Antirrhinum ‘Snapdragon’ Care & Growing Tips

  • Learn how to grow snapdragons in the UK
  • Includes recognised varieties, sowing tips & care guidelines
pink, yellow, red & white snapdragons

Antirrhinum plants, more commonly marketed as “snapdragon” plants, are delightful and colourful members of the floral world. Though native to only rockier parts of Europe, the U.S., and North Africa, snapdragons have invaded the average homeowner’s garden over the years.

Not to say that they’ve invaded gardens in any negative way, no! Snapdragons are a unique member of the plantain family, belonging to one of the family’s twelve flowery tribes.

As well as being called Antirrhinum and snapdragon, these rock-loving blooms can be found under the name “dragon flowers”, too.

Recognised Snapdragons

The United States Department of Agriculture recognises just two species of Antirrhinum. These are “Antirrhinum majus” and “Anarrhinum bellidifolium”.

While A. majus is the standard garden snapdragon, known for its radiant and bright colours, A. bellidifolium is the lilac variety of snapdragon which is daintier than its sister plant.

Despite the USDA only listing two species of snapdragon, The Plant List (overseen by the Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew and the Missouri Botanical Garden) recognises over twenty different species of snapdragon.

The Garden Snapdragon

The garden or common snapdragon is an ornamental plant typically used in garden borders. The name “snapdragon” comes from the appearance of the plant’s blooms when the throat of the bud is squeezed, causing the flower to open like a mouth.

This flower has been around since the 15th century and has five subspecies in total. All the subspecies of the snapdragon originate from Europe, including Spain, France, and Portugal.

Garden snapdragons rarely grow much taller than one metre in height. Most will stay in a range of 50cm to 100cm, with very few ever reaching two metres. They are perennial plants, often living longer than two years if properly cared for.

Wild snapdragon plants will usually have pink and purple blooms with yellow tips, while other common snapdragons will be a darker purple-red tone. Clusters of snapdragons may appear in red, orange, pink, yellow, and white.

The soft colours of garden snapdragons rising to meet each other side by side.

The Lilac Snapdragon

Not to be confused with Limonium bellidifolium, which is also known as “Matted sea-lavender”. The lilac snapdragon variant is not as common as the garden snapdragon and is much harder to find information on. As such, we want to shed as much light as possible on them.

This snapdragon has three names: Lilac snapdragon, Antirrhinum bellidifolium, and Anarrhinum bellidifolium. If nothing else, knowing these will help you further research the plant.

Like the common snapdragon, the lilac snapdragon is also a perennial, but it has a bit of a strange twist regarding its classification.

You’re more likely to discover this plant under the name “Daisy-leaved Toadflax”.

However, this new flora and Anarrhinum bellidifolium are one in the same. We won’t go into the naming conventions of flora here, but for all intents and purposes, the daisy-leaved toadflax is part of the snapdragon family – a relative, in fact.

Sporting white and lilac blooms, the lilac snapdragon self-supports itself as it grows. Its flowers and overall appearance have a delicate look and is significantly smaller than the common snapdragon.

Properties of Snapdragon

For the rest of this article, we will refer only to the common garden snapdragon when giving care and growing tips. Though the lilac snapdragon is gorgeous, it’s not as readily available and it is unlikely that a new gardener would come across it.

Like many other herbs and flowers, when used right, the snapdragon plant can be used in herbal remedies.

Snapdragons in Health

Historically, snapdragon was used to treat liver disorders, scurvy, and tumours.

The leaves were employed as stimulants and made into poultices that were placed on ulcers. The flowers had even more uses, including being used in burn treatments, to aid in the avoidance of infection, and to reduce fever.

Compounds within the snapdragon plant allowed this breed of flora to be so helpful in traditional medicine practices.

Even today, snapdragon can still be found in some herbal treatments.

pink snapdragons in bloom
A closeup of wild snapdragons in bloom.

The Culinary World of Snapdragons

Snapdragons aren’t too common in the food industry, but there are still several instances where snapdragons may appear.

The seeds of snapdragons are made into cooking oil in Russia. This is the primary reason that snapdragon in grown in the country, though it is said that the snapdragon seed oil is inferior to olive oil.

Snapdragon flowers and leaves have all been used in salad dishes in the past. It’s more likely that you’ll see snapdragon used as a garnish flower which is ignored in a dish, than part of a main meal. Edible flowers don’t have much flavour, so it’s difficult for them to add more than colour to a dish.

Although snapdragons are an edible flower, their uses in the culinary world are almost purely decorative. They’re pretty, but no one is exactly running to go and eat them when they’re dining out.

Unfortunately, depending on the history of the plant (where it was grown, how it was cared for etc.), you might end up with a quite bitter snapdragon flower.   

Snapdragons and dye

Without using a mordant (a substance that is used to treat a fabric when dyeing, usually an inorganic oxide), green dye can be procured from snapdragon flowers.

If one does use a mordant, it is possible to get both a darker green and a gold dye from snapdragon plants.

Snapdragon Plant Care

Snapdragon is a hardy plant, and not one that will easily die-off before its time.  

Snapdragon prefers a richer soil, especially if you’re looking to prolong the flowering time of your plant. Remember to remove dead flower heads to be more efficient with your snapdragon growing. Deadheading these faded blooms will encourage your snapdragon to grow more flowers.

Snapdragons prefer cooler weather. That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t give them any sunlight, they just don’t bloom in hot climates. Your plant still needs sunlight to feed itself.

Diseases and Pests

Good news! Snapdragon plants don’t usually suffer from any plant diseases or annoying/invasive pests.

That isn’t to say that your plant won’t experience diseases, but if grown properly, they shouldn’t. Some poorly cared for snapdragons have been known to get leaf spots, root rot, and the occasional case of downy mildew.

As with any plant that is prone to these listed diseases, catching it early on and treating it immediately are key.

How to revive a Snapdragon plant

For root rot, cut the plant’s root above the damaged area and re-pot or replant your snapdragon into soil that has more circulation and drainage.

For leaf spot disease, give your snapdragon better sunlight, more water, and increase the air circulation of the soil.

That last note might cause some confusion, so: To increase the air circulation of a plant’s soil, you should ensure that you have left the recommended amount of space between each of your plants, and that your plants are being exposed to the sun as much as possible.

Snapdragon can still thrive in sunshine. It’s hot temperatures and high volumes of extremely warm sunlight that it doesn’t like, but the sun’s rays won’t harm your plant. Unless, of course, the sun dries out your plant’s soil completely and you forget to water it. 

Snapdragons rising up against a blue sky.
Snapdragons rising up against a blue sky.

Other Care Tips

  • Feed your snapdragon potash-rich fertiliser every week.
  • Remember to prune dead or dying flowerheads.
  • Water your plant regularly
  • Support tall-growing snapdragon varieties with canes where required.

Snapdragon sowing for beginners

Snapdragons are a beautiful and complex-looking flower, which is what puts beginner gardeners off when selecting plants to grow for the first time.

Despite their appearance, snapdragons are relatively easy to grow.

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Sow your snapdragon seeds during autumn, remembering to leave the recommended amount of space between seeds. When sowing during this colder time, consider a covered windowsill tray where your seeds can benefit from a lot of sunlight, or sow them in pots in a greenhouse.

Your can also sow your snapdragon seeds in early spring, following the same advice given above. Seeds should be thinly sown on the surface of the compost that you’re using.

Water them, and seal them using either a clear bag or a propagator if you have one. When you believe the seedlings are large enough to be handled, transfer them to their own pots and continue their growth in a sheltered area.

Once the yearly frost has passed, you can transfer your seeds to your garden soil if you wish to.

Most snapdragons are sown in March, planted in May or June, and obtain their flowers between June and October. Though this is standard practice, it’s not unheard of to plant earlier in the season or during autumn. Early autumn snapdragons should flower around May.

Advanced tips for growing Snapdragons

Once your snapdragons have been planted out in your garden, hopefully in an area that receives full sun, you can look at manipulating the way your plant grows.

Clipping

By clipping a few areas of your snapdragon during its early life, you can create a plant that fills out more than snapdragons that are left to their own devices. Clip the very tip stem of your plant, as well as any side shoots that are longer than the rest.

Doing this will encourage your snapdragon to produce more flowers, which will also produce a bushier plant. Snapdragons that take this shape can look much healthier and very attractive in a garden.

Staking

If you’ve chosen to grow a taller kind of snapdragon, you’ll want to add a few supporting canes to keep your plant upright as it grows. Without this support, your plant could bend and break under its own weight; snapdragons can become quite top-heavy due to their flowers.

Once your blooms are fading in summer, clip your plant again. You should clip at least a third of your snapdragon plant, though up to one-half of its size is also acceptable. Doing this will encourage your plant to grow more autumn blooms once it’s ready to flower again.

You can clip smaller snapdragons, too, just be careful you don’t cut too much of your plant off.

Watering

Keep your snapdragon’s soil quite moist for the first few weeks of its life, and then continue regular watering every week. When experiencing no rain in your area, give your snapdragon around one inch of water per week.

Stunning orange-pink snapdragons budding and blooming together
Stunning orange-pink snapdragons budding and blooming together.

Is your garden suitable for Snapdragon?

As long as you don’t live in an extremely hot climate, you should be able to grow your own snapdragon plants.

Snapdragons prefer cooler climates, though they will still need plenty of sunlight. Avoid huge amounts of rain, too.

It’s best to sow your snapdragon seeds indoors (either on a windowsill or inside a greenhouse) until the seedlings have matured enough to be transferred to your garden soil. Ensure that the area you choose to plant your snapdragons achieves a good amount of sunlight.

Snapdragons look amazing in any kind of garden, adding an eye-catching pop of colour that can be easily complimented by other blooms.

Notable Snapdragon variants

Floral Showers Deep Bronze is an award-winning snapdragon that has been given the Garden Merit award from the Royal Horticultural Society. Similarly, another variant called Montego Pink has been given the same merit.

While Floral Showers Deep Bronze offers pink-orange blooms that are somewhat larger than the common garden snapdragon, the Montego Pink variant has a deeper purple-pink flower with just a splash of yellow at the centre.

For a compact snapdragon, consider the dwarf varieties. One such flower is the Tom Thumb Snapdragon, which is perfect for homes that don’t have a lot of space to use. Tom Thumb will happily grow in a window box!

Orange Tom Thumb snapdragons growing in a large pot
Orange Tom Thumb snapdragons growing in a large pot.

More common snapdragon varieties include Rocket Snapdragons, Bright Butterfly Snapdragons, and Black Prince Snapdragons.

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