Snapdragons give gardens a bite of color

Snapdragons come in many shades.

It’s hard to imagine wanting to grow a

nose-like

in the front yard, but that’s what thousands of families will do
this spring when they plant the colorful annual known as a
snapdragon. Well, figuratively anyway.
It’s hard to imagine wanting to grow a “nose-like” in the front yard, but that’s what thousands of families will do this spring when they plant the colorful annual known as a snapdragon. Well, figuratively anyway.

Nose-like is the meaning of the plant’s scientific name, antirrhinum, which can be traced back to it’s origins in the Mediterranean.

The flowers, whose openings expand and contract when the flower is squeezed from its sides, reminded Greeks of the flare of a nostril. Fortunately, other cultures decided to deign the snapdragon with slightly more prestigious names so it wouldn’t get picked on.

In France, the flower is known as a wolf’s mouth and in Germany and Italy, it’s lion’s mouth, according to San Benito County Master Gardener Peter Quintanilla.

Planted early in the spring – starting around April – the flowers should be placed in an area with well-fertilized and well-drained soil that receives full sun exposure.

Otherwise their blooms are susceptible to mildew, according to Patricia Cooper of the Santa Clara County Master Gardeners. A fungal infection called rust can also discolor the plant with brown spots and blisters. Sun exposure will mitigate, but not cure the problem, according to the Master Gardener’s Web site.

The plants, which will eventually reach a height between one and three feet, hold stalks of closely packed blooms that may be clipped and used in floral arrangements, but several alternate varieties of snapdragon exist, said Cooper.

Aside from the common snapdragon, there are climbing, dwarf and violet twining varieties. A trailing version, known as antirrhinum asarina, has single flowers that creep along its vines, and common snapdragons come in a vast array of colors, from creamy yellows and whites to deep reds and jewel-like purples.

“They’re annuals, so you might be able to keep them in your garden for a couple of years, but they’re not going to flower as much the second year,” said Quintanilla, who noted that snapdragons are particularly popular annuals because of the ease with which they grow.

To maximize the beauty of your specimens, he recommended avoiding the use of sprinklers and overhead watering, preferring a good ground soaking instead.

For more full flowerings, Quintanilla also recommended pinching off the tops of the plant’s stalks when it’s young. Flowering can be prolonged by “dead-heading” the plant – cutting off withered or dead blooms so that the plant will grow new buds, said Cooper.

To keep cut blooms looking fresh for up to one week, Cooper recommended turning their vase regularly.

“They’re going to grow towards the light, so if you turn your base around they’re not going to get that tilt that something left by a window will after a couple of days,” said Cooper.

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