Angel trumpets are prone to stopping people in their tracks. I grow one in a big patio pot, and more visitors to my garden ask about it than anything else I grow. The big, trumpet-like blooms of this plant are show-stoppers, and their fragrance… well, let’s just say it makes an evening on the patio about as sensational as you can get. But, purchasing a large angel trumpet plant can be pricey. If you want to save some dough and stretch your green thumb, try growing angel trumpet from seed. You may be surprised at how easy it is.
What is an angel trumpet plant?
Angel trumpet is the common name for two distinct, but closely related, species of plants: Brugmansia and Datura. Both are members of a plant family known as the nightshade family (Solanaceae.) These two beautiful flowering plants share the same plant family as familiar edibles such as tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, tomatillos, and peppers. But, the Solanaceae family is also home to many poisonous and toxic plants, including nightshade, tobacco, and mandrake. Unfortunately, all plant parts of both species of angel trumpet are toxic, too, but neither of these species produce fruits that look even remotely edible and many gardeners enjoy growing them despite their poisonous nature. Still, heed fair warning about the toxicity of angel trumpets and never ever ingest any part of the plant, lest you want to take a very dramatic trip to the hospital (or worse!). You may even want to wear gloves when working with angel trumpet plants, just to avoid as much exposure as possible.
Toxicity aside, both types of angel trumpets are among my most favorite tropical plants, and I really enjoy growing angel trumpet from seed. It’s very rewarding to see a plant that grows from a tiny seed into a tall and dramatic plant in just a few months.
The difference between Brugmansia and Datura
While both species of angel trumpet have large, trumpet-shaped flowers, there are several easy-to-spy differences between the two. Here are some defining traits of each species:
• Can grow 10 or more feet tall
• Produces large, pendulous flowers that face downward
• Has seed pods that are elongated and smooth
• Typically does not self-sow
• Grows 3-4 feet tall
• Has flowers that face upwards, toward the sun
• Produces seed pods that are round and covered with spines
• Self-sows easily and can even become weedy
There are many gorgeous cultivars of both Brugmansia and Datura that produce a wide range of flower colors. Brugmansia blooms can be yellow, apricot, white, orange, lavender, or pink. Some of my favorite cultivars include ‘Day Dreams’, ‘Pink‘, and ‘Jean Pasko‘. The blooms of Datura are most typically white, but there are cultivars that produce lavender and purple flowers, too. As an added bonus, cultivars exist in both groups that bear double flowers. Among my favorite double Brugmansias are the double pinks.
Growing angel trumpet from seed
When growing angel trumpet from seed, it’s important to start with a reliable seed source. Seeds of both Brugmansia and Datura remain viable for many years, as long as they’re stored properly. Aside from the seeds themselves, when growing angel trumpet from seed you’ll also need a bag of high-quality seed-starting potting soil, some 3″ plastic pots, a tabletop set up of grow lights (or fluorescent shop lights), an inexpensive heat mat like this one, and a piece of clear plastic large enough to cover all the pots.
Here’s the step-by-step plan I use when growing angel trumpet from seed:
Step 1: Presoak the seeds. Brugmansia seeds have a thick, pithy seed coat around them that can make germination a bit difficult. Datura seeds do not have the same seed coat, but soaking the seeds prior to planting does improve the speed of germination for both species. Soak the seeds in a cup of slightly warm water for 24 hours prior to planting. After soaking, if you want, you can peel the pithy seed coat from Brugmansia seeds, but this isn’t necessary.
Step 2: Plant the seeds. The most critical step in growing angel trumpet from seed is to plant the seeds correctly. Angel trumpet seeds require light to germinate. If you bury them too deeply, your germination rates will be greatly reduced. After filling the pots with potting soil, simply press the pre-soaked angel trumpet seeds firmly against the soil, but don’t cover them. Water the pots immediately after planting and then cover them with a piece of clear plastic to keep the humidity high around the seeds.
Step 3: Give them heat. Angel trumpets are tropical plants, native to South and Central America. Warm soil temperatures improve germination rates and speed. I use a seedling heat mat to warm the soil 10-20 degrees above room temperature, just enough heat to make growing angel trumpet from seed a successful endeavor. Leave the heat mat under the seed pots until the seedlings germinate, then remove it. It will take 3 to 4 weeks for angel trumpet seeds to germinate, so don’t lose patience!
Step 4: Turn on the lights. Because both types of angel trumpet seeds need light to germinate, put the pots under grow lights or fluorescent shop lights immediately after sowing. Position the lights so they’re just 2-3 inches above the plant tops, raising them as the plants grow. Leave the lights on for 18-20 hours per day (use a timer like this one, if you want to automate the lights). It is possible to grow angel trumpet seeds in a sunny windowsill, but the seedlings are often leggy and pale. I highly recommend using lights, if at all possible.
Step 5: Water as necessary. One of the most important aspects of growing angel trumpets from seed is to make sure the seeds don’t dry out prior to germination. Because they aren’t buried in the potting soil, newly planted Brugmansia and Datura seeds can become desiccated before they even germinate. Make sure the pots stay well-watered, but don’t allow them to become water-logged either or the seeds could rot. Once the seeds have sprouted, remove the piece of plastic and the heat mat, and continue to water as necessary.
Step 6: Fertilize every two weeks. As your angel trumpet seedlings grow, fertilize them every other week with a half-strength solution of a liquid organic fertilizer. Don’t over-fertilize when growing angel trumpet from seed or you could burn the tips of the plant’s leaves.
Step 7: Harden plants off before moving them outdoors. Both types of angel trumpets are extremely sensitive to frost. Do not move them outdoors until the danger of frost as passed. The biggest disappointment when growing angel trumpets from seed is moving them outdoors too quickly and watching them wither and die (ask me, I know; it’s a very sad thing to experience!). To harden off angel trumpet plants, as soon as the danger of frost is gone, move the pots outdoors for a few hours every day and put them in a shady spot. Over the course of 10-14 days, gradually increase the amount of sunlight they receive and the amount of time they spend outdoors until they’re out in full exposure both day and night. Only then are your angel trumpet plants ready to stay outdoors for the season.
What to do with angel trumpet plants at the end of the growing season
How to overwinter Brugmansia:
If you grow Brugmansia and live where frosts occur, at the end of the gardening season, you’ll have to move your plant into a sheltered spot for the winter. I move my potted Brugmansia plant into my garage, usually in September, when frost is looming on the horizon. My garage is not heated, but it stays just above freezing all winter long. The plant drops all of its leaves when it’s moved into the garage, and shifts into dormancy automatically. Don’t worry when this happens; the plant will not mind this rest period. Simply water your Brugmansia once or twice throughout the entire winter and let it “sleep” until spring’s arrival when you can gradually move it back outdoors and increase irrigation.
You can also overwinter Brugmansia plants in your house, but make sure it’s in a cool-ish room with lots of light. When overwintering plants this way, they will not shift into dormancy and will continue to grow (and maybe flower) all winter long. Be careful with pets, however, as this plant is highly toxic to them, too.
If your angel trumpet was planted in the garden instead of in a pot, dig it up, plant it in a pot, and move the potted plant into a garage or cold cellar for the winter. Come spring, you can always plant your Brugmansia back out into the garden.
How to overwinter Datura:
For Datura, there’s no need to overwinter the plant at all. As long as the seed pods cracked open and dropped seed at the end of the growing season, you’ll automatically have new plants pop up in your garden when spring arrives. In fact, Datura self-sows quite prolifically, so you may want to trim off all but one or two of the seed pods before they mature, just to make sure the plant doesn’t become weedy.
Growing angel trumpet means you’re helping nighttime pollinators, too
Angel trumpet and pollinators
One final word about angel trumpets and their value to wildlife. Unless you’re a night owl or a vampire, you won’t always be privy to the pollinators that feast on the nectar from both types of angel trumpets. The fragrance of both Brugmansia and Datura isn’t emitted until evening’s arrival, when it beckons in a very specific group of pollinators: moths. If you’re willing to sit in your garden after the sun sets and let your eyes adjust to the darkness, you’ll find some pretty fabulous moths sipping nectar from your angel trumpet blooms. It will be a sight not easily forgotten. You should be aware, though, that double-flowered versions of Brugmansia and Datura tend to be less welcoming to pollinators as the insects may have difficulty accessing the nectaries through all those layers of flower petals. Plant single-flowered versions for maximum pollinator power.
As you can see, growing angel trumpet plants is exciting and rewarding. Do you already grow this plant? Tell us about your experience in the comment section below.