How to Grow Basket Flowers

A Showy and Adaptable Addition to Cottage and Wildflower Gardens

Close up of a basket flower (Centaurea Americana) purple bloom

Larry Smith / Flickr / Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

The North American native basket flower (Centaurea americana) gets its name from the distinct pattern that forms on the base of the plant's inflorescence. It closely resembles the weave of a traditional basket.

These reseeding annual wildflowers are similar to thistles, but they have impressively large pink-purple petals with a creamy center and a distinct sweet and honey-like fragrance. They're ideal for a child or pet-friendly garden as they don't have any prickles either.

The blooms can appear anytime from May to August, but most commonly arrive around May or June.

Typically reaching four feet in height, and sometimes even taller, basket flowers are showy, easy-to-grow, and versatile. They look great when grown in groups at the back of borders and are an ideal addition for cottage gardens or meadow settings. Many enthusiasts grow them for adding to attractive cut flower displays—even dried, they look impressive. It's also a bonus that they're rarely bothered by pests or disease.

Perfect for nature-lovers, basket flowers are attractive to pollinators, including butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. Their nectar is known for containing high quantities of amino acids and sugars, and the pollen is particularly protein-rich.

The fluffy seedheads that develop after their blooming period produce large, nutritious, sunflower-like seeds that are enjoyed by visiting birds.

Basket flowers readily self-seed, so, if the conditions are right, you could be treated to a new set of plants for years to come. This can mean, however, that they can take over small garden spaces, but at least they can be pulled out without too much difficulty.

Botanical Name Centaurea americana
Common Name Basket flower, basket-flower, American basketflower, American starthistle
Plant Type Annual, herb
Mature Size 2-4 ft. tall, 2-3 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Sandy, loamy, clay
Soil pH Acid, neutral
Bloom Time Late spring to early summer
Flower Color Lavender, pink, purple, white
Hardiness Zones 3 - 9, USA
Native Area North America

Plant Care

With the right conditions, basket flowers can flourish. They just need plenty of sun, well-drained soil, and decent circulation to promote healthy foliage.

Light

For best results, basket flowers should be grown in full sun. They can, however, also tolerate a part shade position.

Soil

Basket flowers are tolerant of a wide range of soil types, including sandy, loamy, and clay, they just need it to be well-draining. They aren't too fussy about pH levels either, although slightly acidic to neutral levels seem to be appreciated the most.

Water

If you live in a dry region, planting basket flowers could be a good choice. Once they're established, they're drought-tolerant and cope well in dry conditions.

If they still receive adequate moisture during the winter and spring, however, their growth should be more impressive.

Temperature and Humidity

With their drought-tolerance, it's no surprise that basket flowers do well in Mediterranean-style climates. They can also handle temperate and subtropic weather.

Fertilizer

To see the most impressive blooms and prolific growth, the addition of compost or organic fertilizer during the spring is recommended.

Basket Flower Varieties

There are a couple of basket flower cultivars that are available commercially.

  • 'Aloha Blanca' - Basket flowers normally feature pink-purple petals, but this type has unusual white flowers.
  • 'Aloha Rosa' - Features blooms with a smoky pink shade. The inner petals sometimes have eye-catching black tips.

Pruning

If you want to see the most impressive growth in terms of branches and blooms, it's worth pinching off developing tips, and deadheading spent flowers.

How to Grow Basket Flowers From Seed

As annuals, basket flowers need to be grown from seed. Luckily, this is easy to do, and they don't require a stratification period.

Collection of the seeds should occur once they're fully formed and can easily be removed. They can either be sown indoors a couple of months before transferring them to their outdoor location, or sown directly outdoors. Just make sure it's done after the last frosts.

Basket flower seeds shouldn't be sown too deeply, and the soil should be kept moist but not saturated.

The seeds can take anywhere from one to three weeks to germinate.