By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Half a flower is better than no flower at all. In the case of Scaevola fan flower plants, it is not only better but excellent. These Aussie natives produce pretty blossoms that look like part of a rayed flower has been cut off of the bloom. Growing fan flowers requires warm, sunny conditions and good drainage and aeration. They can tolerate brief periods of drought but tend to produce fewer blooms in humid regions. We have some tips on how to grow fairy fan flowers, another name for the plant, which will assure you success with these Down Under dainties.
Known botanically as Scaevola aemula, fan flower is in the Goodeniaceae family. These are mostly herb and shrub plants native to Australia and New Guinea. The plant’s Latin name means ‘left-handed,’ referring to the one sided nature of the blooms. They are hardy, tolerant plants that are suitable for containers, hanging baskets, rockeries or just dotted around the flower garden.
Gardeners who seek a relatively unfussy, non-stop bloomer for many areas of the landscape should try fairy fan flowers. The plants have been extensively hybridized, providing various colors and forms for the discerning green thumb. They are perennials in United States Department of Agriculture zones 9 to 11 but must be grown as annuals elsewhere.
The plants usually get only 8 to 10 inches (20 to 25 cm.) tall with thick stems and leaves and dentate margins. The blooms arrive all summer and are fan shaped, and most commonly blue but also come in white and pink. Fan flower plants spread out to up to 24 inches (60 cm.), making them attractive ground covers in well-drained soil.
The seed of most of hybrids is sterile and, therefore, not suitable for starting new plants. Even those that do produce viable seed are protected by royalty rights and must be propagated asexually. The most common method of propagation is through stem cuttings.
The best soils for growing fan flowers are loose, sandy media amended with compost or organic additions. Place cuttings in sand to root and then move them to amended soil. Cuttings need to be kept moderately moist in a warm location. Avoid southern and western exposures, as these can be too bright and hot for the plant.
Scavaeola cannot tolerate freezing temperatures and will die if exposed to cold. Temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 C.) will cause slow growth and eventually die back.
Provide eight hours of sunlight per day. Water regularly but make sure the plant is in loose soil, as they do not perform well in boggy areas.
Pinch back new growth if it gets leggy to force thicker plants. Remove weed competitors around in ground plants. Perennial plants benefit from fertilizer applied in spring just as new growth commences.
Caring for fan flowers in northern climates may necessitate a later start outside. Wait until soil warms up to at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15 C.) and daily lighting is bright enough. Scavaeola fan info on the internet indicates that it is an excellent plant for desert climates but grow it in winter. This will ensure the warm, but not blistering, level of heat this plant requires.
With proper care and site, fan flower will delight you with its tiny blooms from late spring until the end of the summer season.
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Tropicals and Tender Perennials
Average Water Needs Water regularly do not overwater
USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 °C (30 °F)
USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 °C (35 °F)
USDA Zone 11: above 4.5 °C (40 °F)
From herbaceous stem cuttings
Allow pods to dry on plant break open to collect seeds
This plant is said to grow outdoors in the following regions:
Manhattan Beach, California
Rancho Santa Fe, California
Summerville, South Carolina
On Jul 31, 2016, jlconcepts from Tulsa, OK (Zone 6a) wrote:
While we have not grown these ourselves yet we have seen that local nurseries are growing it very, very well in our zone (6a) which is not listed in the description as one of the zones it'll grow in. We plan to grow it ourselves next year but I wanted to add that just in case anyone else in our zone was wondering if it would grow well.
On Jun 29, 2015, RSFGardener from Rancho Santa Fe, CA wrote:
We're in San Diego County, about 10 miles inland, where it's a bit hotter and dryer than the coast. These Scaveola seem to be doing well with twice a week watering. A neighbor had a bunch of it thriving on a strip of what appears to be very dry dirt. Not all of our plants are faring so well with the new CA water restrictions. We planted some purple, white and pink ones in the front yard. They spread and bloomed all year round. The bees seem to love the purple ones in particular.
On Dec 21, 2012, oldhen28 from Paris, TX wrote:
These were all over town 2 years ago in our 75462 area(7a) and also about 100 miles NW of us. They are native to Australia and, according to a source there, note they do have to be watered well but they even withstand the very hot Out Back sun. They don't require deadheading and bloom profusely in our 80 -100+ temperature all summer clear through frost.
On Sep 25, 2012, Raebeling from Cottonwood, AZ wrote:
In Cottonwood, Arizona: very hot/dry. Did extremely well in container in hot location, continuous blooms all summer. Watered once/day (heat high 90's to 105). Good color.
On Sep 15, 2012, sunsetgarden from Port Orford, OR wrote:
Is this plant deer resistant? Southern Or. Coast
Sunset Garden - Joan McDow
On Sep 10, 2012, gardenforKathy from Virginia Beach, VA wrote:
I too have found the fan flower truly heat tolerant with bountiful flowers without need of deadheading. it has been beautiful in pots as long as I water daily and twice daily on really hot days. So beautiful that I would like to keep them over the winter, which in zone 7b can be rather cold. Has anyone been successful in bringing them indoors or using cuttings to restart in the spring?
On Aug 6, 2012, dixiebell0 from Sandersville, MS wrote:
This is the first year to use this plant. I love it!! It has lived through some of our worst heat and high humidity and just thrived.
On May 29, 2011, CTYankeegirl from Mystic, CT wrote:
Our town planted these last summer by the firehouse. They were absolutely gorgeous & bloomed from early summer through the frost. We had one of the worst summers last year, heat-wise it was 90+ for most of it and as other annuals succumbed to the baking heat, these beauties just kept blooming! They are amazing! I finally found the name of them & bought some myself for this year. A terrific hot weather flower. I'll always have these in my front yard from now on!
On Jul 4, 2010, nicholtammy from Huntsville,
I just bought the plant in flower one white and one purple I will put in a sunny spot thank you.
On Aug 3, 2008, dp72 from Woodway, TX (Zone 8a) wrote:
takes blazing Texas sun without complaint so long as it's watered often enough. when the temps are 100 or more that is twice a day (container plants). the purple and pink seem equally hardy.
On Jul 23, 2007, marysgarden from Wetumpka, AL wrote:
Great as annual in Alabama's hot humid summers. Survived one very mild winter in our 7b zone, but normally going to grow as an annual.
On May 19, 2004, bayouposte from Bossier City, LA (Zone 8a) wrote:
Fan flower was a constant joy last year, and I bought another this year and hope to make successful cuttings.
On May 18, 2004, Rarri from Glen Head, NY (Zone 7a) wrote:
This is a great sun loving plant. blooms continually from May thru October.. I have a yard lined with baskets of this plant on my fence..It does need to be thoroughly watered when the weather is hot..but often I see it completley wilted and revives within 12 hours when I give it a good drink.. So if you have a sunny spot.. try it.. you will love it..
On Oct 18, 2002, jkom51 from Oakland, CA (Zone 9b) wrote:
The flower-encrusted, cascading branches of scaevola make it an ideal choice for window boxes, hanging baskets, or tall containers where it's trailing form can flow over the container's edge. Scaevola, occasionally called fan flower, is a sun-loving annual that grows 8 to 12 inches tall and produces a non stop show of blue, pink, or white flowers. Because scaevola is an Australian native the plants are heat tolerant and have almost no insect or disease problems. Scaevola is also self cleaning so you don't have to remove the dead flowers to keep the plant in production. The plants attract butterflies and are generally avoided by deer. In very warm parts of the country it can be treated as a tender perennial. Hardy from zones 10-11
Email us and one of our flower gardening experts will get back to you.
Place scaevola in a location that receives at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight a day. Use a commercial potting mix if you are growing scaevola in containers. Water the plants when the surface of the soil begins to dry. Scaevola does not like super wet soil, but they also hate drying out and will wilt dramatically if thirsty.
Scaevola is not recommended for human or animal consumption.
Super-easy to grow
The cascading, fanning blue flowers of ‘Bombay Blue’ makes it a must-have for baskets and containers -- it trails 14 to 18 inches! ‘Bombay Blue’ also attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. It’s drought tolerant, too.
A rosy-pink variety that mixes well with its blue and white siblings, ‘Bombay Pink’ is also drought and heat tolerant. Use this beauty in containers or plant it in the garden as a groundcover.
Easy-care and self cleaning, ‘Bombay White’ offers a flurry of flowers for containers and hanging baskets. ‘Bombay White’ is an ideal choice for moon gardens its glowy flowers are easily visible at night.
Scaevola 'Scalora Amethyst'
Scalora Amethyst shows off lovely amethyst-blue flowers on a vigorous plant that flowers nonstop -- no matter how hot it gets. This variety was a top performer in our Trial Garden.
Scalora Topaz Pink
Scaevola 'Scalora Topaz Pink'
We loved how this heat-loving variety did in our Trial Garden! It bloomed profusely with soft pink flowers all summer on a plant that grew 10 inches tall and 18 inches wide.
We know we can count on scaevola to hold up in our Miami Trial Garden, and were pleased to see that Scampi Blue is one of the best we've tested. It shows off lots of violet-blue flowers on spreading plants that don't bat an eye at any type of weather. It grows 6 inches tall and 24 inches wide.
Just as easy as its blue cousin, Scampi Pink scaevola was a winner in our Gardens. It thrives in hanging baskets, window boxes, container gardens, as well as landscape and garden beds and borders. Scampi Pink grows 6 inches tall and 24 inches wide.
Surdiva Blue has been a top performer in our Trial Gardens. Featuring lavender-blue flowers, it holds up to heat and spreads 24 inches wide and grows 10 inches tall.
Surdiva Light Blue
Scaevola 'Surdiva Light Blue'
Surdiva Light Blue was a standout in our Trial Garden! It shows off light lavender-blue flowers nonstop all summer long.
Whirlwind White scaevola blooms nonstop all summer, no matter how hot and dry the weather gets. It features a steady supply of pure white flowers. The plant grows 10 inches tall and 24 inches wide.
Is your garden starting to show signs of life? Remove heavily mulched areas so spring-flowering bulbs can emerge from the ground.
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Scaevola aemula is a member of the family Goodenaceae. The widely known common name is Fairy Fan-flower, which pertains to the small size of the S. aemula plants.
It is distributed along the New South Wales and Victorian coastlines where it can be found in the form of a low growing perennial herb.
The plant may be either decumbent or ascending in growth with a height up to 60 cm tall. Hairs are present on the on the stems, flowers and fruits of the plant. On the stems the hairs are course and yellow in colour. The floral hairs are present on the inside and outside. The outer hairs are course and dense and the inner hairs are simple and give a bearded look to the inside of the flower.
The flowers have a beautiful fan shape with the typical colouration of purple, blue or mauve. This petal colour is combined with a white or more commonly a yellow centre to give a bright eye catching flower. The flowers grow at various points along the stems and they decrease in size from the top to the bottom of the plant. From spring through to the end of summer these flowers can be admired. This blooming time alters according to the length of summer and the temperatures of the season.
Although this plant is plant is not currently widely cultivated, it's fast growth rate and prolific flowering should soon change this. S. aemula is extremely versatile and is recommended for growing in pots as well as garden beds. It also is good for attracting birds and insects. The more decumbent forms of S. aemula have great potential as ground covers.
Seeds or cuttings can be used to propagate this plant. The seeds need to be sown fresh and the cutting need to be semi-ripe. The cuttings need to be placed in a sand-filled container and kept at warm temperatures. These plants are frost sensitive and do not do well in colder areas. S. aemula also requires well-drained sandy soil and a good sunny position.
S. aemula would make a great addition to any coastal garden or indoor area.
The plant illustrated on this page is sold as Scaevola aemula 'New Blue', one of the many cultivars.
Text by Ngaire Nunn (2002 Student Botanical Intern)
Scaevola - from the Latin scaevus, which means left-handed. This refers to the one-sided feature of the fan shaped corolla.
aemula - striving to, emulating, rivaling.
If you struggle to find a pretty plant for your woodland garden that the rabbits and deer won't bother, try low maintenance forget-me-not. In April and May, the plants are covered in bright blue flowers with cheerful yellow eyes. Although a short-lived perennial, the flowers will self-seed and return for many years in moist areas.
Common species of scaevola include sericea, which grows as a bushy shrub, and aemula, a short, herbaceous perennial that spreads rapidly. All types of scaevola bear white, pink or purple-blue flowers shaped like half-fans, with all five petals on one side of the blossom. Although indigenous to Australia and New Zealand, scaevola has spread to other tropical areas, including New Guinea, parts of Africa and Hawaii. Smaller scaevola varieties are available at garden centers as seedlings for use in flower beds or hanging baskets, while shrub-like forms may be found as container plants for use as landscape accents.
Fairy Blue Fan Flower flowers
Fairy Blue Fan Flower flowers
Fairy Blue Fan Flower features dainty lilac purple flowers along the stems from mid spring to late summer. Its small serrated oval leaves remain dark green in color throughout the season. The fruit is not ornamentally significant.
Fairy Blue Fan Flower is an herbaceous annual with a trailing habit of growth, eventually spilling over the edges of hanging baskets and containers. Its relatively fine texture sets it apart from other garden plants with less refined foliage.
This plant will require occasional maintenance and upkeep. Trim off the flower heads after they fade and die to encourage more blooms late into the season. It has no significant negative characteristics.
Fairy Blue Fan Flower is recommended for the following landscape applications
Fairy Blue Fan Flower will grow to be about 8 inches tall at maturity, with a spread of 24 inches. When grown in masses or used as a bedding plant, individual plants should be spaced approximately 18 inches apart. Its foliage tends to remain low and dense right to the ground. Although it's not a true annual, this fast-growing plant can be expected to behave as an annual in our climate if left outdoors over the winter, usually needing replacement the following year. As such, gardeners should take into consideration that it will perform differently than it would in its native habitat.
This plant does best in full sun to partial shade. It is very adaptable to both dry and moist growing conditions, but will not tolerate any standing water. It is considered to be drought-tolerant, and thus makes an ideal choice for a low-water garden or xeriscape application. It is not particular as to soil type or pH, and is able to handle environmental salt. It is somewhat tolerant of urban pollution. This is a selected variety of a species not originally from North America. It can be propagated by cuttings however, as a cultivated variety, be aware that it may be subject to certain restrictions or prohibitions on propagation.
Fairy Blue Fan Flower is a fine choice for the garden, but it is also a good selection for planting in outdoor containers and hanging baskets. Because of its trailing habit of growth, it is ideally suited for use as a 'spiller' in the 'spiller-thriller-filler' container combination plant it near the edges where it can spill gracefully over the pot. Note that when growing plants in outdoor containers and baskets, they may require more frequent waterings than they would in the yard or garden.