Larkspur planting time

This started out to be about blue, and how plants that are far apart in most ways may be mighty similar in the color department.

blue flowers

That’s a sweet pea (legume family) on the left and a larkspur (buttercup family) on the right. The seeds are coriander and will be a new crop of cilantro by fall.

But then the larkspurs took over, because – at least in the north – they’re a real low fuss delight (unlike some flowers we could name). Larkspurs are so closely related to delphiniums they used to be in the same species, but this airy member of the family almost never needs staking.* Also unlike delphiniums, larkspurs are seldom bothered by slugs and snails. Plus they don’t dwindle and die out on you after a couple of  years. Plant just once and have them forever.

Sort of. Old fashioned larkspurs (Consolida ambigua, aka C. ajacis) are forever because they’re reliable self-seeders. But they do cross with wild abandon, so we never know exactly what color they’ll be when they start blooming – all over the NY vegetable garden -  in early spring.

Usually, they’re blue

blue larkspur bouquet

A plain deep navy is the dominant blue, but by no means the only one

They can also be pink

larkspur varigation pink tie dye

Oddly, the plain pink ones are always on the pale side. I only get the deep color with the tie dyed look

And while variegated effects are not common, they aren’t particularly rare.

larkspur variegation purple splotch

I'm somewhat less keen on the blotchy ones, but they do have a certain panache

The New York team peters out about when the tomatoes start sizing up. In Maine, they’re around for most of the summer. I’m just now yanking up spent plants, waving them around like foxgloves to spread the seed.

With larkspurs, the fresher the seed, the greater the success, and in all but the very coldest climates they do fine when planted in the fall. (Bargain seed packs purchased at the end of the growing season should be planted before the ground freezes.)

Full sun and well drained soil that’s fertile but not too rich are about the only requirements, if you don’t count sowing them where they can find open ground. Larkspurs are weak competitors.

As for the “larkspur” part – also knight’s spur, lark’s claw, lark’s toe and lark’s heel (do we see a pattern here?) – it’s true.

Larks have a long hind claw, which is indeed called to mind by the pointed upper sepal of the flower. Bees with long tongues do most of the pollinating.

closeup of larkspur's spur

The true petals are smaller and inside

*The tall double larkspurs sold for cutting, the ones almost as tightly bunched as delphiniums, DO need staking.

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2 Comments »

  • Ali Said,

    Thanks for this post! I will make it a point to pick up some seeds and fling them about with abandon this fall, hoping for “volunteers” next spring.

    Ali

    Good luck, Ali

    I hope you get all sorts of interesting colors!

  • Vee Said,

    Now this sounds interesting. I have a few bare spots in the garden that I’d like to fill without too much muss and fuss. They sound hardy, impervious to pests, and pretty even if they can be blotchy. Yes, I’ll be looking for some larkspur seeds, too.

    Hi Vee,

    Nice to hear from you. Larkspurs are all that you say, but they only do well at bare-spot filling if you don’t mind bare-spot recurrence before frost. Even where summers are cool they’re dead and done by the end of August, if not earlier. On the good side, they will grow up through chrysanthemums if the latter are planted well apart and pinched back in spring.

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