Cottage Garden Favorites: Larkspur
Larkspur got their name because of the “spur” at the back of the flower that some people say make them look like shooting stars. They are often referred to as annual delphinium because their flowers look like delphinium but have fewer blossoms that are not as densely packed on the stems.
Larkspur are used both as fresh cut flowers, where they will last up to a week in water, and as dried flowers in dried arrangements. Their bright colors remain after they are dried.
Larkspur are native to the Mediterranean region and were introduced into European gardens by the 16th century. They reached their peak of popularity in the 19th century in both Britain and the United States. Long before that, they had escaped the garden and naturalized in the countryside on both sides of the Atlantic ocean.
You can grow larkspur in either full sun or partial shade. In full sun, they will grow to a height of 4 feet. It is recommended that you stake the flower stems to prevent them from falling over from the weight of all of the flowers. They prefer sandy or chalky soils with good drainage. Keep your plants well-watered. They don't like to dry out.
They are hardy from zone 3 through zone 9 but prefer cooler weather. They bloom in early summer in rose, pink, purple and white. They go to seed as soon as the summer heat arrives.
Larkspur are easy to grow from seed. If you allow the flowers to go to seed this year, that seed will germinate in your garden next year. In fact, you may end up with more plants than you want! Simply remove the seedlings that you don't want.
To start seed indoors, you will need to cold-stratify them. In other words, you're going to fool them into thinking that winter has come and gone. Eight to ten weeks before your last frost, sow your seeds then place the container in a plastic bag and then into your refrigerator for two weeks. After you remove them from your refrigerator, your seeds will germinate within 3 to 4 weeks. Plant your seedlings after all danger of frost.
To direct sow your seeds, plant them in your garden in the very early spring when the soil is still cool and lightly cover them. Don't wait too long. The seeds won't germinate when the temperature goes about 65°F.
Larkspur contain alkaloids which are poisonous. Because they have naturalized in our landscape, they are frequently found in meadows where cattle graze. If the cattle eat too much larkspur, it can kill them. Interestingly, sheep are not affected as much so they are frequently sent into a pasture to eat all of the larkspur before cattle are allowed to graze.
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© 2014 Caren White