Pansies are great annuals for winter color, but for a change of pace try snapdragons. They are not only easy to grow, but are fun for children who learn the secret of making the dragon’[s jaw open wide and snap shut as the lower part of the blossom is squeezed. The traditional shape has a face composed of distinctive upper and lower lips, but besides the “dragon” shape these flowers also come in a butterfly type and double azalea-flowers form which has extra petals in the center of the bloom.
Snapdragons are native to the Mediterranean and Central Europe. They are used in gardens in many areas of the world and are also grown as food in parts of Russia and the Balkans where their seeds are crushed to produce cooking oil.
Formerly, snapdragons came only in shades of purple and white, but now many colors including multi-hues ones can be found. The flowers have an extended bloom period since blossoms open gradually. Besides being classified by flower type, they are also divided by height, dwarf, medium and tall. The smallest are 6 to 10inches; and tall species, 30 to 48 inches, suitable for the rear of borders. Dwarf snapdragons can be used in containers.
Snapdragons need a sunny location, but protection from afternoon sun in hot weather. Prepare beds with moderately rich, well drained soil amended with peat moss to hold moisture and help neutralize alkalinity. Set transplants the same depth they were growing in the container and the distance apart specified on the label. Transplants need to be well watered at planting time and for the next two weeks, but the reduce irrigation. Root rot is common in snapdragons that are kept too wet. If plants suddenly curl up and die, verticillium rot may be the cause. Clean out all dead plants and don’t replant in the same spot.
An inexpensive way to have a bed full of fall and winter annuals is to plant seeds. Watching the magic of germination and seeing the first tiny pair of leaves, then true leaves and eventually a healthy, blossoming plant is one of a gardener’s special joys. Pansies and snapdragons are usually purchased as transplants, but other fall and early spring species may be grown from seeds. Some of the easiest to germinate are calendula, nasturtium and larkspur.
Nasturtiums sprout quickly and will provide color until freeze takes the. Their spicy leaves and flowers are also edible and can be added to salads for decoration. Calendulas, like pansies, will bloom even in cold weather. Seeds of larkspur, an old fashioned plant found in many cottage gardens, should be planted now to produce tall spires of blue or purple flowers in late winter and early spring. Larkspur cultivars of pink, white and double blossoms also can be found, but will revert to blue in a few seasons.
These seeds should be sown where they are to grow as they are hard to transplant. They need plenty of sun and moderately fertile, well drained soil. In mid winter, thin them to 10 inches apart so the space allows them to reach their full 3 to 4 feet in height. Larkspur naturalize easily and will reseed year after year. However, seeds from hybrid plants won’t always produce the same flower as the parent. Even though they reseed they still benefit from water and fertilizer.