Growing snapdragons, with their dazzling blooms of rich colors spiraling up a central stem, are among the loveliest flowers, and a classic in any spring garden in the Coastal Bend. The snapdragon is known for the fascinating structure of its blooms, with lateral “jaws” which can be gently pulled open to reveal the deep interior of the flower. This long snout resembles the mouth of a dragon that suddenly snaps shut — hence the name!
This particular flower is hugely popular in France. The drive from Lyon into the Swiss Alps is a tour of mountain chateaus decked with teeming blooms of snapdragons in the many windowsill planters along the winding roads. Snapdragons are native to the mountains of Europe, which means they like cool weather and gentle, soaking rain. In the Coastal Bend, we must grow them in winter into early spring. The heat of early summer shuts down the blooms and kills the plants; fortunately, they can be planted again in October for new winter blooms.
Rocket: The standard variety, Rocket Snapdragons are common in nurseries. They are easy to grow and can range from 30” to 36” in height. Blooms vary in color including violet, gold, scarlet, white, orange and pink. This variety makes for gorgeous cut flowers.
Madam Butterfly: This variety of snapdragons is relatively easy to find. It is vigorous and grows to a medium height, approximately 20” to 30”. The flowers are shaped like butterflies and do not snap like standard snapdragons. They are available in a variety of colors and make a lovely arrangement.
Dwarf varieties: Including Tom Thumb, Tutti Frutti, Candy Tops and Floral Carpet, dwarf varieties range from 6” to 12” in height. They are dainty and work great as container plants. Some varieties snap, while others have butterfly or even double butterfly blooms.
Spacing, 9” to 12”. Height, 6” (dwarf) to 36”. Cool-weather, short-lived perennial. Plant from transplant. Full sun; afternoon shade extends blooming. Rich soil: Add two inches of compost plus native wood ash and several cups of pastured poultry manure. Fertilize at first blooms with a foliar spray of liquid seaweed and fish emulsion. Keep soil moist until established and throughout the blooming cycle. Blooms stop in May due to heat.
Snapdragons grow quickly once established. Take cuttings for flower arrangements as desired. Once flowers on a stem fade or fall off, clip the flower to promote new growth. Snapdragons have a lovely aroma, a floral perfume. Cuttings last in a vase for many days. Change the water daily and make sure the flowers get plenty of sunlight to keep them bright. Once plants wither in May heat, till the garden space and plant something else.
While bees do indeed pollinate snapdragons, only large bees are strong enough to pry open the flower’s jaws. Big, burly bees fly among the blooms, pry them open and climb inside. The bees disappear into one flower, reappear covered in pollen, then climb into the next. This work of bees among the snapdragons is one of the true delights of the garden. But they can’t perform this trick with “butterfly” varieties, because the jaws don’t open.