Salpiglossis is a really fun plant. Let me start by saying you shouldn’t be intimidated by its fancy name (pronounced (sal-pih-GLOSS-iss) because you can always refer to it by its many common names, including painted tongue flower, tube tongue, and the velvet trumpet flower. No matter what you call it, this underused cool weather annual is a terrific addition to your flower beds and containers. In this article, I’ll share plenty of growing tips and care info for this beautiful flower.
What is Salpiglossis?
Salpiglossis sinuata is the official botanical name of this member of the nightshade family – Solanaceae (Yes, it’s in the same plant family as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants). Not only does the painted tongue flower look great in the garden, but it also makes a lovely cut flower.
The 5-lobed flowers come in a beautiful array of color combinations and patterns. Often, they are marbled or have veins in a contrasting color. Salpiglossis flowers have diameter of about 1-2 inches across. They are trumpet shaped, and many flowers are produced on each stem. A native of Chile and Argentina, the petunia-like blooms come in a broad range of color palettes, including orange, violet, pink, burgundy, cream, and many others depending on the cultivars (Royale Mix is one of my favorites).
Mature plants reach 12-15 inches tall and 9-12 inches wide. The foliage has wavy margins and is medium green and fairly upright.
The best conditions for growing painted tongue flower
Salpiglossis thrives in areas with cool summer temperatures. It struggles in hot, humid weather. If you live in one of the warmer growing zones, provide afternoon shade or grow this plant as a spring annual only. If you live where there are cooler summer temperatures, you can grow painted tongue flower in full sun all summer long.
In my Pennsylvania garden, I grow this plant in pots that are on my patio. The plants’ flower production slows down in July when the temperature rises, but if I move the pots into the shade, they begin to bloom again and will continue to do so until the arrival of fall’s first frost.
I find Salpiglossis is not fussy about soil. Average garden soil that stays consistently moist is best. I add a few shovels full of compost to my potting soil before planting painted tongue flowers in my patio pots to ensure the soil holds moisture and contains nutrients to feed the plants as they grow.
How to grow Salpiglossis sinuata from seed
Occasionally you can find transplants at a local greenhouse or garden center. But, since Salpiglossis can be difficult to find in the trade, you may find it to be more reliable to start your own plants from seed in late winter.
Since Salpiglossis is an annual that does not tolerate any exposure to frost, start seeds indoors under grow lights about 8 to 10 weeks before your last frost date. You won’t be moving the seedlings outdoors into the garden until the danger of frost has long passed. Sow two to three seeds per planting cell (or three per peat pot) and then thin the seedlings down to the strongest one when they are 1 inch tall. Keep the soil moist and in the target range of 70-75°F. Use a seedling heat mat if necessary. Germination takes place in 2-4 weeks and requires darkness, so be patient and cover the seeds with a light coating of potting soil after planting.
Follow these instructions for hardening off your seedlings before moving them out into the garden in late spring.
Transplanting Salpiglossis plants
Treat Salpiglossis seedlings in the same way you would treat transplants of any other annual flowering plant. Take them out of their seedling pot and move them into a larger patio pot or into the ground when the time is right. Use your fingers to loosen up the roots prior to transplanting them. Space the plants approximately 10-12 inches apart.
Once they have been moved to their new home, water them in well and follow the Salpiglossis care tips found later in this article.
Fertilizing Salpiglossis plants
Like other annual flowering plants, painted tongue plants need to have access to ample nutrients in order to thrive and bloom. Incorporate an organic granular fertilizer into beds and pots before planting the transplants. Alternatively, you can apply a water-soluble fertilizer with your irrigation water once every 3-4 weeks throughout the growing season.
Adding compost to the planting site at the start of the growing season means no additional fertilizer is necessary. If you amend your soil so it’s healthy overall, you can skip the fertilization step.
How much to water and how often
Your Salpiglossis plants will need to be irrigated every few days for the first few weeks after transplanting them. They are fairly drought tolerant once they are established, so you can slow your watering to once every week to 10 days at that time. From early summer through mid-summer, if temperatures are hot, make sure the plants receive about an inch of water per week.
If you are growing painted tongue plant in pots, water the containers daily if they receive full sun, or every 2nd or 3rd day if they are in the shade in the afternoon. Here’s a great video on how to properly water patio pots if you need a refresher on how to do this.
Cutting back and pruning Salpiglossis
To promote bushiness and compact growth, be sure your plants receive enough sun. If the plants flop or become leggy, prune or pinch back taller plants to encourage denser growth. In early June, trim the plants back to half of their current height using a pair of pruners or flower snips. This promotes the production of side shoots and branches, leading to a thicker, bushier plant with additional blooms.
Pests and problems to watch out for
Though Salpiglossis is not regularly plagued by pests or other problems, there are a few issues that could crop up.
- Aphids can be managed using insecticidal soap and by encouraging ladybugs, parasitic wasps, and other natural predators.
- Root rots are prevented by ensuring the planting site is well drained and free from standing water.
- Botrytis is a fungal disease that causes fuzzy mold to form on the plants and can cause leaves and entire stems to collapse. To prevent it, be sure the plants receive ample air circulation and clean up any dead or diseased foliage as soon as possible.
Additional care tips for Salpiglossis
- Saving seeds of painted tongue flower: It’s fun to save your own seeds from plants you grew. Salpiglossis produces a lot of seeds that ripen gradually as the stalk matures. Collect the seeds in late summer and plant them the following spring. Since the plants readily cross-pollinate, it’s always interesting to see what color combinations arrive the following season.
- Cottage garden power: This annual makes a great addition to the cottage garden due to its loose growth habit and prolific bloom. Here are some more cottage garden plants to partner it with.
- Cool nights are ideal: This plant will look its best when the night temperatures are in the 50s and low 60s. If they start to look a little scraggly, the temperatures could be the problem. While there’s nothing you can do to control how hot it is, you can enjoy this plant during the cooler temps of spring and/or fall if you live where its hot.
I hope you’ll consider adding Salpiglossis to your garden this season. It often surprises other gardeners who may not be familiar with it. The butterflies and bees will thank you, too.
For more great annuals to include in your garden, please visit the following posts: