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Gardener's Dirt: Snapdragons add splash of color, fragrance to cool-season gardens

By Linda Hartman - Victoria County Master Gardener Edited by Charla Borchers Leon
Oct. 27, 2011 at 5:27 a.m.

The snapdragon flower resembles that of an opened mouth or jaw of a dragon that when pinched, "snaps" shut when let go. The shape of the bloom allows flying insects to pollinate the flower. Snapdragons come in pastels, like this one, as well as in bright colors, white and mixed varieties.

What child or adult can resist squeezing a snapdragon to watch the petals move up and down to form a mouth - the mouth of the dragon. As we watch the latest movies or read the "Harry Potter" books, all of us recall tales of dragons of long ago. This fascination with dragons is a long one, and the history of snapdragons is also lengthy.

Dragon fascination as old as history

Centuries ago people attributed magical properties to the snapdragon. In Germany, a bouquet of these flowers would insure that newborns would not fear evil spirits. In long ago Russia, it was believed that snapdragons could eliminate drowsiness and increase one's energy. Snapdragons were also thought to restore youth and beauty to women.

Thomas Jefferson documented the use of snapdragons at his childhood home and later at Monticello in the 1700s. A bouquet of snapdragons usually meant one would receive a proposal in the near future.

Originally from Mediterranean

The official name of snapdragons is "Antirrhinum majus." The scientific name was first defined by Carl von Linne (also known as Carl Linnaeus) in the year 1753, but snapdragons were also found among the Roman ruins. Originally from the Mediterranean area, the shape of the snapdragon allows flying insects to pollinate this flower.

Growing tips

Snapdragons are annuals that live best in rich, well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter. These plants do require full or partial sun.

From seeds/seedlings - When planting snapdragons from seed, allow about three weeks for germination at 70 degrees, which means plant outside now. In zones 8-10, seedlings started indoors may be moved outdoors in the fall for winter and spring flowering. The seeds of the snapdragons are very tiny, and many gardeners choose to purchase seedlings from a nursery. Mixing the seeds with fine sand will make it easier to evenly spread them into one's soil. Lightly press them into the soil's surface to prevent the wind from blowing them away. Always select rust resistant varieties of snapdragons.

Spacing/care - It is important to space the young plants in your garden. Those snapdragons that will reach the height of 48 inches will need to be spaced 12 inches apart, while the shorter plants may be placed closer together. The rust fungus can be minimized by providing ample spacing and airflow between plants and not wetting the foliage when watering. The plants of the snapdragon will benefit from deadheading, which will prolong flowering. Feeding the plants will also add to the life of the trimmed flowers. Remember to pinch the tips of young plants to encourage branching. Fertilize once a month for continued enjoyment.

Colorful blooms

In the 1950s, snapdragons were one of the most popular plants in gardens, but the colors were few. Now, snapdragons can be found in nearly every color, except blue. Colors include pastels, brights, deep maroons, whites and combinations.

Various sizes

There is also a wide selection of sizes. The categories are dwarf, medium and tall. Series, such as the "Floral Carpet," grow to 6-8 inches, the "Pixie" grows 7-9 inches, the "Liberty" series grows 18-22 inches, the "Madam Butterfly" mixture grows 24-30 inches, the "Bright Butterflies" mixture grows 24-36 inches, while the "Rocket" series can grow 30-36 inches tall.

Excellent for cutting, fragrance, buttlerflies and hummers

According to Lewis and Nancy Hall in The Flower Gardener's Bible, snapdragons are recommended as a plant that is excellent for cutting and for fragrance. Snapdragons are a perfect addition to the cottage garden. These beauties attract the larvae of butterflies, especially the buckeye, and the hummingbirds enjoy the nectar throughout the blooming season.

Plan to enjoy the beautiful snapdragons in your garden during the cool months. The butterflies, the hummingbirds, the flying insects and your family and friends will benefit from your efforts.

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or, or comment on this column at



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