the dry side, but they are not true xeriscape plants and so do need occasional watering. Plants growing in wet soil may attract fungus gnats, or may experience root rot. Wait until the soil surface is dry to water. Wilted plants will perk up quickly after irrigation.

Temperature and Humidity

Scaevola plants grow vigorously in warm to hot weather. Temperatures below 60 degrees F will cause flowering to slow or stop. Temperatures between 70 and 85 degrees yield the happiest plants with compact growth, but hot temperatures are also well tolerated. High humidity is welcomed by the scaevola.

Fertilizer

Accustomed to the lean growing conditions of its native Australia, scaevola plants require only a light feeding. Choose a balanced flower fertilizer low in phosphorus, which can cause flower and foliage discoloration. Apply the fertilizer once a month during the growing season.

Potting and Repotting

A lightweight potting mix will support your container-grown scaevola plants. If you live in an area with sandy soil, you can also mix this in with your potting soil to stretch your resources. Plants usually finish their life cycle without the need to be repotted.

Propagating Scaevola

Take cuttings of scaevola at the end of summer to overwinter the plants. Take a cutting from a non-blooming stem. Dip the end of the cutting in rooting hormone, and insert the end into sterile potting mix. Keep the cutting barely moist, as overwatering will cause damping-off disease. Roots will form in about one month.

Varieties of Scaevola

Scaevola 'Purple Fanfare'
Scaevola 'Purple Fanfare'.  Harley Seaway/Getty Images
Scaevola 'White Carpet'
Scaevola 'White Carpet'. Claire Takacs/Getty Images 

The 'Fairy' series of scaevola features compact, six-inch tall plants in blue, pink, or white. The 'Whirlwind' series is a vigorous grower, and will spread to fill in gaps in your containers or borders. 'Purple Fanfare' delivers loads of lavender-blue blooms throughout the growing season. Those in the 'Carpet' series form a dense ground cover.

Toxicity of Scaevola

While scaevola is not an edible plant, it doesn't have any known toxic effects.

Pruning

Like most trailing annuals, scaevola benefits from a little snipping here and there to keep it tidy and to encourage the plant to grow in a branching habit, rather than developing long, lanky stems. Scaevola is self-cleaning and does not need to be deadheaded, but you can cut it back by half after the first big flush of blooms to encourage new growth and spur even more flowering.

Being Grown in Containers

The container garden is where scaevola plants really shine. Place them at the front of the pot, where they can drape over the side and hide the rim. Scaevola plants make good companions for other hot weather lovers for sun, like Mexican zinnias, zonal geraniums, and tropical hibiscus. Like the scaevola, these flowers need good draining soil and don't like to be overwatered.

Growing From Seeds

Scaevola can be tricky to grow from seed. Fresh seed has the highest germination rate. Sow in the spring about two months before your last frost in a gritty potting mix. Mist lightly, and keep seeds at about 70 degrees F. Germination may occur in 14 to 21 days.

Common Pests/Diseases

Like many Australian natives, scaevola is a tough specimen, and doesn't suffer from many pest or disease problems. Plants stressed by lengthy drought may attract thrips. Avoid spraying scaevola for insects, as the plants are an important source of nectar for butterflies.

Scaevola vs. Lobelia

Lobelia
Lobelia. Topher Berg/Getty Images 

Annual lobelia plants (Lobelia erinus) look indistinguishable from scaevola plants from a distance. Lobelia flowers are small, abundant, and have a similar fan shape (with three downward-facing petaloids rather than the five that scaevola have. Annual lobelia plants also come in blue, white, and pink varieties. The big difference between the two is that lobelia plants like cool weather, and will die off as the summer heats up. Replace your faded lobelia plants with scaevola specimens, and your garden won't miss a beat.