In most of the Deep South, fall is the time to plant snapdragons. While they can be purchased and set out in the early spring, these spring planted snapdragons never reach the fullness and vigor of their fall planted compatriots.
Members of the Plantaginaceae family, snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus) are technically short-lived tender perennials usually grown as annuals. Hailing from the Mediterranean region, plants are hardy in USDA Zones 7-10. Plants may be erect or spreading, and they have alternate, lance-shaped, leaves. Plants with dark colored flowers have dark green or reddish stems while those with white or light colored flowers have light green stems. Flowers are borne in terminal clusters (racemes), and the corolla of each flower is tubular, pouched, and forms a mouth. The upper lip is two-lobed and the lower lip is three-lobed, with the lips turning outward. Individual flowers may be the “dragon” type or the open “butterfly” type.
Selecting and Growing Snapdragons
Snapdragons come in several sizes and in various colors. Select the tall, erect types that reach two to three feet tall for cutting gardens and back of the border; the intermediates reaching one to two feet tall for bedding and mixed borders; or the dwarf types reaching eight to twelve inches tall for beds, front of the border, edgings, window boxes, and other containers. If a ground-cover effect is wanted, the rock garden hybrids spread out and grow a mere six inches tall. Colors range from pastel tints to bright colors or bicolors, including tints and tones of white, yellow, pink, red, orange, peach, and purple.
Snaps, as they are often called, grow best in full sun and moist, well-drained soil. Partial shade can help in locations where full summer sun is too intense. Snapdragons prefer cool temperatures and tend to burn out in intense summer heat. They are often planted in the fall in Zones 7 and southward where they will survive the winter and put on a spectacular spring show as long as temperatures remain above freezing. In cold regions of the country snapdragons are summer annuals that are killed to the ground by very cold weather.
Although new plants can be started from seeds, most nurseries and big box stores have snaps a-plenty in fall, and they are relatively inexpensive. Many gardeners in areas with cool summers take cuttings in fall and overwinter them for replanting the following spring. Plant seedlings in prepared soil and pinch the stems when young to promote bushiness. After the first flush of bloom, cut back hard and fertilize for a repeat performance.
Watch for and control cultural problems if they occur. If rust appears in a planting, choose another part of the garden the following year. Avoid watering with overhead sprinklers if possible to prevent mold, fungal leaf spots, downy mildew, wilt and root rots. Watch for and control aphids with sprays of insecticidal soap or other appropriate controls, and stake tall plants if needed.
Several series are available in a wide range of colors. Tall cultivars frequently available include ‘Panorama’, ‘Burpee’s Topper’, ‘Spring Giant’, and ‘Rocket’. If you wish to grow the intermediate cultivars, select from such cultivars as ‘Princess’, ‘Liberty’, ‘Sonnet’, ‘Pixie’, ‘Sprite’, and ‘Cinderella’. Dwarf cultivars include ‘Tahiti’, ‘Royal Carpet’, ‘Kolibri’, ‘Floral Showers’, and ‘Floral Carpet’.
Snapdragons for Cutting
Those who grow snapdragons primarily for cut flowers most likely grow the tall to intermediate types. To get the most of cut snaps, select full flowerheads that show no sign of aging and that have stems with flowers in three stages of development. Flowers should be fully open at the lowest part of the spike, have some with showing color with partially opened flowers near the top, and a few unopened buds at the tip. This will make your bouquet last longer, as buds will continue to open toward the tip.
Plunge cut stems immediately in tepid water. Set aside in a cool place and allow them to condition for at least a couple of hours. Before placing in your arrangement, make sure to remove any spent flowers and dirt or debris. Using a bit of floral preservative will help your flowers last longer. Place your finished bouquet in a room away from air conditioning or heating vents, and change water daily.
With just a bit of care in selecting the proper type for the garden and providing cultural conditions to their liking, almost anyone can have snapdragons to decorate their outdoor and indoor spaces. Gardeners in the South are heading to the nurseries to make their selections about now while those who live in places with very cold winters are taking cuttings and planning to overwinter them for replanting next spring. Gardeners do whatever they must to include these colorful plants in their gardens, whatever the appropriate season.
Picture credits: Thanks to these Dave's Garden contributors: jenny_in_SE_PA for 'Debutante'; dicentra63 for 'Twinny Peach'; and victorianblue for 'Double Azalea Pink'.
Serving as a Master Flower Show Judge, a Floral Design Instructor, instructor of horticulture for National Garden Clubs, and a University of Florida Master Gardener immerses me in gardening/teaching activities. In addition to these activities, I contribute regularly to Florida Gardening magazine and other publications. I am author of four gardening books, all published by Pineapple Press, Sarasota, Florida. Read about them and visit me at www.mariesgardenanddesign.com.