Platycodon (Balloon Flower)
A wondrously whimsical perennial species, balloon flower is as stunning as it is unique, providing excellent interest in the landscape unlike any other bloom. Platycodon grandiflorus (plat-ee-KO-don gran-dih-FLOR-us), belonging to the bellflower family, Campanulaceae, is the only member of the Platycodon genus, native to eastern Asia including China, Korea, Japan, and eastern Russia. Commonly known as balloon flower, Platycodon grandiflorus is named for its unique swollen flower buds.
First blooming in the early summer and reblooming throughout the season, Platycodon flowers are star-shaped blooms up to three inches across, comprised of five petals fused at their base, much like their relative, the bellflowers (Campanula), the name Platycodon itself derived from the Greek platys, meaning broad, and kodon, meaning bell. However, their buds swell as they develop, appearing to inflate like little balloons before finally “popping” to reveal their large, colorful flowers. Platycodon bloom either in clusters or as individual blooms, reliably reblooming throughout the summer, especially with regular deadheading. Balloon flowers range in color from soft blues and purples to light pinks or white, in single or semidouble blooms, including the light pink blooms of ‘Astra Pink,’ semidouble blue-purple blooms of ‘Astra Semi-Double Blue,’ and bright white blooms of ‘Twinkle™ White.'
Slow to emerge in the spring, not breaking dormancy until late spring, balloon flowers quickly grow to form a loosely upright mound of lance-like, blue-green leaves that later take on purple and yellow fall color. Platycodon are available in a variety of sizes, with many dwarf cultivars maturing to less than 12” tall, while other, larger varieties can reach upwards of 30” tall, typically forming a mound around 12-18” wide. Balloon flowers are a fantastic addition to low sunny borders, cottage gardens, and rock gardens, and are excellent as standalone features or massed as a specimen or showy groundcover depending on species.
Platycodon are easy care, animal resistant perennials, thriving in full or part sun conditions in moist, well-drained soils. However, balloon flowers will not tolerate consistently wet or poorly drained soils and should not be moved once planted unless necessary to avoid stressing plants and disturbing their fragile, fleshy roots. If taller plants tend to flop, stems may be cut back by half in May to reduce plant height without affecting bloom production.