Balloon Flower – Platycodon grandiflorus
The balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus) is the only representative of its genus (Platycodon) within the Campanulaceae family. The plant with the beautiful buds comes from Northeast Asia and is therefore also called Chinese Bellflower.
The balloon flower is a summer flowering perennial and grows loosely upright up to 70 centimeters in height and about 30 centimeters in width. It forms a thickened taproot. Depending on the variety, the balloon flower is hardy from good to very good.
The leaves of the balloon flower have a lanceolate shape with a toothed edge and are pointed at the top. Its colour is bluish green. The foliage is covered with a thin whitish layer of wax.
From July to August, the bright blue, pink or white star-shaped bell-shaped flowers, which are arranged in loose grapes, open. They can grow up to seven centimeters. The spherically inflated flower buds, which suddenly open, give the enchanting balloon flowers their name.
An egg-shaped capsule is formed, in which violet seeds lie, which turn brown in the later ripening stage.
Balloon flowers should be placed in the sun or semi-shade and protected from rain for optimal growth. Attention: White flowers turn dark when there is too much sun, so white varieties should always be in semi-shade!
Platycodon does not make great demands on the soil, it should only be nutrient-rich and permeable if possible. The Chinese bellflower occurs naturally on dry grasslands and forest clearings.
Even if the flowers are usually not advertised on the market until the flowering season in August, the plants should be planted at a distance of about 30 centimeters in spring to ensure a good start. Water well after planting. Attention: Young balloon flowers start low and often reach their final height of 50 to 70 centimeters only after a few years. Plan the planting area accordingly in the middle of the bed and not too far forward.
The young shoots are often nibbled on by snails, which is why good snail protection must be ensured when planting in the bed from May onwards. At the beginning of the sprouting period a strong fertilizer is applied once. Pour the balloon flower during persistent dryness. Regular cleaning promotes post-flowering until late summer. At a protected place the balloon flower can spend the winter in a well packed pot. Then waterlogging must be avoided at all costs. In the bed, the balloon flower is cut off close to the ground in autumn. In the first few years or during very severe winters, frost protection made of mulch or brushwood is recommended.
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A well-grown balloon flower can be divided from the fifth year and thus propagated. However, the plant thrives best when left alone.
Balloon flowers are suitable for planting balcony boxes and tubs, but they also thrive in perennial beds or rock gardens. Platycodon is a reliable companion perennial in sunny borders. Don’t be surprised if the plant doesn’t show up for a long time after winter, often it doesn’t sprout until May. The gaps in the bed can be bridged with bulb flowers in spring. Balloon flowers are durable cut flowers. They are also suitable as indoor plants, but are then less durable.
Although there is only one Platycodon species, there are all the more attractive varieties. The balloon flower ‘Apoyama’, which remains small at 20 centimeters, produces blue flowers just like ‘Astra Blue’, while the equally small ‘Astra Pink’ blooms in white with pink. Mariesii’ grows compactly, also shows the classic blue-violet flowers and is medium high at 50 centimeters. Also medium sized, but with a pink flower, the variety ‘mother-of-pearl shell’ shows itself. Also different white varieties like Platycodon grandiflorus ‘Albus’ (60 cm) or ‘Fuji White’ (40 cm) are available.
The balloon flower can best be propagated by sowing. In autumn you can collect the seed capsules before they open on their own and store them dry and dark during the winter. In spring the light bucket is then sown directly into the bed on the ground. Since the seeds are usually not pure, the flower colour of the new balloon flowers is a surprise.
Diseases and pests
As mentioned above, snails are the biggest enemy of the balloon flower. A snail fence or slug pellet helps the young plants through the delicate time of sprouting.