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How to Grow: Scabiosa
full sun, part sun
Bloom Period and Seasonal Color
Late spring to fall in colors such as white, blue, and pink.
Mature Height x Spread
12 to 18 inches x 12 to 16 inches
attracts beneficials, drought tolerant
This low growing perennial is called the pincushion flower for good reason. The round, colorful flowers are shaped like small cushions with pins sticking out. The flowers start opening in late spring and continue blooming, off and on, until fall. They really like the cooler weather, so in hot parts of our region they may stop blooming in midsummer. But, don’t give up on them because they will start flowering again in early fall. In cooler regions, they may flower all summer. The plants have ferny foliage and wiry stems that produce the flowers. The flowers are a magnet for butterflies and bees and can be cut and used in flower arrangements as well. The scabiosa seedpods are also attractive used in arrangements.
Where, When and How to Plant
Scabiosa is hardy throughout New England. Grow scabiosa seeds indoors under grow lights 4 to 6 weeks before your last frost date. You can also direct sow seed in the garden after all danger of frost has passed, but they may not flower until late in the summer. For growing just a few plants, purchase transplants from a local garden center. Grow scabiosa from spring to summer in full or part sun in well-drained soil. Wet clay soil may stop scabiosa from overwintering well. Space transplants or thin seedlings to 12 to 18 inches apart.
Keep scabiosa well watered the first year. Older plants are more drought tolerant. Fertilize in spring with a small handful of an organic plant food.
Regional Advice and Care
Scabiosa will self sow and create groups of seedlings in spring. Thin these seedlings to the proper spacing if you want to save them. Scabiosa has few insect and disease problems. Spray insecticidal soap on aphids feeding on new growth in spring. Divide plants every 3 to 4 years to produce new transplants to grow and share. Deadhead plants to encourage more flowering. In cold parts of our region, cover plants with bark mulch or pine boughs to protect them from the winter’s cold.
Companion Planting and Design
Scabiosa can grow in a perennial flower border, cottage garden, rock garden or wildflower meadow. This diverse plant looks great grouped together to form a mass of pincushion flowers or paired with other low growing, cottage garden plants, such as alyssum, salvias, sedum and low growing roses. Let them naturalize in a wildflower meadow or grow scabiosa in a rock garden with columbine and pinks. Their interesting wiry flowers and foliage makes for a conversation piece.
“Butterfly Blue” has lavender-blue 2-inch diameter flowers on 12-inch long stems. “Pink Mist” is a pink version of “Butterfly Blue”. “Black Knight” produces almost dark burgundy colored flowers. “Fama White” and “Fama Blue” produce good cut flower scabiosa blooms on plants that bloom quickly from direct sowing.
Excerpted from my book, New England Getting Started Garden Guide.