Although large flowers such as dahlias and sunflowers can be attention hogs in the flower garden, small-but-mighty blooms also have their place in the landscape. One of the most beautiful and interesting small flowers available to gardeners is scabiosa, also known as pincushion flowers. Native to Europe, the perennial flower comes in a variety of beautiful hues and is easy to grow successfully.
Best planted in early spring (and started indoors in cooler climates), scabiosa blooms will grow at a moderate pace, reaching maturity in 90 to 100 days. The end result is a bounty of button-like flowers atop wiry stems that flutter in the breeze. Beyond looking beautiful and unique, scabiosa flowers also attract useful pollinators to the garden, such as bees and butterflies. With just a bit of care, they'll bloom all throughout the summer and into early fall, enlivening your garden with ease.
|Common Name||Scabiosa, pincushion, scabious|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous perennial|
|Mature Size||12–18 in. tall, 12–18 in. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun|
|Soil Type||Moist but well-drained|
|Soil pH||Neutral, alkaline|
|Bloom Time||Summer, early fall|
|Flower Color||White, pink, lavender, red, burgundy, cream|
|Hardiness Zones||3–7 (USDA)|
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 thanks to their prominent stamens that emerge from the compact, round blooms like pins in a pincushion. Scabiosa plants form a low mound of foliage, and healthy plants may produce 20 to 50 blooms, each held individually on thin stems.
All things considered, scabiosa plants are exceedingly easy to care for, as long as you provide them with enough light and well-draining soil. In ideal growing conditions, your scabiosa plants will act as short-lived hardy perennials in USDA hardiness zones five through nine—they'll bloom from spring until frost, with the heaviest blooming period occurring in May. Keep the flowers deadheaded for the best chance at repeat blooming. 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.
Plant your scabiosa in a spot that plenty of sunlight each day, at least six to eight hours' worth. Typically, this means a location that boasts full sun, but some partial afternoon shade is fine too, especially if you're growing the blooms in a particularly hot summer climate. They will not do well when planted in a shady spot, and you will notice a reduction in blooms and buds if the plant isn't getting enough light.
Scabiosa plants like soil that is moist but well-draining. They can fool you by blooming happily in clay soil for one season, but wet soils during their dormancy will turn your carefree perennial into an annual. If your landscape has heavy or boggy soil, you're better off growing your scabiosa in raised beds. Additionally, the blooms are not particular about their soil pH and can thrive in a mixture that is neutral or slightly alkaline.
Provide your scabiosa flowers with at least an inch of water weekly when they're young and establishing their root systems. After that, the plants can tolerate brief periods of drought. Keep in mind, the hotter your weather, the more water they will need, so their tolerance for drought goes way down in the heat of the summer.
Temperature and Humidity
Scabiosa blooms do best in the moderate temperatures that spring to early summer and early fall offer. They dislike being hot or humid but can handle the weather of peak summer better if in a spot that is partially shady. Ultimately, if planted in the proper USDA hardiness zones, your scabiosa should have no problem growing well.
Pincushion flowers are light feeders and can do well without being treated with fertilizer. That being said, if you want to give your plants an extra boost (and up your chances of bountiful blooms), you can feed your scabiosa bimonthly with a balanced flower fertilizer during their growing season.
There are several different varietals of scabiosa plants available, most of which differ in color, and some slightly in flower appearance. Some of the most popular varieties include:
- 'Black Knight': A varietal that features burgundy flowers with prominent white stamens
- 'Butterfly Blue': A popular wedding varietal, with flowers that are more lavender than true blue
- 'Fama White': A varietal that thrives in cooler weather and produces larger, white flowers
- 'Pink Mist': A feminine varietal with flowers that are pink and near-translucent
Scabiosa plants can be propagated via division every two to three years, depending on how large your parent plant is getting. Division is a great way to keep growth under control, tame unruly plants, and help with overcrowding.
To propagate scabiosa, divide the plant in early spring, separating out several of the stronger, healthier stems for propagation. Plant them in your desired location, in an environment that closely mirrors that from which they came. Water gently and frequently until the plant becomes established—you should see growth from strong divisions within the first year.
Common Pests and Diseases
Though not typical, your scabiosa may become afflicted with a number of common garden pests, such as aphids, slugs, spider mites, and thrips. If you notice any insects on your plant (or telltale signs, like chewed leaves), you can treat your plants with a mild insecticide or natural solution such as neem oil.
Most of the diseases scabiosa plants are suspectable to come about from too much moisture or humidity. To avoid issues like leaf spot, root rot, or powdery mildew, make sure you plant your flowers somewhere with well-draining soil. Additionally, you should water the plant at its base (near where the stems meet the soil) so you don't put too much moisture into the dense mass of stems.