How to Grow Snapdragons
Snapdragons were one of the first flowers I tended as a child. Their bright colors and snapping jaws enchanted me from the first. Native to southern Europe and the Mediterranean, snapdragons have been popular in gardens for years. Snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus) come in three types: dragon, butterfly, and double azalea. Butterfly and double azalea varieties resemble their namesakes and are very lovely in the garden. But only the dragon varieties make the snapping sound, so they are the varieties I will concentrate on.
Within the dragon types of snapdragons, there are several varieties. Some, such as the Rocket varieties, can grow up to four feet tall. Dwarf varieties will remain six to twelve inches high for the entire season. The taller varieties will need full sun to prevent the flower stalks from flopping over, but shorter varieties can tolerate some shade. Some varieties self-seed, but most that you will find in the nurseries are hybrids and won’t come back true.
Snapdragons can be transplanted or grown from seed. Seed germination can be tricky, but is possible. Keep the seed flats in a warm place—on top of a refrigerator or on a heated germination tray—until they sprout, then get light on them. They will be ready to transplant three to four weeks after sprouting.
Transplanting is easy. Simply dig a hole a little bigger than the pot the snapdragon came in, and drop the snapdragon in. Fill in the dirt around the roots and water to settle the soil. Fertilizer is optional in most soils. Mulch them to keep the roots cool and the snapdragon blooming longer.
Cooler temperatures encourage long-lasting blooms.Daily highs over eighty degrees inhibit flowering. Buy the plants without blooms and get them in the garden just before summer temperatures begin to cool to allow them time to settle in. The roots will grow deeper and the plants will be healthier. Spring is another ideal time to plant snapdragons. Transplant them after the last frost and they will grow and bloom until summer settles in.
Deadheading, or trimming off spent blooms, keeps snapdragons flowering. The flowers form on tall spikes on most varieties, with the blooms starting at the bottom and working their way up. Wait until the entire spike has finished blooming and cut it off, rather than pinching off each flower.
Snapdragons will turn completely brown at the first hard frost. At that point, you can rip them out or trim them down even with the soil. They won’t come back once they are brown. In places where winter frosts are light or nonexistent, snapdragons can be perennials.
Snapdragons are entirely decorative and a lot of fun. The tall ones look lovely in a small bed or as a backdrop for a larger bed, but I always keep a group of smaller ones up at the front of a bed for the kids to play with. If you’ve never done this, you must try it. Get close to the plant, so that your ear is within a few inches of the flower. Gently pinch the base of the flower, where the color just begins, right above the green. You’ll notice the open flower resembles the jaws of a dragon with a fuzzy tongue. Release the flower and it will shut with a snap.
The taller snapdragons look beautiful in floral arrangements. Cut a spike when the buds are fully formed and the first blossoms are open at the bottom. The flowers will continue to open in the vase.
Snapdragons deserve a place in every garden. Introduce these to your children and grandchildren and enjoy them on cool fall afternoons.
Adele Francks has been gardening since she could follow her mother around and hold her own spade. Flowers are a particular love of hers because they are so easy to grow.