How to Grow and Care for Scabiosa Pincushion Flowers

Black-veined white butterfly foraging on a Field Scabious (Knautia arvensis) flower.

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Although large flowers such as dahlias and sunflowers can be attention hogs in the flower garden, you should make room for the small but mighty scabiosa in your landscape. Pincushion flowers wave merrily in the breeze, flowers held aloft on wiry stems; they attract legions of butterflies. They bloom all season long with very little maintenance required.

Get to Know Scabiosa Plants

The family Caprifoliaceae contains the genus Scabiosa, as well as other ornamental flowers such as honeysuckle and weigela. Scabiosa flowers earned the nickname pincushion flower for the prominent stamens that emerge from the compact, round blooms like pins in a pincushion. Scabiosa plants form a low mound of foliage in a rosette shape, with medium green, serrated leaves. Healthy plants may produce 20 to 50 blooms, each held individually on thin stems. When in bloom, the plants average a foot in height. Mature plants are about a foot in diameter and three inches tall.

Planting Scabiosa Flowers

Although pincushion plants are easy flowers to care for, you must plant them in soil that drains very well. They can fool you by blooming happily in clay soil for one season, but wet soils during dormancy will turn your carefree perennial into an annual. Raised beds are necessary for gardeners with heavy or boggy soils. Place your scabiosa plants in a site that receives full sun for best blooming; some afternoon shade is fine. In ideal growing conditions, your scabiosa plants will act as short-lived hardy perennials in zones 5 through 9. Pincushion flowers will bloom from spring until frost, but the heaviest bloom occurs in May. Keep the flowers deadheaded for the best repeat blooming.

Scabiosa Flower Care

Provide pincushion flowers with an inch of water while they’re establishing their root systems. After that, the plants can tolerate periods of drought. Deadheading is laborious on plants that have so many small flowers on individual stems, so you can shear the plant in midsummer when the blossom output is low to encourage a new flush of blooms in early fall. Pincushion flowers are light feeders; a bimonthly feeding with a balanced flower fertilizer during the growing season will keep the flowers coming.

Garden Design With Scabiosa

If your soil is intractably heavy, don’t fight it; make pincushion flowers the star of your butterfly container garden. Edge your rock garden or perennial flower border with alternating pink, white, and blue pincushion flower plants. If you need an easy blue flower to pop against orange or yellow companion flowers such as coreopsis or lantana, try 'Butterfly Blue' scabiosa.

Scabiosa Varieties

  • 'Black Knight': This variety produces burgundy flowers with prominent white stamens that look striking when paired with green or white flowering companions.
  • 'Butterfly Blue': These are very common in the trade. The flowers are more lavender than true blue.
  • 'Fama White': They produce white flowers that are twice as large as 'Pink Mist' or 'Butterfly Blue'. This variety thrives in areas with cool summers.
  • 'Kompliment': These are similar in appearance to 'Butterfly Blue', but are hardy to zone 3.
  • 'Pink Mist': These clear pink flowers look so feminine in your fairy garden.