The National Garden Bureau has designated 1994 as the year of the snapdragon. Snaps, like many garden flowers, have a long history of enjoyment. Children love opening the jaw of the flower and watching it snap shut. Opening the dragon's jaw in just the right place is a skill passed down from parent to child just like the love of gardening. The Latin name for snapdragon is Antirrhinum majus. "Anti" in Greek means "like," and "rhinos" means "snout." Snapdragon flowers are available in every color but blue. The erect spikes are covered with buds which open from the bottom to the top. The gradual opening of the buds provides color for an extended period of time.
During the 1950's snapdragons were one of the top five cut flowers grown in North America. In the late 50's, breeding work was started to develop varieties with improved garden performance. By 1960 six All American Selection 'Silver Awards' had been given to the 'Rocket' snaps. Another successful breeding project was the development of 'Bright Butterflies' during the 60's. The "butterfly" flowers do not snap as the usual snapdragons. The jaw of this snapdragon is replaced with a fused open face floret that resembles butterfly wings. In 1970 'Madame Butterfly' was developed. This was the first F1 Hybrid "double azalea" flower form with good garden performance. The double azalea form is the "butterfly" type with extra petals in the center. The breeding work done in the 50's, 60's, and early 70's has resulted in the three forms of snapdragon flowers available today; the "dragon jaws", "butterfly", and "double azalea flowered". In addition to flower form, breeding work was done to develop a dwarf habit of snapdragon. In 1965, 'Floral Carpet' snaps, which grow just 6 to 8 inches tall, were introduced and have gained in popularity ever since.
Snapdragon classifications are based either on flower form or height. Height falls into three categories; dwarf, medium or tall. Dwarf plants have a dense, bushy habit producing numerous flower spikes. They grow just 6 to 15 inches tall and are perfect plants for use in a low border or containers. Mid-sized varieties grow 15 to 30 inches tall and are used in borders (either alone or with other annuals) and as cut flowers. Tall varieties will grow 30 to 48 inches in height. They make a wonderful plant for the back of the border as well as for cut flowers.
Snapdragons flower best in full sun or light shade and should be planted in rich well drained soil. Prepare the soil by breaking up large clumps of soil and amending heavy soils with compost or peat moss. The root system is quite fine and can easily be damaged by deep cultivation. A layer of organic mulch around the plants will conserve moisture as well as prevent weed growth. Tall varieties of snaps need to be staked to prevent breakage. Staking should be done early in the season. Tie the stem to the stake as the stem lengthens with soft cloth.
Dwarf varieties to look for at your local garden center include the 'Floral Carpet' and 'Floral Showers' series. Both varieties grow 6 to 8 inches tall with the traditional "dragon jaws" flower form. The 'Pixie' mixture grows 7 to 9 inches tall with a butterfly type flower. Mid-sized plants include the 'Liberty' series. These plants grow 18 to 22 inches tall with "dragon jaws" flowers. The 'Madame Butterfly' mixture grows 24 to 30 inches tall with the double azalea flower form. The 'Princess' series grows 16 to 18 inches with traditional flower form. Tall varieties include 'Bright Butterflies' mixture. This "butterfly" flowered variety grows 24 to 36 inches tall. The 'Rocket' series grows 30 to 36 inches tall with traditionally shaped flowers that are excellent for cutting.
Snaps are an easy annual to grow in our gardens. Give them a try in your annual garden this year and support the Year of the Snapdragon.
This article originally appeared in the March 23, 1994 issue, pp. , 1994 issue, pp. 29-30.