Here There Be Dragons

By Jim Janke | Dec 05, 2012

Snapdragons are one of the most popular summer flowers. Dwarf varieties (as short as 5 inches) are great for creating a bed with a solid mass of color. Taller types (up to 4 feet) are wonderful as a background for other plants. Colors include various shades of red, purple, orange, yellow, and white; many bicolors are also available.

Snapdragons are really half hardy perennials normally sold as annuals. They do best in full sun, but will flower reasonably well in partial shade. Plant in any well drained soil. The common name (Antirrhinum is their Latin genus) comes from flowers that supposedly resemble a dragon’s face, with jaws that open and close when the sides of the flower are squeezed. Snapdragons are native to North America, Europe, and Africa. (Dragon origins are unknown, except possibly to Saint George, who had close contact with one.)

While you can find several different snapdragon types in local garden centers, many more choices are available if you grow them yourself from seeds. For example, Stokes’ catalog lists 75 different snapdragon varieties and mixtures. And starting snaps from seeds is easy. Here’s how.

Two days before sowing put the seed packet in the freezer to fool the seeds into believing that they’ve been through a winter outdoors. Snapdragon seeds are tiny, so make sure you’re not in a draft (or don’t sneeze!) when handling them or they’ll end up all over the place. Sow on the surface of a peat-based seed starting mix, pressing the seeds into the medium. Do not cover the seeds, as they need light to germinate. Put clear plastic over the seed flat. Gentle bottom heat will speed germination.

Transplant seedlings into individual pots or packs after they have a couple of pairs of true leaves. For intermediate or tall varieties pinch the growing tips when they are a couple of inches tall. This will encourage branching and result in more flowers per plant.

Different varieties grow at different rates. I grow a taller variety named ‘Rocket Yellow’ for cut flowers. Seeds sown on March first can be transplanted in about 3 weeks to individual pots. Grown under florescent lights, they’re ready to go into the garden in early May. The first blooms appear early in June and last until heavy frost.

If you sow a mixed color seed packet, each color will probably germinate at a slightly different rate. To get a good mix of colors, transplant a variety of seedling sizes.

If you don’t want to sow seeds indoors, sow directly outside in early May in a 1/8 inch deep trench. Don’t cover the seeds: use a fine spray to drive the small seeds into the seedbed. Transplant when a couple of groups of true leaves appear.

Deadheading spent flowers isn’t normally necessary except for appearance, although matured seeds may sprout in that area the following year. Seeds grown from hybrid plants are rarely as good as their parents, however.

Don’t forget snapdragons when planning your next garden.

Jim Janke is an Extension Master Gardener Volunteer in Haywood County. For more information call the Haywood County Extension Center at 828-456-3575. © 2012 NC State University.