How to Grow: Verbascum

Listen to this podcast on how to grow Verbascum and care for this perennial flowers.


Flowers, Yellow, Black Mullein, Verbascum NigrumThis European native wildflower is in the snapdragon family, but you’d never know from its shape and size. This plant has a flower spike that reaches 8 feet tall. It was used medicinally to treat respiratory problems, as a poultice for bruises and as a yellow plant dye. Plant breeders have created newer, more showy hybrids and call it by its botanical name, verbascum. We also know it as mullein.

We often see mullein blooming in open woodlands and on eroded hillsides. Mullein likes a well drained soil and full sun. With too much fertility the flower stalks get floppy. The flowers slowly open up the stalk throughout the summer. The leaves are silvery, large, and hairy and were once used to make torches. Newer hybrid verbascums have different flower colors and multiple flower stalks on dwarf plants that are short lived perennials. ‘Sixteen Candles’ has golden colored flowers on 3 foot tall flower stalks. ‘Sugar Plum’ grows only 15 inches tall with violet colored flowers. ‘Jackie’ grows 18 inches tall with apricot colored blooms. The Southern Charm Series features 2 foot tall plants in a variety of colors. While most verbascum are biennials, blooming the second year after planting, Southern Charm blooms the first year when grown from seed.

Tall selections of Verbascum look great tucked in the back of a flower border to surprise you with their bloom stalks. Verbascum have a woody flower stalk and don’t need support. Mix shorter varieties with other perennials such as rudbeckia and reblooming dayliles.

Verbascum is hardy to USDA zone 5 and likes a neutral pH. Some verbascum will also self-sow making it easy to have flowering plants each year. Cut the plant back in fall and protect the roots with mulch if you live in a cold area.

Excerpted from the Vermont Garden Journal on Vermont Public Radio.

Go here to watch a video on how to divide perennial flowers.

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