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Scientists spent 10 years developing new specimen called 'Below Zero'
It will remain in bloom in snowfalls and harsh frosts
The trial ground was at the bottom of Mount Vesuvius in Italy
Gardeners may be fearing for their flower beds as cold conditions continue into spring, but one newly created plant could provide a solution.
Botanists have produced the first frost-proof petunias, which are so hardy they can withstand winter.
The popular bedding plant usually yields colourful trumpet-shaped flowers from spring to autumn and is wiped out by the first frosts. But scientists have now grown a much tougher variety after ten years of experiments.
The new specimen, named Below Zero, can cope with temperatures of -10C and carries on flowering long after other summer bedding plants have faded. It will even remain in bloom after snow and harsh frosts.
It will even remain in bloom in snowfalls and harsh frosts.
The new hybrid petunia has grown and tested at the foot of Mount Vesuvius in Italy, which is consistently chilly during the winter months.
The exhaustive process began in 2003 by mixing different types of petunia together, or cross-hybridising.
Countless trials involving breeders planting out the hybrid varieties then took place, with the most hardiest of plants being selected for the next process.
The plants have been undergoing outdoor tests in Ipswich, Suffolk, for the last three years.
Now garden experts are satisfied with their durability the new petunia 'Below Zero' plant has gone on sale exclusively through mail-order supplier Van Meuwen.
Flowers will show about five or six colours of different shades of pink, purple and red.
Andrew Tokdly, horticultural manager at Lincolnshire-based Van Meuwen, said: 'This type of petunia has been in the making for the last ten years.
'Our breeders in Italy are very protective over their secrets behind it.
'The trial ground was at the bottom of Mount Vesuvius, just south of Naples.
'It gets extremely cold there during the winter, with temperatures as low as minus ten degrees.
'They did a selection course which took a number of years, planting the petunias outside.
'They are now up to such a standard that if you were to plant then in winter time you would get flowers in your garden.
'It is a vigorous plant, achieved through a process of cross-hybridisation.
'They were trialled outside in Ipswich for three years prior to launch to make sure they were hardy enough for the UK.
'Parts of the UK get cold and hard frosts but these plants will withstand that.
'Over winter it won't produce as many flowers as it will during the summer but you will certainly get a good number.
'Then come the following spring it will be looking very promising, nice and early.'
The petunia 'Below Zero' plants come in batches of five plugs and cost £7.
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