If you shop at a nursery that carries scented stock flowers, you might overlook the modest blooms of these old-fashioned annuals. You might even pass them by after taking a sniff, noting that they don’t seem as fragrant as advertised. However, at twilight, an arresting fragrance emanates from the dainty flowers of scented stock. It’s vanilla, it’s spicy, it’s indescribable and wonderful.
Get to Know Scented Stock
The Matthiola bicornis plant, commonly known as annual stock, night-scented stock, and perfume plant, is a member of the Brassiceae family, which includes other fragrant flowering favorites like sweet alyssum and candytuft. Blooms are best when temperatures are between 60 and 80 degrees F. Grow as a cool weather annual in all zones. In zones 8 and higher, grow stock as a winter annual.
The foliage of scented stock is greenish silver, lance-shaped, and prostrate. Plants vary in height from 10 inches to two feet, depending on the variety. Nickel-sized flowers are single or double and may be white, red, pink, or lilac. Grow the heirloom unnamed evening stock if you’re only after fragrance; newer named varieties have showier flowers.
How to Plant Scented Stock
Scented stock plants are easy to grow from seed by directly sowing in the garden. After all danger of frost is past, you can sprinkle them across the soil and tamp them down lightly. Look for germination in two to three weeks.
If you’re impatient for that first whiff of fragrance, start the seeds indoors about two months before your last frost. Place the transplants six inches apart in moist, average garden loam. Choose a location with full sun for vigorous plants.
Care for Scented Stock Plants
Keep plants consistently moist. You should mulch around the plants to retain moisture, keep soil temperatures cool, and suppress weeds. Scented stock self-sows readily, so if you don’t want more plants next season you can rip them out when the weather warms and they start to look rangy. You can fertilize them after a month, but the flowering season is usually too short to warrant fertilizer unless your soil is very poor.
Scented Stock Pests and Diseases
The damp, cool weather of early spring ushers in fungal diseases like grey mold and downy mildew, and these may affect stock plants that don't receive enough sun. Irrigate plants in the morning and place them in a part of the landscape that receives breezes to keep spores from proliferating.
Excessive dampness also provides an attractive habitat to slugs and snails, which may feast on scented stock. Beer of vinegar traps are an easy and effective fix for these pesky cephalopods.
If you notice ants lingering around your plants, inspect them for aphids, which attract ants with their honeydew secretions. Aphids are very sensitive to insect soap, which you can use if natural predators like ladybugs aren't present.
Scented Stock in the Garden
Scented stock is an obvious choice for the fragrant flower garden. However, if some family members find the strong perfume of flowers cloying, plant your patch further from the garden path, where you may wander to harvest cut flowers for your personal office or other removed space. Plant scented stock around your mailbox garden, where you’ll catch a bit of aromatherapy each evening as you check your mail.
Put a container of scented stock on your front porch or deck, or wherever you spend time relaxing in the evening. You can bring a small container indoors to enjoy on grey, rainy days that aren't agreeable for outdoor activities.
Plant scented stock among showier cool weather annual flowers, such as pansies, snapdragons, or primroses. The shallow root systems of stock plants also make them ideal for planting over early spring bulbs like daffodils. Stock isn’t so showy, but adds the fragrance these other flowers only offer in subtle amounts.Grow scented stock in hanging baskets to bring the fragrance even closer.
Best Scented Stock Varieties
- Cinderella: Fully double white, lilac, and rose flowers borne on hyacinth-like clusters. Flowering time is longer than other varieties before going to seed.
- Early Bird Mix: A tall variety (up to 24”) in carmine, rose, white, and lilac for the border.
- Giant Perfection: Single and double flowers on long stems make good candidates for the cutting garden and bridal bouquets.
- Heaven Scent: All pink, double flowers
- Starlight Scentsation: A mix of pastel shades