Balloon flowers are also known as Platycodon grandiflorus, and they’re clump-forming perennials that are a member of the bellflower family. However, the blooms don’t look like bells. Instead, you’ll get balloon-like, puffy buds that will swell to produce two or three inch star-shaped flowers. This easy-growing plant will produce blooms throughout the summer months with a very bright violet-blue coloring, and you can find cultivars that offer pink and white coloring.
You generally plant balloon flowers in the spring after the last frost of the season recedes, and they will bloom in the first year. If you want to know more about the care of this pretty plant, read on.
The balloon flower is a very charming and whimsical plant that looks like it’s ready to pop before it opens to reveal a star-shaped flower.
Defining the Balloon Flower
Even though this isn’t a native blue flower, the disease-resistant, hardy nature and vibrant blooms have made it very popular in gardens across the United States. You may hear it referred to as the Japanese Bellflower, Common Bellflower, Chinese Bellflower. It will grow in a semi-large clump that fills in very densely, and it’s the perfect thing to add in your border garden in a sunny spot. It’s a herbaceous perennial that suits zones three to eight.
The two to three-inch flowers will bloom in shades of blue, white, and pink, and some will have prominent veins on the petals. Each upright stem can have one or more blossoms on it, and they look like little balloons in the bud stage. When they open, they change the shape to upturned, star-like bells.
The leaves on the balloon plant are green or blue-green and very thick with a lance shape and serrated margins. It thrives when you place it in loamy, organically-rich soil that drains well but you keep moderately moist. It’s the fleshy taproots that you have to be careful around as they are easily damaged if you disturb the plants. The roots aren’t aggressive, and this plant will eagerly self-sow to spread the seeds using new shoots that pop up all over the ground in the spring.
Your plant size will vary, and the true botanical cultivars that you find in the wild in the native climates can reach or get taller than 36-inches and 18-inches wide. Cultivated balloon flowers include dwarf ones that reach four to six inches tall and equally wide, and there are medium-sized plants that max out at 12 to 18 inches for the height and width.
If you take the time to deadhead them, the balloon flower will bloom until the fall months. This plant is non-toxic to animals and humans, and the roots have a long history of medicinal use when you preserve or pickle them. They’re commonly found in herbal supplements, dietary remedies, and to provide digestive and anti-inflammatory benefits.
Balloon Flower Overview
|Attracts:||Bees, butterflies, and birds|
|Bloom Time or Season:||Summer|
|Common Disease:||Root rot|
|Common Pests:||Slugs and snails|
|Companion Plants:||Bee balm, blazing star, black-eyed susan, and daylily|
|Exposure:||Partial shade to full sun|
|Flower/Foliage Color:||White, pink or blue with blue-green or green foliage|
|Hardiness Zones:||3 to 8|
|Height:||3 to 36 inches|
|Native to:||Russia, Asia|
|Planting Depth:||Surface sow|
|Planting Type:||Herbaceous perennial|
|Soil pH:||5.5 to 7.5|
|Soil Type:||Organically rich loam|
|Spacing:||4 to 18 inches|
|Spread:||4 to 18 inches|
|Tolerance:||Drought, deer, and heat|
|Uses:||Containers, border edging, rock gardens, and perennial beds|
Popular Balloon Flower Cultivars
You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to your balloon flowers, and this allows you to mix and match to get a unique look in your yard.
When you start shopping for your balloon flowers, you can run across true botanical species once in a while, but you’ll most likely find cultivated ones A few you should consider are:
This is a dwarf balloon flower that has a mature height that ranges from 6 to 12 inches, and the width spans 6 to 9 inches. This makes it a more compact plant that is easy to maintain. The flowers measure roughly three inches across, and they have a double row of blue-lavender flowers. With consistent deadheading, this plant can be extremely prolific. This is a disease and pest-resistant cultivar that is very hardy. The petite design makes it a great choice for containers, along border edging, and in front of your mixed beds.
This is another compact balloon flower cultivar that gets between 6 and 12 inches high at full maturity, and the width is between 6 and 9 inches. It offers three-inch wide flowers that are pale pink with a single row of petals. This is another very hardy plant that has excellent disease and pest-resistance. It’s a low-profile plant that usually won’t require staking, and it works well in container gardens, rock gardens, or beds and borders. You want to deadhead the blooms to keep the blossoming.
As a taller cultivar, this balloon flower usually matures to 18 to 24 inches with a 12 to 18 inch spread. The flowers offer a single row of deep blue petals, and they can be between two and two-and-a-half inches wide. They’re well-suited to plant in the middle of your garden bed, and you might have to stake them. It can produce double blooms, and variations are possible due to the fact that most of them come from seed.
Balloon Flower Care
Balloon flowers make lovely plants for rock gardens or border gardens, and the blooms will attract several pollinator types like butterflies and bees due to the wide open petals. This perennial will self-sow, but they aren’t nearly as aggressive as some plants when it comes to spreading. Generally speaking, balloon flowers are decently low-maintenance options that are disease and pest-resistant outside of developing root rot in wetter environments.
The taller cultivars can be floppy, but you can stake them or plant them in clumps to help reduce this as they’ll support one another. You can start with nursery plants or grow them from seed following the outline below.
If you have a very rich soil, the balloon flower doesn’t need supplemental feeding. However, adding a layer of compost during the fall months can help replenish the soil and help the plants recover the energy they use during the day to bloom. If you have poor soil, you can add a slow-release, all-purpose fertilizer early in the spring months.
Balloon flowers do well in areas that get partial shade to full sun. They’ll produce a large amount of flowers when you grow them in direct but bright light, and they’ll keep flowering as long as you deadhead them. If you live in a region where the climate is hot, you can plant them in a spot where they have protection from the direct light since it can burn the leaves.
This plant loves a well-draining, loamy soil mix that is very rich in organic matter. When you plant them, you want to get a slightly acidic potting soil that has a pH range of 5.5 to 7.5. Avoid dense soils like clay since they hold far too much water for the balloon flower to grow well. No matter which soil you end up with, this plant will do well with an addition of compost in the autumn months. This will make them grow better in the spring.
While this plant isn’t horribly picky with the soil, it won’t do well in very dense or clay-based options due to how much water it retains and it can lead to root rot.
Temperature and Humidity
As this is a hardy plant, it’ll do well in zones three to eight. The ideal temperature range for the balloon flowers falls between 60°F and 80°F, but they can survive in higher temperatures if they have some shade from the scorching afternoon sun. Frost can kill off the young plants, and it’ll cause any established plants to due back to the ground come fall. Balloon flowers can tolerate both dry and humid air conditions as long as they have enough moisture in the soil.
If you’re a busy gardener who skips watering, this is a forgiving plant. They need frequent watering sessions only during the first growing season. Once they settle into the space, these plants can easily survive a drought for a few days at a time without any damages. They are very prone to issues with root rot, so it’s better to have less water than to over-water them.
They do like a decent amount of moisture, but they won’t be able to tolerate growing in soggy or wet conditions. You shouldn’t water this plant unless the top layer of the soil is dry when you touch it. This is a very thirsty plant that can trick you into watering it much more than it actually needs. The safest way to do so without giving them too much is to use a soaker hose. They do better with deep and slow irrigations that ensure they get the correct amount of water without flooding them out.
Balloon Flower Propagation
The root system in this plant is far too delicate to propagate like you would other plants, but you do have three methods to choose from.
You can propagate this plant from seed, nursery starts, or from stem cuttings in the springtime. It’s not recommended to use other propagation methods for the balloon flowers. Some people try to divide the plant, but these divisions are rarely successful due to the damage the roots take. The roots are very resistant to transplanting and fragile, and it’s usually not worth it to attempt it when it’s so easy to direct sow or grow from seeds. We’ll break down each propagation method below.
During the springtime, you can take soft cuttings from growing stem tips to root and plant. Use a pair of sharp, clean pruners to cut off roughly four inches of the stem. Make sure you pinch off enough foliage to leave roughly two inches of bare stem at the bottom. Dip the bare stem portion in a powdered rooting hormone and put it in a container that has medium potting soil. Keep the moisture level even, and make a point to not overwater. When leaves appear, this is evidence of root growth. Transplant your rooted stem into the garden, being very careful not to damage the roots. Plant it at the same depth it was inside the container.
Transplant your nursery starts into the garden in early spring to encourage blooms in the first year. You can plant these starts at any time during the growing season to ensure that they bloom the following year. When you transplant them, dig a hole that is the same width and depth of the root ball, and make sure to keep the pot soil at an even level with the ground soil. Gently remove the plant from the container and don’t break the roots. Keep the moisture level even before and after you finish this process.
Start your seeds indoors roughly 6 to 8 weeks before the last spring frost date of the season to get blooms in the first year. Balloon flower seeds require light to germinate, so put them on the surface of moist soil without adding a cover. When the seedlings sprout and develop two sets of leaves and the frost has receded, you can gradually acclimate them to outside. Give the plants a few hours of fresh air and sunshine each day for three to five days. This is the hardening off process. Once they harden off, you can transplant them outside without disturbing the roots.
To transplant your seedlings, you want to dig the hole for the plant that is the same width and depth of the root ball. The soil surface of the plant should be even to the ground soil surface, and you should never elevate or bury the seedling to minimize stress. You can sow direct seeds outside after the last frost date or at any time during the growing season, but they usually won’t bloom until the following year.
Moisten the soil and sprinkle the seeds around every few inches throughout your planting area without covering them with soil. Keep the moisture levels even, but don’t allow the soil to get waterlogged. Once they develop several leaf sets, you want to thin them out to accommodate the mature plant size. This is the best propagation method as there is no chance of disturbing the root system. You want to avoid over watering as your seeds establish themselves in the garden.
Pruning Balloon Flowers
Luckily for most people, you won’t spend a lot of time outside pruning your plants to ensure that they look nice, and this makes them very low-maintenance.
The maintenance this plant requires is usually about keeping the plant looking as nice as you can, but this isn’t 100% necessary. You can prune your stems back at the end of the spring growing season to promote more compact and denser mature plants. However, under the right conditions, your balloon plants should look fine without the trim.
If your balloon flower stems look leggy or stretched, pruning the plants should fix it. During the fall, you want to cut back any and all dying stems to the ground level to ensure they bloom in the spring.
You can do more controlled trims in early or late spring, depending on how your balloon plants are performing. However, you need to do spring pruning very precisely because damaging the early growth will cause issues later in the summer. If pruning doesn’t fix the issues, the soil can have too much nitrogen. You should do a soil test to determine what the nutrient levels in the soil are and amend them to restore the balance that encourages strong flowering and upright growth.
You can easily deadhead any spent flowers throughout the spring and summer to promote more blooming and keep the plant neat. However, if you want to sow seeds the next season, you should keep the blooms on the plant until the pods dry out and you can pick them. If you don’t want to collect the seeds, it’s a good idea to remove the flowers at the end of the summer. The seeds will spread if you leave them alone, and you may find yourself removing errant plants if you don’t.
Balloon Flower Pests and Diseases
This hardy plant will have little or no issues with diseases under the right growing conditions. The most popular cultivars also have a degree of disease resistance, and they virtually eliminate them altogether. In humid, wet weather, or when the plant is stressed, you can find problems with crown rot, root rot, or powdery mildew. However, they’re unlikely to be a problem for your plant in most regions.
For pests, the balloon flower attracts snails and slugs in rainy weather. However, these unwanted pests can get lured away from the balloon flowers using a beer trap to stop them from eating the foliage. To make a beer trap, you’ll need a deep tray or a small bucket with a can of beer. Dig a hole in the bed and bury your bucket or tray so that the top is level with the soil. Fill it with a can of beer and wait for night to fall. The beer will draw in any snails or slugs into the trap and away from the balloon flowers. When they get inside the tray or bucket, they’ll drown in the liquid.
Balloon Flower Uses
Other than looking very nice in your garden or yard, the roots of this plant are popular for use in recipes and for medicinal uses. In the garden, this plant has a large range of uses too. They work well when you plant them alongside taller perennials in containers or beds, and they create a very interesting but informal display. The light drought tolerance makes them nice for rock gardens or planting by ornamental grasses.
For dwarf plants, consider putting them in a mixed planting container. The bigger blooms can stand out nicely amongst the foliage or complement the other plants. Ensure that each plant you put in the container grows in the same conditions to prevent the balloon flower from thriving while the other plant fails. Taller cultivars look nice when you mix them in a large bed with other perennials. When you pair them with shorter flowering plants, the blooms will help fill in the space over them.
Outside of the garden, it’s popular to use the Balloon flower root in Asian food. The root gets soaked in water, washed, and covered in salt to help draw out the bitter notes, just like you remove bitterness from an eggplant. You can find it used as a vegetable in some dishes, or it gets added to alcoholic drinks or desserts. The roots come packed with iron and calcium, and they’re popular for use in natural medicine for flu and colds by boosting the immune system.
Balloon Flower FAQs
It’s common to have questions about this unique flower, especially if it’s the first time you’re going to attempt to grow them.
We rounded up the most frequently asked questions about the balloon flower below for you.
1. Are balloon flowers hardy?
Balloon flowers are quite hardy, and they can withstand slightly colder temperatures without damage in zones as low as three. They won’t do well in higher temperatures, and they prefer cooler weather.
2. Will the flowers rebloom?
Chinese bellflowers are perennials that will bloom year after year. They may die back slightly when the colder winter months come around, or die back to the ground. However, they’ll come back in spring and flower again.
3. What can I plant with balloon flowers?
This flower acts like a nice companion plant for most flowering perennials as long as they don’t need a huge amount of water. Daylilies, bee balm, and salvias are all fantastic choices. You can also plant several cultivars of different colors together to create a uniform display.
4. Can you grow balloon flowers indoors?
A lot of people grow the balloon flower as a houseplant and use them as eye-catching displays in indoor container gardens. Put them in a bright and cool spot in your home and watch them flower.
5. Should you deadhead balloon flowers?
It’s not 100% necessary to deadhead this plant, but they perform best when you make a habit to do so. Various cultivars, particularly the double bloom ones, will respond very well to deadheading. If you want to harvest seeds from the plant, avoid deadheading.
6. What is the difference between the balloon plant and the balloon flower?
The balloon plant and the balloon flower are two different species. The balloon plant is a shrub that is a part of the milkweed family, produces yellow fruit balls, and it will get up over six feet tall.
7. How fast do balloon flowers grow?
If you plant your balloon flower early in the spring months after the frost recedes, they should bloom during this spring and summer. However, you can plant them in late spring to fall to get them to bloom the following spring.
Balloon flowers can be one of the ultimate flowering perennial plants in your yard. They are very low-maintenance, require little attention, propagate very well, and flower year in and year out, even in the first year. They have cute balloon-like blooms that explode and change into star-shaped flowers that are very eye-catching.
Plant your balloon flower from seedlings or seeds in containers or in garden beds and they’ll put on a show in the spring. Bring a few buds indoors to create a pretty cut flower display, or you can leave them intact for pops of color throughout the growing season. They will die back in the winter before returning to brighten up the space.