Snapdragon’s showy blooms reign supreme

By Norman Winter /

Tribune News Service /

The Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport is among the most beautiful in Georgia if not the country. As I was driving there the other day I noticed alligators in the swampy areas along the drive, but as I got closer I noticed a different kind of snapper -— more snapdragon blossoms than I could count.

As a kid, it was zinnias and snapdragons that reigned supreme in my world of flowers, and these beds from the intersection just off I-95 all the way to the airport arrival area were exceptionally beautiful. The snapdragons on display were Speedy Sonnet, known to trigger blooms under short day lengths.

In the south in zones 8 and 9, and perhaps a few adventurous gardeners in zone 7, plant snapdragons in the fall. Most of you in zone 7, and for sure the colder zones 4 to 6, plant snapdragons in the very early spring, reveling in their beauty most of the summer. In the Savannah area, once our temperatures hit those sweltering digits, we have to turn to the summer snapdragon.

In reality, though, it has been a banner year for snapdragons across most of the South. My son found this same success commercially in Columbus, Georgia, this year with speedy sonnets, as well as the shorter Montego snapdragon that he used in baskets and mixed containers.

The snapdragon is native to Europe and the Mediterranean and is known botanically as Antirrhinum majus. The Speedy Sonnet variety gets about 18 to 24 inches tall clumping to a width of 12 inches. Like with their taller cousins they too make great cut flowers. You’ll love the vibrant colors, fragrance, and the fact that they are not on the menu of the local deer café.

The Montego series is my favorite dwarf variety. Everyone suggests 8 to 10 inches in height and width, but I have had them hit 12 inches a few times in trials. These are well suited to the front of the border and as pocket plantings in mixed containers.

Snapdragons work well in combination with pansies, violas, and ornamental kale or cabbage. At one of the showy Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport beds, they were combined with petunias and grown in front of evergreen shrubs that made the color look even more dazzling.

So whether you will be doing a spring planting or one this fall know that snapdragons like fertile organic-rich soil in full sun for best bloom production. Incorporate 3 to 4 inches of organic matter along with 2 pounds of a slow-release 12-6-6 or balanced fertilizer per 100 square feet of planting area.

Set transplants into the garden at the recommended spacing for your variety. Apply a good layer of mulch to keep soil temperatures moderate for the long growing season ahead. A little fertilizer every two to three weeks will keep them growing.

Remember, small pocket plantings of snapdragons are very effective at entryways or near the front door or patio, but mass plantings combined with other seasonal annual flowers can give a most incredible look. Shop for them now at your local garden center or when snap season arrives in your area.

Norman Winter is director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, and author of “Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South” and “Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden.

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The Union Democrat
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