Snapdragons are an underused cool-season flower


Nearly everyone who desires fall color in their yards in eastern North Carolina plants pansies and mums. A few grow ornamental cabbage and kale. They’re pretty, but I like variety, and snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus) can provide a wide array of color and different texture to our fall plantings.

Some years they continue to bloom well into the winter. As with mums and most flowers, plants should be deadheaded to encourage more flowering. Once they set seed, blooming diminishes rapidly.

Snapdragons can often provide more than fall color. In our area they’re usually perennial, at least for a few years. They often don’t flower much during the hot summer months, but they perk up when temperatures cool. Some winters, like last year, wipe them out. Heavy fall mulching can help protect roots and nurse snaps until spring.

Another problem that limits their long-term survival is Pythium root rot. Several fungicides will control it, but usually we don’t do anything if they look healthy. Once symptoms appear, it might be too late.

Even if we treat snapdragons like annuals, they are still worth planting. Children love the way the flowers can be manipulated to open and close like they have jaws. They also add height to a planting or pot by the porch.

Snapdragons thrive in full sun, but they can grow in partial shade. They also must have well drained soil. Raised beds are preferred but not necessary.

Snapdragons are in the figwort family, which makes them kin to mullein and butterfly bush. They have flowers in long spikes much like those of gladiolus. Dwarf varieties are often only six to nine inches tall, while some types might be over four feet.

For those who like cut flowers, snapdragons could be for you. They persist in a vase for a long duration. The best time to cut them is when the florets are about half open and the top half are closed. Keep deadheading the bottom ones as they wither, and stems can stay blooming even longer.

Some floral designers collect dried snapdragon pods to use in arrangements. When dried, the pods look like little skulls, so they could be appropriate in Halloween arrangements.

Snapdragon flowers are also considered edible and are occasionally used to decorate salads. However, there are plenty more tasty flowers to eat. Yes, they make an attractive garnish, but they are too bitter as far as I’m concerned. That’s saying something, because I’m not a picky eater.

As far as medicinal use is concerned, parts of the snapdragon plant have been used over the years to treat various ailments. However, snapdragon is not a major player in the medicinal herbs industry anymore.

When considering pets, snapdragons are safe. Somebody told me recently that they heard snapdragons were toxic to dogs. That is incorrect. I don’t think dogs, even puppies, would want to eat the bitter flowers anyway.

It’s a little late this year, but in the future, I think snapdragons should be considered in fall plantings. As for myself, I get tired of nothing but mums and pansies.

Snapdragon plant offering companionship to a pumpkin

close-up of snapdragon flower

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I now teach agriculture to high school students at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, NC. My wife teaches with me and we make a great team. I also write a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com). I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that I plan to publish eventually. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone, a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. Never Alone is now available in paperback, Kindle and Nook. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death. In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books.
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2 Responses to Snapdragons are an underused cool-season flower

  1. tonytomeo says:

    Snapdragons can be warm season annuals as well, if the weather is mild and arid. For us, the season just depends on when they get planted. Those planted in spring are warm season annuals. Those planted in autumn are cool season annuals. As you mention, they can keep going as perennials, but would probably need to be cut back after their primary season. They get rust badly here, but after getting cut back, they can recover as if nothing happened. Rust is less of a problem in more arid climates. Somehow, they do quite well in Palm Springs when the weather is neither too cold nor too hot. (Palm Springs gets seriously hot, but only for a short time in summer.)

    • tedmanzer says:

      When I lived in Maine and West Virginia we planted them for summer too, but here along the Carolina coast the heat and humidity works on them. They’re much more of a cool-season plant around here. It’s really cool how that works. I’d also wager that with your more arid climate you probably have fewer root rot problems too.

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