Monday, July 23, 2012

Snapdragons (Self-Sowing Annual # 3)

Popular, old-fashioned blooms, snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus) are so named because if you squeeze the blooms, it resembles a dragon opening and closing its mouth. They are semi-hardy annuals that blossom profusely during the summer months if you pinch back faded stems. Their vibrant colors include red, orange, white, yellow and all shades in between. If you want to collect seeds from this cool-season flower, watch blooms carefully as the pods develop.

Cultivate and grow snapdragons through the summer, keeping them in full sun, well-watered and fertilized. Pinch back faded stems of flowers to promote bushier growth and more blooms. Pick out the healthiest plants with the brightest colors. These are the snapdragons you want to propagate next year.

Stop pinching back faded snapdragon stems in August. You'll notice that hard, pea-shaped green pods form when petals dry up and fall off. These are the seed pods you will eventually collect.

Watch the snapdragon pods carefully over the next month, as they turn brown and brittle. Snap off the pods before they burst, and scatter the seeds. Collect them in a small bowl and leave them out on a shelf for two to three weeks to make sure they are absolutely dry.

Break open the snapdragon pods with your fingers into paper envelopes or other containers. The seed is like very fine soil, each one no bigger than a pinpoint. Seal the containers and set them in the refrigerator until spring. Cold will keep the seeds dormant until you're ready for them to germinate.

It's helpful to collect pods in different dishes, marked with the flower color, to keep your seeds organized.

Avoid exposing the seed to light or moisture during the winter. These conditions cause the seeds to germinate too early, and you will not get any snapdragons out of them.

Planting Snapdragon Seeds

Prepare a bed for the snapdragon seeds once all danger of frost has passed. Select a site with full sun or partial shade in hot areas.

Work the soil to a depth of 4 inches with a soil cultivator. Smooth the surface of the soil. Water it to a depth of 4 inches with a garden hose running on low volume. Drain the soil for 10 to 15 minutes.

Run the tines of a leaf rake over the bed to rough-up the surface of the soil. Sow very small pinches of snapdragon seed in the bed by sprinkling it on the roughened soil.

Pat the surface of the bed with the flat of your hand to embed the snapdragon seeds into the surface. Sprinkle a scant layer of sharp sand over the snapdragon seeds to hold them in place.

Water the snapdragon seeds every day with a mist nozzle. Using a mist nozzle keeps the seeds from becoming dislodged during germination.

Watch for germination in five to 10 days. Thin the seedlings so they stand at least 6 inches apart. Continue watering the snapdragons with mist for the first few days, then switch to your usual method of watering.

How to Care for Snapdragons

Snapdragons prefer full sun and rich, fertile soil. Avoid watering from overhead. Instead, water close to the soil to prevent diseases such as rust. Plant in cooler weather for lush growth in the summer months. Also, encourage longer blooming seasons by removing spent flowers promptly.

Pruning Snapdragons

Cut dead bloom off the plant, just below the blossom, once the blossom has faded or dies. This will allow regrowth flowers to bloom for a longer period of time.

Cut one- to two-thirds of the plant back if it stops blooming in the middle of the summer. Doing so should encourage new growth and blossoms for the rest of the summer months.

In cooler weather, trim the plant to the point where only 4 inches sticks out above the soil. This process helps the plant process new growth and longer lasting blooms.

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