Each year the National Garden Bureau (ngb.org/year-of) names plants
of the year, with the annual flower (lives only one year) for 2019 being
snapdragon. This upright flower is easy to grow, has multiple garden
uses, and comes in a multitude of colors.
Although snapdragons are winter-hardy in warmer climates (USDA zones 7
to 10, such as the mid-Atlantic states and south), the fact that they
need cooler temperatures to bloom well makes them a good choice for
northern summer gardens. If day temperatures remain in the 80’s,
flowering will slow down, and plants may even die if it gets too hot.
They may go semi-dormant during the heat of mid-summer, reblooming when
cooler temperatures return.
Since snapdragons generally withstand some cold, they’re good
candidates to plant in early spring. Since plants you buy may not have
been “hardened” off to the cold from their cozy greenhouse homes, it’s a
good idea to expose them to outdoor temperatures for a week or two
prior to planting. While hardened plants can withstand a light frost,
and plants can survive temperatures in the 20’s (blooms may not), those
you buy should be brought indoors or protected (with frost covers) from
The scientific genus name (Antirrhinum) comes from the Greek
words “anti” meaning “like”, and “rhin” meaning nose or snout, referring
to the flower shape. The dragon-shaped flowers are favorites with
children, pinching the sides to make the flowers “snap” open like a
mouth. Flowers come in most colors, except for blue. Bicolors are
popular and attractive, the “throat” of the flower usually being white
and the “lip” being another color such as red.
Flowers are produced along the tops of upright stalks, the heights
varying with cultivar (cultivated variety). While the dwarf selections
are good in pots or massed, the larger ones are good in backs of beds
and borders, or used as cut flowers. The dwarf ones are the type usually
found in garden stores, while the taller ones you may need to start
yourself from seeds (indoors, 6 to 10 weeks prior to planting outside).
Most snapdragons have a pleasant fragrance, noticed especially on
calm days, along walks, and when they’re planted in a mass. They
attract pollinators that can handle the relatively (for them) large
flowers, including hummingbirds, bumble bees, and other large bees. Yet
they tend not to attract rabbits and deer. They are on edible flower
lists as they can be eaten by humans, but are more decorative than tasty
(being bland to bitter, depending on selection).
When planting, space plants 6 to 8 inches apart. If you’d like more
bushy plants, especially of taller selections, you can pinch tops off
plants when they’re 4 to 6 inches tall. You’ll get more, but delayed,
blooms this way. These can be spaced 8 to 12 inches apart. Prepare
soil, and fertilize, as you would for other annual flowers.
When watering, water deeply so the fibrous roots will go deeper in
the soil. This will help prevent them from toppling. The taller
selections, however, still may need staking or support (as with netting
or strings between posts). Keeping spent flowers removed
(“deadheading”) after bloom will help keep them reblooming and, if the
season is wet, will help prevent gray mold or botrytis disease forming
on old flowers.
Trailing snapdragons include the Candy Showers series and Cascadia
mix (a mix of colors). Instead of growing upright, these are low and
trailing, which makes them great for raised beds, planters, and hanging
Dwarf series (a variety of colors) grow 8- to 12-inches tall, and
include Floral Showers (often includes bicolors), Twinny mix (double
flowers) or single colors, Frosted Flames mix (green leaves with variegated cream edges), and Palette mix (an
improved Royal Carpet with earlier and longer bloom period).
Medium series grow 12- to 24-inches tall, and include the unique
Tutti Frutti (solid color flowers speckled with contrasting colors),
Cinderella mix (multiple side shoots after the first bloom produce
subsequent blooms), Liberty mix, Sonnet Crimson (dark red), Night and
Day (dark red and white, a descendant of Black Prince), and Lucky Lips
(white with purple-red).
Tall series grow 24- to 36-inches tall, and include the white Royal
Bride, Madame Butterfly mix (ruffled, azalea-type double flowers in
various colors) or single colors, Costa mix (a cut flower type that
flowers early), Supreme mix, and Chantilly mix (open “butterfly” type
flowers) or single colors. Chantilly flowers are in designer
colors—more subdued than usual snapdragons—and last longer than many, in
both the garden and cut in vases. They make good cut flowers during
the cooler early or late seasons.
Potomac mix, or single colors, are better adapted than most to high
light and warm summer temperatures, and are mainly grown for cut
flowers. Another good tall snapdragon for summer is the Rocket mix
(bright colors with a cinnamon fragrance).
Return to Perry's Perennial Pages: Green Mountain Gardener Articles-- your reliable source of gardening information for over 50 years.