HARDINESS: Zones 3 to 9
PREFERRED SOIL pH: Neutral to slightly alkaline
PREFERRED SOIL TYPE: Fertile, well-drained
PREFERRED LIGHT: Sun to very light shade
ATTRIBUTES: Gray-green leaves; blue, pink, yellow, or cream flowers; for beds, cutting
SEASON OF INTEREST: Late spring to fall
FAVORITES: 'Butterfly Blue', 'Pink Mist' for nonstop flowers
QUIRKS: Needs to retain browned foliage through winter
GOOD NEIGHBORS: Artemisia, butterfly Rawer, catmint, dianthus, dusty miller, lilies
WHERE IT GROWS BEST: In sun and fertile, well-drained, slightly alkaline soil
POTENTIAL PROBLEMS: Poor soil drainage in winter leads to root rot
RENEWING PLANTS: Lives many years; divide crowded clumps
CRITTER RESISTANCE: Excellent
SOURCE: Division, stem cuttings, seeds
DIMENSIONS: 12 in (30.5 cm) tall and equally wide
Pincushion Flower in the Landscape
These pretty plants should be front and center in the garden.The foliage forms neat mounds, and the nectar-rich flowers, which draw butterflies like magnets, bloom continuously from late spring to fall, staying fresh even in high heat. Flower colors range from true blue and pink to soft yellow and cream. Each lacy, button-shaped blossom, 2 in (5.1 cm) across, is composed of tightly massed little florets and held on a wiry stem that's about 1 ft (30 cm) long. White-tipped stamens peeking above the petals look like tiny pins stuck into the flower, hence the common name. Each flower lasts several days, which is ideal for use in bouquets. The finely divided gray-green foliage stays low and compact, making this care-free perennial suitable for edging borders and paths.
All in the Family
Scabiosa columbaria 'Butterfly Blue' has stronger growth and more blooms per season than other pincushion flower. It grows 1 ft (0.3 m) tall, needs no staking, and produces hundreds of care-free lavender-blue flowers per plant. Its sister, 'Pink Mist', is equally prolific and has bright pink flowers.
S. ochreleuca, a drought-tolerant perennial that's great for rock gardens, produces soft butter yellow flowers from spring through fall. S. caucasica 'Alba' holds its many white flowers on 2 ft (0.6 m) stems. For a lush effect, grow this taller pincushion flower behind 'Butterfly Blue" and 'Pink Mist.' S. graminifofia forms mats of slightly silvery grasslike leaves and has rose pink to lilac flowers.
Growing Pincushion Flower
Grow pincushion flowers in full sun or bright partial shade, in near neutral soil amended with organic matter. Container-grown plants can be set out anytime, but spring is best. Set plants at the same depth at which they grew in their containers, and keep the soil lightly moist after planting and for the rest of the summer. A thin mulch of rotted leaves, shredded bark, or other organic material will help keep the soil cool and moist, the way pincushion flowers like it.
To keep the plants flowering as long as possible, gather blossoms for bouquets and remove faded flowers. The more you cut, the more buds will develop. A deep drench with a liquid all-purpose plant food in midsummer will help keep plants in bloom longer into the fall. Healthy, well-fed pincushion flowers rarely have problems with pests or diseases.
Although they may look unsightly, do not cut plants back after they rum brown in winter, because the stems will help shelter the crowns from ice, snow, and frigid winds. Do clip off the old foliage first thing in spring before new foliage emerges.
To propagate pincushion flowers, dig and divide plants in early spring. Or, take 6 in (1 S.2 cm) long stem cuttings in midspring, remove leaves from the lower halves of the stems, and set them in moist soil to half their length. Keep the soil moist until they are rooted and growing and can be planted in the garden.