Snapdragons – For Flower Borders that make an Impact

One of the most beautiful flower borders I ever remember having was a first year flower border when we moved to our current abode in October of 1998.

Bill tilled the borders in front of the house in November and I quicky put in some basic perennials. The next summer  brought severe drought — but in spite of all that — that first year flower border was just beautiful.  And as pretty as it’s been in various years — I still remember that first year as being the most breathtaking.

You know what it was that made those borders more beautiful than any others since then?  It was showy snapdragons that made a significant impact on the appearance of those borders.

And no — unfortunately I don’t have any pictures to show you.  That was 15 years ago and Bill didn’t have the digital camera then. And I’ve not grown snapdragons in profusion since then for one reason or the other.

Why not buy plants?

If you’re wondering why I didn’t buy a flat of snapdragon plants  — (since in those days — flats were pretty reasonable)  — it’s because I’ve never had nursery grown snapdragons perform well for me.  The ones I’ve grown from seed have always been much stronger, more beautiful and longer lasting. The chemical fed ones from the nursery just don’t do well — for me at least.

Sow now – inside or via wintersown.

Finally, this winter I ordered snapdragon seed and I’ve sown the seed today via the wintersown method. Ideally it would have been better to start this process two weeks ago.

I think we’ll have enough nights below freezing that they’ll get the required chill time.  If all goes well they should germinate in about two weeks.

Because of the investment I’ve made with these seeds, I’ll probably pot up the seedlings and let them grow some good roots before I transplant to the flower borders.  They love the cool weather and frost won’t be a problem for them.

SOIL – As with so many plants — snapdragons LOVE soil that is rich in organic matter and well drained. Make sure you work the soil well in the area they’re planted.  They like to be planted in loose soil. (Firm them in after planting of course.)
SPACING – They need some room to grow. Space between plants will really be determined by the mature size of the variety.  10 to 12 inches apart is usually good for the tall ones.  6 to 8 inches for the short ones.

SUN – Mine were placed in my front borders where they received morning shade and afternoon sun. They performed beautifully and didn’t seem to mind that morning shade. I think as long as they get at least six hours of sun they’ll be fine.

More economical to buy one larger package

I spent a nice chunk of my flower seed budget on those dragon seeds.  Each package ranged a $1.99, $2.49, or $3.99 depending on the variety.   It really pays to buy the larger packages.  Although 50 seeds come in those smaller packets, I had forgotten how tiny they are. So tiny that it makes 50 seem like about 10.

Since it’s been so long since I’ve grown them but wanted to try several new varieties — and some of the old ones too — I ended up with the small packets.

Different Varieties

  • Years ago I use to grow Chimes — a short variety (6 to 8 inches tall).  I ordered some this time — and now regret it.  It was not the best choice since the taller ones are the ones that make an even more spectacular show. (I do think if you could place the short ones in the perfect spot — they could make as much of a statement as the tall larger ones.  But I never did find that perfect spot.)
  • Also got a package of Rocket Mix which is one of the finest snapdragons for flower gardens and flower borders.
  • I ordered one package of Madame Butterfly which I also grew years ago.  They’re exquisite and were always among my favorites.

Once I got them planted — I dropped the jug. Since snapdragon seed is so small and has to be sown on top and left uncovered, I have a feeling I may not be getting any Madame Butterfly dragons this year.

  • Liberty Classic use to be a favorite. This time around I opted for La Bella Series Mix and White instead because they’re said to bloom a good two to three weeks longer than any other.
  • Another one that I found irresistible was a Aromas hybrid snapdragon. (Bad choice only if you want to save seed that grows true to the parent.). BUT — the picture showed the most gorgeous fuchsia color I’ve ever seen.
  • I also chose a package of the Chantilly variety that comes in the deepest red/orange you’ve ever seen. Chantilly is a very tall variety sometimes reaching 4 feet. The color as well as the plant itself is a real traffic stopper —  making a spectacular show.

The possible temporary Disadvantage of having Too Few of Too Many

Since I’ve not grown snapdragons in so long, I really wanted to try some of these new varieties and the old ones as well.  The only disadvantage is — the number of seeds does not equal the number of seedlings.  So when you have only one of those small packets — and you’re always dealing with lots of variables in weather etc. — it’s a toss of a coin as to how many dragons you’ll get.

Bottom line is — they’ll be pretty of course, but I may not have enough to put on the show I want.

Solution is easy, but takes a year.

I’ll determine this year — which variety I want to grow the most.  I’ll also let some of the open-pollinated ones go to seed and save seed for next year.  If I have to purchase seed again I’ll buy a package with at least a 1,000 seeds rather than 50. You’d be amazed at how much more economical it is.

 Bloom Time

Blooms comes and go over several months. If the weather stays cool into early summer your dragons will love it and reward you with spectacular growth and bloom.

They’ll start to diminish with the approach of summer heat when temperatures stay above 80 degrees. With the right pruning they have the potential to bloom again when the cooler temperatures return in the fall.

How to get the Most Bloom

  • To keep your snapdragons blooming to the max –  deadhead the bloom before the flowers turn to seed pods.
  • Trim any spent blooms down to where you see new green growth in the plant.
  • Remove any withered side spikes.
  • Trim any side branches (spikes) that do not have blooms. (This allows the snapdragon to continue it’s defining upward growth rather than growing in width.)
  • As hot weather approaches and bloom finishes, prune the plant down to about 6 to 8 inches. This promotes strength and growth for fall.

If you want to Save Seed

Snapdragons are tender perennials and will die out when winters are severe. So you may want to allow some of your plants to produce seed for the next year.  Just keep in mind that the bloom on ones allowed to produce seed will be finished for the year.  They won’t bloom again in the fall.

Like most plants — snapdragons going to seed are not particularly attractive.  You might try cutting the plant back but leaving a few low-on-the-plant lateral branch blooms to produce the seed.

NOTE: Snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus) are related to foxglove and as with foxgloves, every part of the plant and blossoms are poisonous if ingested.

Final Thoughts

If you want a border that’s a show stopper and that will make a lasting impression, buy a package of snapdragon seed that has at least 1,000 seeds and get them started.  They take a bit more effort than most plants, but the rewards are worth it!


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2 comments to Snapdragons – For Flower Borders that make an Impact

  • Barbara Elkin

    I grew Aromas last year and they are really beautiful and they bloomed all fall until we got the hard freeze last month. I am growing more this year and seeing how they work wintersowing them.


  • Theresa

    Barbara, thank you so much for letting me know how much you enjoyed your Aromas last year. Now I can hardly wait to see mine! I hope they’ll do as well as yours.
    Did you start yours inside last year?

    P.S. What state are you in Barbara. You may have mentioned it before, but I don’t recall. Thanks.

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