How to Grow Torenia, the Attention Grabbing Wishbone Flower

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The warm season is upon us, so it’s time to prepare your flower garden for the summer. Some flowering plants are perennial, but actually, the majority of them need replanting every year. If you’re looking for fresh new ideas, and want a plant to capture your looks as soon as you enter the garden, the wishbone flower is for you. This bloom, also known as torenia, will paint your garden in bold colors that will last throughout the hot summer.

Pale torenias growing in a bush
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

What Is the Wishbone Flower?

If you haven’t heard of torenia the wishbone flower, you’ll have a great surprise when you’ll see it for the first time. The annual plant is well-known for its bushy stems, full of weirdly shaped flowers that are usually colored in two shades. Torenia comes from the same family as snapdragons and is native to some areas in Africa and Asia. Therefore, this is what explains its exotic looks and versatility.

When Do They Bloom?

The wishbone flower might be an annual, but at least you can enjoy its blooms for a prolonged period of time. You’ll start seeing the first flowers near the end of spring or the beginning of summer. Unlike most flowering plants, torenia will keep its blooms up until the first frost. You might have to plant it every year, but at least your efforts will be rewarded.

Where Does the Name Come From?

Torenia has many nicknames, but the wishbone flower is probably the most popular. The plant has some big stamens that form an arch shape, and join at the tip. This formation resembles the shape of a wishbone, hence the name of wishbone flower. However, this shape doesn’t last forever. When bees come and pollinate the plant, the wishbone formation breaks.

However, this is not the only name given to the plant. Clown flower is another common denomination, which can be easily explained by its weird resemblance to a clown face. Bluewing is the last name of torenia, meaning that the first plants in the species that entered our country belonged to the classic purple-blue variety.

Why Choose Wishbone Flowers for Your Garden?

The bicolored flowers come in all kinds of shades apart from the popular blue-purple combination. Some other nice nuances are pink, yellow, or even white. The plants are perfect as edges for other flowers, as they look great along alleyways or in stone formations. They can easily start trailing, so they will look good when planted in hanging containers.

How to Grow Torenia

The great thing about the wishbone flower being annual is its accessibility. The flower thrives the best in hot and humid conditions, but you can actually grow the flower anywhere. It can resist scorching summer days, as well as the colder weather up until the first frost. Therefore, you won’t have much to worry about when doing the planting and caring.

Choose the Right Soil

Fortunately, the wishbone flower does not require much in terms of soil. It needs no specific pH, so you can plant it anywhere. However, it thrives well in a soil that drains well but is still relatively moist. For this, you’ll need some loam, which is a mix of clay, sand, and some silt. This way, the soil will retain a bit of water without soaking the roots.

Two wishbone flowers colored in magenta and white
Image source: Flickr

Choose the Right Place

The wishbone flower is pretty resistant, so you shouldn’t worry about killing it right after planting. However, you still need to pay attention to some details. Torenia can handle summer heat, but it’s still better if you plant it in a shady place. Avoid exposing it to direct sunlight, and opt for partial to full shade instead. Also, you can help the plant cope with the heat by watering it a lot more often during summer.

Choose the Right Moment for Planting

It will take a little longer for torenia to germinate, so it won’t help too much if you plant it directly outside. Therefore, you can start the seeds indoors between ten and twelve weeks before the last frost date.

Pick up some paper pots and fill them with compost soil. Make sure it is rich in nutrients so that you can kickstart the germination without any problems. However, it will need plenty of light to be possible, so covering the seeds with soil will stop this process. Do not apply any layers above them, or you can cover them but very lightly.

Help the Seeds Germinate

This means you should be careful with the place where you’ll keep them. Choose a place with plenty of sunlight, as you already know this is mandatory. Make sure this place is warm, as lower temperatures will put too much pressure on the seeds and they won’t grow. Set up a thorough watering schedule, and be careful with the small roots while adding the water.

Once the seedling reaches about 3 inches in height, you can pinch off the top of the plant. This way, it will grow bushier, since you will make the plant have more branches.

Transplanting the Plants Outside

If you live in a warmer climate, you can plant the wishbone flower directly outside. Pick a date that is about one week before your last frost date. However, if you want to make sure the plants will survive, it’s better to opt for the starting inside option. In this case, you should know how to transplant the seedlings.

This operation is a bit tough for torenia, which doesn’t enjoy switching growing places. This is why you should do the initial planting in paper pots. This way, you can insert the entire pot into the new outdoor growing space without causing a big shock for the plant. Before the frost is over, start hardening off the plant. This means allowing it to spend some time outside and exposing it to lower temperatures.

Make holes in the soil, and place the paper pots six inches apart from one another. Remember that the plant needs some relatively moist soil, without being excessively soggy. If you cannot use loam, you can add some sand before doing the planting, and then preserve the moisture with mulch.

How to Care for the Wishbone Flower

To take advantage of the long blooming period of these flowers, you need to know how you should be taking care of them. If they don’t have the proper conditions, the plants won’t last from the end of spring until the end of fall. The good news is there’s not much you need to do to maintain the plant healthy.


Of course, this step is important for all plants. The wishbone flower needs regular watering, especially during hot summer days. It might be resistant to heat, but you can maintain this resistance only with abundant water. When the weather is a little milder, you can switch to a normal watering schedule.


You have probably chosen torenia thanks to its unique flowers and its bushy stems. To keep the plants healthy and beautiful, you’ll need to resort to fertilizing from time to time. Twice a month, you should feed the wishbone flower with some special plant food. Pick a variety that has plenty of phosphorus. You can achieve the same bushy aspect with deadheading but, most of the time, the practice isn’t really necessary.

Diseases and Pests

There aren’t many threats to the wishbone flower that you can’t avoid with proper care. It might be attacked by fungal disease, but planting the flowers at some distance from each other should keep the environment well aerated. This won’t allow the fungi to thrive and attack the plants’ roots and stems.

In some cases, the torenia roots might rot. Many people often misunderstand the needs of the plant and tend to overwater it just to keep the soil moist. In such cases, it gets way too soggy, and the roots end up rotting. This is why it’s better to use loam or other techniques to maintain moisture without overdoing the watering.

Wishbone Flower Varieties

There are several types of torenia that are perfect for growing in a flower garden. You can choose the one you like either based on its looks or on the conditions it thrives in. The summer wave torennias, for instance, are ideal if you are not so good at taking care of flowers. They can cope with humidity a lot better than other varieties.

The other types are different only in terms of color. Before planting, make sure the shades go well with the surrounding plants. Torenia flava, for instance, is well-known for its yellow flowers with golden tips that make perfect decorations for flower baskets. If you still want paler colors, Torenia fournieri is another good variety, offering pink, lavender, or white blooms. For the bravest people, midnight blue and large blue varieties are the splash of color you need in your garden.

Purple wishbone flower with a yellow center
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Can the Growing Conditions for Gladiolus be Applied to Growing Torenia?

Yes, the growing conditions for gladiolus in the backyard can also be applied to growing torenia. Both plants thrive in well-draining soil, full sun to partial shade, and regular watering. Providing proper space and maintaining soil pH levels will ensure both plants flourish in a backyard garden setting.

Can Torenia Flowers Survive and Thrive in Winter?

Yes, Torenia flowers can be gorgeous winter garden flowers if given proper care and attention. With the right winter protection, such as mulching and watering, Torenia can survive and thrive in cooler temperatures, adding color and life to your garden during the winter months.

Summing Up

Torenia is the plant you need if you want to make a bold statement. The appealing flowers with the odd shapes look great in hanging baskets, across alleyways, but even in regular rows. No matter what you choose, either the strong hues or the pale colors, the wishbone flower is the perfect annual that will stay in bloom throughout summer until the first frost.

Image source: Flickr

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