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Fan Flower: How To Grow & Care For Scaevola
There are approximately 72 species of scaevola, of which 40 occur naturally in Western Australia and are part of the Goodeniaceae family. Known botanically as Scaevola aemula, the fan flower spread from Australia to North America through the island chains of the pacific and similarly amenable zones of the Caribbean, the Americas, and Africa.
Other names for the fan flower variety of scaevola are:
- Sparking fan
- White fan
- Fan dancer
- Purple fan
- Fairy fan
- Aussie crawl
The spectacular fan-like flowers give this genus its common name. Scaevola means “left-handed” and likely alludes to the one-sided nature of the five-lobed tubular corolla shape of the flowers. Scaevola was a Roman who famously placed his right hand in a fire to show his allegiance to his faith, thus, the epithet.
Hawaiian legend tells us that “Naupaka,” the local name for scaevola, came from a scorned woman who tore the flower in half and angered the gods so much that they made all scaevola into half flowers.
The fan flower (Scaevola aemula) is an excellent evergreen perennial often grown as an annual in suitable climates.
The scaevola has a wild look with spiralized green tendrils surrounding brightly colored fan-shaped flowers. The leaves are oval-shaped with spiked edges. The blooms can come in blue, pink, white, or lilac with a distinctive white or yellow throat.
The flowers grow in clusters creating punches of colors over groundcover or as hanging plants. Their growth habit is compact and moulds to their environment. Peak bloom seasons are spring, summer, and fall, with spot flowers at other times.
They will reach 6-14 inches tall and 1-2 feet in width at maturity.
They are fast-growing ground cover flowers making for an excellent en masse display. In addition, they add an equally bright pop of color to hanging baskets, pots, or trailing over a wall or deck planter.
Let’s Get Growing
Ideal Growing Conditions
This plant is a perennial in USDA zones 9-11 but can be an annual everywhere else. Scaevola is a light-loving plant that needs 6-8 hours of full sun daily. They are robust, but if offered less light, they will still thrive but likely produce fewer blooms.
This plant does best at 70° to 85°F. They can do well down to 60°F, but flowering will not be as robust or potentially delayed.
They are very hardy in heat and tolerant to dry conditions. The thick stems ensure drought tolerance even in triple-digit temperatures.
These plants are well planted in low-water garden areas and even in coastal areas where they are salt air tolerant.
As a saline-resistant plant, the Dune Fan Flower can be planted along dunes to create groundcover, stop erosion, and create a living space for marine and estuarine macroinvertebrates.
Overall, scaevola is a forgiving plant, so much so that Better Homes & Gardens ranked it as one of its “Five Container Annuals That You Can’t Kill.”
Growing Scaevola From Seed
Most scaevola are purchased from seedlings grown at the nursery. Scaevola seeds are quite small, and hybrid varieties of seeds can be sterile and will not germinate. Although they can be unreliable germinators, with the proper care and conditions, it is possible to yield successful results with true seeds.
To sprout scaevola from seed:
- Wait until the end of spring after the first frost has passed.
- Sow the seeds by just barely covering them with a sprinkling of potting mix.
- During this stage, germination will require more moisture than the mature plant. Mist lightly each day.
- Care for them indoors for at least two months.
- Maintain the environment around 70°F in a bright location but out of direct sunlight.
- Depending on seed viability and external conditions, germination will usually take 30-60 days.
- Once the second set of leaves is spotted, the seedlings can be moved outdoors to a warm sunny location for a hardening off period to acclimate them.
- Take care not to transplant until the soil has reached 65°F or higher.
If you choose to make your scaveola a container plant, use a lightweight potting mix with a good ratio of peat moss and perlite or vermiculite. Clay pots with good drainage make an excellent home for scaevola plants.
Growing Scaevola From Propagation
Propagating scaevola is an easy way to multiply this showy bloomer. Propagation is usually done through root stem cutting at summer's end. The propagated cuttings can be taken inside to start their establishment period.
To grow scaevola through root stem cutting:
- Use sharp pruners to cut a 4-6” section of a non-blooming stem.
- Remove the bottom leaves, leaving at least two pairs at the top.
- Dip the end of the cutting into a root hormone solution.
- Plant in a nutrient dense commercial soil.
- Place in a bright location inside.
- Maintain a temperature of at least 70°F.
- Keep the cutting just barely moist, taking care not to create soggy conditions.
- A supportive root network should form in about one month when it is then ready to take outside.
- Give scaevola propagation a one-week hardening period before transplanting them in soil with a temperature of at least 65°F or higher.
Scaevola is not picky about soil pH or quality but will not withstand soggy conditions. After they are established, scaevola only need to be watered when the soil feels dry to the touch.
These plants can be watered twice a week at the base. The addition of mulch around the base of the plant will also help to conserve moisture and inhibit weed growth.
Long Term Care
Whether potting or planting scaevola amongst companion plants in the garden, it is important to consider the soil. While scaevola is quite forgiving, it prefers a sandy media amended with comport or an organic addition.
To encourage the most robust blooms from scaevola, fertilize them regularly with water-soluble fertilizer or a slow release granular variety. Both release nutrients on a more gradual basis giving plants food over a sustained period of time. As a perennial plant, scaevola prefers fertilizer in the early spring before new growth commences.
Scaevola is a low-maintenance plant that does not require deadheading but may benefit from pinching pack some of the foliage occasionally to stimulate new growth and a bushy appearance.
In frost-free zones 10 and 11, scaevola will live indefinitely as they offer an ideal environment for this annual flower. In other zones, scaevola are pulled up and discarded as winter approaches if they cannot be moved inside.
How To Get Scaevola To Bloom
Scaevola are generally easy bloomers from early summer up until the first frost. If temperatures are above 60°F and scaevla’s blooms are anemic, the soil could be the culprit. The quality of the soil can affect the plant's ability to bloom at its best. If this is the case, try a monthly feeding of liquid fertilizer to jump-start the blooming process.
Fungal Disease/Pest Infestation
Scaevola attracts the usual garden pests if the conditions are favorable. Plants stressed by drought may attract common garden pests such as aphids, scales, caterpillars, and thrips that can attack when they are vulnerable.
Take care if using insecticide as these plants attract hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, and other pollinating insects.
If scaevola fails, it is usually due to overwatering and poor soil drainage.
Scaevola are a showpiece on their own but also pairs exceptionally well with other heat-loving summer annuals. Sweet Potato vines, gerbera daisies, and salvia make great companion plants in landscaping.
If you are creating a container garden or hanging basket, Mexican zinnias, calibrachoa, and tropical hibiscus also do well in similar dry soil conditions and complement each other's vibrant colors.