How to Grow and Care for Rose Campion

Rose campion flowers in shades of pink and white

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Rose campion (Lychnis coronaria) is a striking, colorful perennial and a marvelous addition to many flower gardens. Its folk names include rabbit's ears, crown pink, bloody William and mullein pink, and it is found in the Caryophyllaceae family of flowers known as pinks (dianthus). The flower originates in Europe, and records suggest it was cultivated in English gardens in the 1600s. The plant first appears in American gardens in the 1700s with a mention in Thomas Jefferson's writings about Monticello. With its silvery pale green leaves and vivid magenta blooms, its colors pack a punch in mid to late summer. Rose campion's colors look wonderful with a cool color palette including blues, purples and other shades of pink. Try it alongside nigella, bellflowers, phlox and yarrow in your cottage garden. The leaves form a basal rosette form, similar to lambs' ear, but differs in that the blooms do not discolor after they peak which is common with betony (lambs' ear).

Common Name Rose Campion, Rabbit's Ears, Crown Pink
Botanical Name Lychnis coronaria
Family Caryophyllaceae
Plant Type Biennial, short-lived perennial
Mature Size 12-18 in. high
Sun Exposure Partial to full sun
Soil Type Well-drained, tolerant of most soils
Soil pH Neutral to partly acidic
Bloom Time Early to mid summer 
Flower Color Magenta, pink, white
Hardiness Zones 5-8 (USDA)
Native Areas Europe

Rose Campion Care

This perennial is easy to grow and adaptable to a variety of growing conditions. It reseeds readily, so deadheading spent blooms before they produce seed is a good idea if you don't want it to spread throughout your garden.

Rose campion flower in garden grey green leaves with bright magenta flower petals

The Spruce / Peg Aloi

Light

Rose campion does very well in partial sun, or in full sun. It can have a tendency to dry out during a hot summer, so consider placing it in a spot with morning sun as opposed to afternoon sun. It will usually not bloom in full shade if it happens to re-seed there, so you can relocate any volunteers to a sunnier spot.

Soil

While it is not too fussy about soil, like most plants the rose campion does best in soil that is well drained. Avoid planting in wet areas, as this may cause the roots to rot.

Water

Rose campion is fairly drought tolerant once established, so is a good addition to a dry garden area. It has no special watering needs. Water according to your usual schedule in the cottage or perennial garden. If it gets a lot of bright sun during a heat wave, and shows signs of drooping or burning, you may have to give it a bit of extra water.

Temperature and Humidity

Rose campion is hardy to Zone 5, and may not make it through especially cold winters. However, if you're in a reliable Zone 5 it should re-seed normally for you. Too much moisture in soil is not good for rose campion, but humid summers in temperate climates shouldn't be a problem.

Fertilizer

Rose campion shouldn't need fertilizer, but if your soil is very thin, adding compost to the planting area may help it to reseed more vigorously.

Types of Rose Campion

There are a number of cultivars available, including a double-flowered version. Some of these may be difficult to find. The gardens at Monticello sell a mix of seeds that contain several cultivars.

  • 'Abbotsford Rose': A rose-colored variety popular in England where it was discovered.
  • 'Alba': This is a white-flowered version that adds a serene coolness to your cottage garden, or is a stellar addition to your moon garden or all-white garden.
  • 'Angel Blush': This bicolor variety has white flowers with an orchid-pink blush in the center, which varies in size and intensity of color. There are seeds available from several online sellers.
  • 'Astrosanguinea': Rich magenta flowers and very pale foliage that looks almost white; the "classic" rose campion.
  • 'Dancing Ladies': These display a mix of white and carmine red, and a darker red eye.
  • 'Flora Plena': A beautiful double-flowered variety with blooms of deep magenta.
  • 'Oculata': A white flower with a rose pink or magenta "eye" that may make the flowers look pale pink from a distance.

Pruning

You'll want to deadhead your rose campion to prevent it from reseeding (unless you want it to), and to remove the dead-looking flowers once the bloom season is done. The leaves provide attractive forms in the winter garden, so you may consider leaving them intact at the end of the season.

Overwintering

Rose campion is known as a short-lived perennial (much like other varieties of dianthus) or a biennial, so it may not return year to year in your garden unless it reseeds. It can reseed easily in the garden under the right conditions, and has the potential to become invasive, popping up unexpectedly. Normally it will reseed in the same general area where it is growing, but if you scatter seed in autumn it may reseed in spring.

Propagating Rose Campion

You can divide rose campion into sections and replant them, but because it is a biennial most people choose to plant from seed for grow more plants in the garden. You can allow them to re-seed naturally, or plant fresh seeds outdoors, in a location of your choosing.

How to Grow Rose Campion from Seed

This is a plant that is seen less often in nurseries than it used to be, but seeds are still widely available. It's relatively easy to grow from seed although you won't see blooms until the second year. The seed needs cold stratification to be viable, so planting in fall can yield plants in spring. You can also direct sow in spring after the last frost date. In either case, sow the seeds by pressing lightly into soft damp soil. The seeds are tiny so watering them directly may wash them away; instead try misting them lightly with a sprayer. They need a fair bit of sunlight to germinate in spring, so consider the seasonal placement of the sun in your garden when planting.

You can also grow rose campion seeds indoors, just remember to cold stratify before you plant them.

Common Pests and Plant Diseases

Rose campion is very resistant to diseases and pests, making it a carefree addition to your flower bed. If you have problems with deer snacking on your perennial garden, you'll be pleased to hear that deer don't enjoy eating rose campion. It's also not tempting to mice, moles, squirrels, rabbits or other rodents.

FAQ
  • Is rose campion an annual or a perennial?

    This flower is biennial, which means the plants bloom every two years. However they also re-seed themselves readily, so you can have them in bloom every year once they're established.

  • Is rose campion toxic to dogs?

    No toxic effects of this plant for humans or animals have been reported.

  • Does rose campion make a good cut flower?

    Rose campion lasts several days in the vase and looks great in summer bouquets.