June 15, 2012

by Jean Wofford, Victoria County Master Gardener

edited by Charla Borchers Leon,
Victoria County Master Gardener
Gardeners' Dirt
The dwarf Katie ruellia variety can have lavender, pink or white blooms that are trumpet shape with a darker blush of color on the bottom part of the inside bloom. They jump out in color up against the dark green leaves.
Mexican petunias are heat and drought tolerant, and bloom all summer into the fall with ease. They thrive in extreme conditions and can be invasive. With mild winters, they are known to be able to bloom all year. Highly prolific and resistant to disease, pests and deer, they are a great choice for the beginning gardener or one who wants to fill in with quick color.
Since they multiply easily, the dwarf variety can be used as a border plant grouping. Shown here is a pink-blooming Mexican petunia border next to a sidewalk at Victoria Educational Gardens.
I  was out in the yard, just checking to see what is surviving the extreme heat of late. My yard is filled with all kinds of blooming plants and most of them seem to flourish in the heat, especially since we have had a little rain off and on this year.

My Mexican petunias are really the stars right now. They are upright, healthy and blooming. The bees, hummingbirds and butterflies love the blooms.

Clean palate

I started thinking about when I first moved to Victoria. I had a huge backyard that had nothing going on. Since I love blooming plants, I started searching for something that would give me fast color.

I also wanted a garden club, so I could learn about gardening in this area. Victoria Garden Club was soon a nice fixture in my new life in a smaller town. We had a landscaper as a guest and he was talking about plants that require little to no care once they are established. Naturally, I was interested.

One of the feature plants was the Mexican petunia. I was totally unfamiliar with this plant. I liked the way the entire plant looked, but still knew very little about it.

In the beginning

In the midst of remodeling, I started making flower beds, but needed something to put in them. I ordered three flats of Mexican petunias. I was discouraged from ordering so many, but I held fast and got all my petunias. When they came, I was ready for them. My beds were filled with good soil, I had good drainage and they were ready for the plants.

In a short time, I had several beds filled with the fast-growing plants. Before long, I saw that I was going to have many more than I bargained for and I needed to either share with someone or throw my plants away. Like all gardeners, I can't throw a plant away. So, I started sharing with more unsuspecting people. I learned that some knew more than I did about this very prolific plant.

Heat-loving plants

During the heat of the summers, I still have a love affair with these plants. Let me share a little background information about them:

First of all, my research shows that the Mexican petunia is true to its name and a native of Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. However, it is not a petunia. It is of the genus ruellia.

This plant is a tough, deer-resistant and drought-resistant little gem. It blooms all summer. It has very attractive, dark green leaves and fleshy stems. Some of the plants will grow up to three or four feet, while the Katie ruellia is the dwarf variety and gets 8-10 inches tall.

The blooms are about 1-2 inches across, have a trumpet shape with a darker blush of color on the bottom part of the inside bloom. The plant purifies itself by dropping the blooms as they fade at the end of the day.

Changes in planting and colors

I have planted these wonderful plants at all times of the year and have had success. They survive in most any kind of soil - and even sometimes in wet conditions. They are disease and pest-resistant, and, not surprisingly, (the dwarf variety) have been named to the Texas SuperStar list by Texas A&M University.

I started my plantings with all lavender blooms. I began with the Katie ruellia, the dwarf variety, and Ruellia brittoniana, the taller variety. Over the years, I have expanded to pink, white and lavender blooms. In the dwarf variety, I have the same colors. I don't know how this happened. One of the happenings of magic that occurs in the garden, I guess.

Scientifically, this is a result of the seed pods splitting open as they ripen and shoot seeds out in all directions. They have been known to jump from one pot to another, sidewalks from one flower bed to another, across narrow road ways or can end up all the way across a large garden due to birds who carry the seeds.


I have read that propagation for this plant is done by seeds. However, I have only propagated by separating the plants via the roots. I have not tried cuttings, which might work as well.

The Mexican petunia is a prolific grower for the beginning gardener - or the one who intentionally wants to use it for a spot of color or in a mixed grouping in a border. Some even choose it for carefully-selected xeriscape applications.

If you want a plant that is quick to fill in where wanted - and sometimes not wanted - this native of our border to the south might just be the one for you.

Pluses Of Mexican Petunias
Very easy to grow
Like all kinds of soil
Love summer heat
Drought resistant
Disease and pest resistant
Deer resistant


Are you into gardening, horticulture, agriculture and education? Become a Texas Master Gardener. Call Victoria AgriLife Extension Office at 361-575-4581  for more information and an application.

Space is limited
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or, or comment on this column at