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Hamptons Life

Apr 22, 2019 11:21 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

A Dance With Snapdragons

Snaps are also showing up in cell packs at garden centers. While the plants are smaller and take some growing, this can be an economical way of adding some quick color to the garden with this annual. ANDREW MESSINGER
Apr 22, 2019 12:10 PM

As you may have noticed, I don’t write much about annuals. Nonetheless, any garden and landscape that’s well and thoughtfully designed has annuals in it. The first landscape designer I ever worked with and who has had a lasting effect on my appreciation for garden design, used annuals copiously with the knowledge that they offer a season of bloom and range of color and form that few perennials have. Annuals fill the gaps before the perennials do their dance and again when the perennials fade. The right choices in annuals can extend the garden’s colors at each end of the season.

And one of the annuals that has nearly been forgotten is the Antirrhinum. You can still buy it in just about every garden center, and yet if you don’t know how to use it and how versatile it can be, well, it’s your garden’s loss. Oh, and if you don’t think you’re familiar with Antirrhinum, you really are. You just know it by its common name, the snapdragon. And perennial lovers, don’t lose heart, there actually is a truly hardy variety of snapdragon, so read on.

Some gardeners will remember snapdragons from their parents’ and grandparents’ gardens as it’s a nostalgic plant that reminds us of our childhoods and our wonderment as to why and how this plant’s flowers were related to dragons. If you try to look up the answer, you’ll find mostly references to a software system on a semiconductor chip used in mobile phones called Snapdragon. But dig a bit deeper and you’ll see that the plant reference is to the fact that the flower resembles the face of a dragon that opens and closes its mouth when squeezed on the sides. A great little tidbit for the young kids in the house. Delving just a bit further, the genus, Antirrhinum, comes from the Greek word anti, meaning like, and rhin, meaning nose or snout, which describes the shape of the flowers.

Native to the Mediterranean regions of the Middle East and North Africa, these plants are generally grown in our area as annuals, but in the South they can act as perennials. From time to time, you’ll find a few plants will overwinter in your garden and reappear the next spring. They are said to be hardy to zone 7, so it may not be much longer until they overwinter regularly out here. And for those looking for a hardier snapdragon, you can try Antirrhinum hispanicam, which will grow out here and—ready for this—it’s deer resistant. This plant grows a foot tall and spreads 2 feet wide. It loves hot and humid summers and has the typical snapdragon flowers that are a bicolored pink and white.

The types that we use as annuals have tubular flowers that come in a variety of colors including pastels and bicolors that have white throats with the tip of the flower being another color. And yes, these plants are great at attracting pollinators like butterflies and hummingbirds and the flowers are pleasantly scented, which is an attribute that’s often overlooked. The fragrance is best noticed when the snaps are planted en masse.

Snapdragons are available in a range of heights: dwarf (6-10 inches wide, 10-12 inches wide), medium (16-24 inches tall, 12-18 inches wide) and tall (24-30 inches tall, 14-16 inches wide). Dwarf types are currently the most common snapdragons found at garden centers. Their compact habit makes them ideal for sales in packs and pots and for multiple applications in garden plantings and in containers for porch and patio. The medium and taller types have homes not only in the garden but are popular as cuts as well.

The dwarf types include Candy Tops, Crackle & Pop, Floral Showers, Palette, Snappy, Snapshot, Twinny and the newest introduction, Snaptini. Snaptini was bred to flower more easily under short day lengths during winter, early spring and late fall. Snaptini plants have stronger flower stems that are less likely to break in the garden.

The medium-size series include Liberty Classic, Solstice, Speedy Sonnet, and Sonnet while the taller varieties include Madame Butterfly and Rocket. Snaptastic is a new type of intermediate-height snapdragon that combines the bushy habit of dwarf types with taller flower stems typical of the medium types. Snaptastic offers better branching in the garden and requires less staking, but retains the classic look of traditional snapdragons. The Candy Shower series is unique as the first trailing snapdragon series that’s grown from seed. It is ideal for hanging baskets, window boxes, and patio containers.

Several snapdragon varieties have been chosen as All-America Selections winners over the years. The first snapdragon varieties chosen as AAS winners were St. George and Royal Rose, which were selected in 1936. Madame Butterfly received the AAS award in 1970 for its unique double azalea-type flowers. The last AAS winning snapdragon was Twinny Peach, which was the first double-form snapdragon with a compact habit. It was a 2010 AAS Flower Award winner.

Because snapdragons can tolerate cold temperatures, they are often one of the first flowers along with pansies, violas, early spring perennials and bulb crops that gardeners can plant in the spring. In the garden, the tall types should be staked as needed to prevent them from falling over and breaking. They can become top-heavy because of their large flowers.

Removing dead flowers should be done to ensure flowers keep initiating. If plants start to set too much seed, then the plants just peter out. Removing old flowers can also help to prevent gray mold disease (Botrytis).

Managing water is important, especially if you’re growing the medium to tall types. The plants have a fibrous root system, and if they don’t become established in the soil, they will fall over. Snapdragons should be fertilized like other bedding plants at least twice a season and three times if you cut them back for a fall blooming season.

When planting, spacing should be on about 10-inch centers, but the smaller dwarfs should be spaced on 7- to 8-inch centers. Pinching the tips will result in fuller plants, though this will delay flowering. Another trick is to allow a few plants to go to seed each year and this can result in new plants establishing on their own the following spring.

Snaps do best in full sun, but they will adapt to the shade provided by other surrounding plants that may crowd them a bit. They can look very interesting when interplanted with flowering tobacco. Feed the plants twice during the growing season, and in August you can cut the medium and taller plants back to 8 inches. This will force them to put out new growth that will flower later in the season and these flowers will be somewhat frost resistant. Next spring, try growing some from seed. Keep growing.

Garden Notes: If you noticed a rhododendron or a group of them that suddenly browned and dropped foliage, the culprit may be verticillium, a soil-borne disease that strikes when the plants are under stress.

While moles can be a sign that you’ve got a rich organic soil filled with worms, they can also be a sign of the presence of grubs. You need to know which is attracting them. The only repellent that’s effective against moles is caster oil.

Grit your teeth and hold off on fertilizing your lawn for another week. It is time for a pre-emergent, though, if crabgrass has been a problem.

Don’t forget to fertilize your beds and borders. Put down an organic fertilizer in these areas now and work it lightly into the top inch or so of the soil. Don’t expect instant results, though. Organics are Mother Nature’s time-release fertilizers that increase in availability to the plants as the soil warms.

Keep an eye out for aphids on roses.

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