Brighten Your Garden
Larkspur flowers offer bunnies for Easter


October 29, 2009


by Karen Pye,
Victoria County Master Gardener


edited by Charla Borchers Leon, Victoria County Master Gardener
PHOTO COURTESY OF PLANTANSWERS.COM
This larkspur variety is from the delphinium family of plants and is known for its dark, deep blue blossoms. Looking closer, you can see a bunny face in every flower.
Annual larkspur (Delphinium ajacia) is a most-interesting plant. Besides earning the distinction of a Texas SuperStar plant, it is a beautiful reseeding winter annual with a bunny face in every flower.

You don't have to look far to see a bunny rabbit in the center portion of the flower.

Maybe that's why there are varieties called bunny blue and bunny pink. Exceedingly easy to grow, it comes back each year on its own from seed. The "bunny" seedlings become available right after the holidays.

A wonderful, old-fashioned annual, larkspur produces beautiful spike flowers. Most likely, you first saw the tall and stately spikes of larkspur in your grandparents' flower garden. When in bloom, these big flower spikes are lovely in the garden, or indoors as cut flowers in vases.

Colors include light and dark pink, blue, rose, lavender and white, although the bunny's face shows best on the colored cultivars.

Plant Genealogy

Larkspur gets its name from and is distinguished by a backward-projecting spur, formed by the upper petal of the flower, which resembles the spur or toe of a lark (bird).

Complex as it is, this plant belongs to a group of more than 250 species of annual, biennial, and perennial flowering plants that grow throughout temperate areas in the Northern Hemisphere and in parts of Africa as well.

However, the plant does as well in almost any USDA zone, as numerous cultivars have been domesticated for gardens, and larkspur is particularly associated with old-fashioned English gardens.

Although you may see larkspur seed that is sold as a perennial, my recommendation for our area is to only plant the larkspur labeled "winter annual."


Growing Larkspur

Larkspur does not like transplanting; seed planting is the preferable method. Follow the directions on the seed packet:

Pick a spot of well-drained soil with full sunlight or partial shade, perhaps along a fence, as these plants do grow tall.

Sow the seeds directly in the ground, covering the seeds lightly. The seeds must be close to the surface, as they need sunlight to germinate. Four inches apart is generally enough space, and do not mulch, at least not yet. Bet you thought you'd never hear that from a Master Gardener.

During the winter larkspur develop their root systems and the next spring they go into a blossoming frenzy. If you need to add fertilizer to your soil, do so about once a month, but prior to the blooming period.

For optimum growth, it is best to group them into sections of 10 or 20 plants. It will take about a week for the seeds to germinate, so be sure to keep them moist during this time. Wait until about two leaves appear on each plant and then thin them out to six inches apart. If excessive heat causes any plants to wilt, simply pluck them out and discard. Once plants have been established, apply a thin layer of compost each spring, followed by a 2-inch layer of mulch to retain moisture and control weeds on larkspur beds.

Larkspur usually blooms very early in the spring before any other plants, typically blooming from February-May. When the temperature rises to 80 degrees and higher, they will most likely start dying back, as their life cycle is about over.

Strong winds will damage them, so make sure they are well-shielded. If your larkspur grows too tall, it may have to be staked up since the blossoms will get too heavy, thus the suggestion to plant along the fence line. If they are planted about six inches apart, they will support one another and won't require staking.

It is best to plant larkspur in the fall, September to November being optimal months. Like right now. So, run out and get those seeds - just as soon as you finish this article, of course.

Facts to know Larkspur

Harmful to cattle: Be aware that all parts of larkspur, even the seeds, are highly toxic and hence poisonous to humans and many animals, especially cattle. The stem and seeds contain alkaloids. It would be advisable not to sow seeds anywhere near where livestock may graze, as larkspur re-seeds and the wind can carry seeds into pastures.

Pests should be minimal: P Sclerotium rot is the most common disease you will have to worry about with larkspur. It makes the plants wilt and turns the leaves yellow. Plant larkspur in well-drained soil or raised beds, as excess soil moisture or too frequent watering enhances the environment for root rot. You should also pluck out any damaged larkspur and throw it away.

You shouldn't have a major problem with insects, although aphids are sometimes a nuisance. Simply use your favorite organic insecticide if you notice a pest problem.

Bunnies by Easter

Larkspur can be a very rewarding landscape plant - not to mention its early spring flowers and the benefits of fresh, cut flowers. Planting annual larkspur now will brighten your garden and will ensure you will see bunnies in your garden for Easter.
LARKSPUR: A SPRING DELIGHT

Sow seeds directly into well-drained soil in full sun in the fall.

Keep soil moist, but not soggy.

Fertilize no more than once a month, only if necessary.

Plant seeds where blooms will have support, and out of high winds.

Group into section of 10-20 plants, thinning to 6 inches once seeds germinate.

Purchase and plant seedlings available in nurseries after the holidays.

Larkspur will provide beautiful blooms from February through May.
PHOTO BY KAREN PYE/VICTORIA COUNTY MASTER GARDENER
Larkspur spike bouquets were recently available in the floral department of H-E-B Plus! for use as cut flowers in vases. Shown here are the lavender to blue, white and light pink shades.
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.