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.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.