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Lovely, Easy, Larkspur

The Larkspur is an easy and delightful plant for many landscapers and gardeners, adding old-fashioned charm to any bed or border.

The Larkspur is an easy and delightful plant for many landscapers and gardeners, adding old-fashioned charm to any bed or border.

Bold and attractive Larkspur is a popular, old fashioned favourite. These hardy annuals grow light, feathery flowers atop tall spikes. Use larkspur in cottage gardens, or butterfly gardens. Larkspur also makes an excellent cutting flower so landscapers can use it in cut flower gardens.

Larkspur is a beautiful and popular annual that comes in colours of blue, lavender, white, rose, and pink, although blue is the most popular colour. Larkspur has a lacy kind of foliage (much like Cosmos) with blooms highly compacted on long tapering spikes that give it a tall, regal appearance. It generally grows in 30cm or 60cm high spires, although some people have reported heights of up to 1.2m and more. These big plants grow quickly to produce flowers in spring, earlier than many annuals. Larkspur makes an excellent garden flower, and also looks great in vases, although its vase life is seven days or less. They can also be dried for winter arrangements. Larkspur is excellent massed in groups. Tall plants look their best in the back of the flower garden.

Larkspur is occasionally called Annual Delphinium, but delphinium is actually its genus, which encompasses many biennial, perennial and annual herbaceous plants. Larkspur is now listed with the scientific names Consolida ambigua and Consolida orientalis.

Larkspur is the smaller and wilder cousin to the stately perennial delphinium. The beautiful blooms and the delicate fringing leaves make this tall spiky annual the perfect filler for the cottage style garden. Incidentally, Larkspur is the flower of the month of July and its meaning denotes fickleness.

PROPAGATION

Grow Larkspur from seed. Directly sow Larkspur seeds into your flower garden after all danger of frost.

Sow seeds early in the season and cover lightly with 3mm of garden soil. Space them 5cm apart and thin seedlings to 15-25cm apart.

This multi-use annual is so easy to grow — just get it started and it will be happy to reseed itself for the next year!

GROWING LARKSPUR

Larkspur prefers well-drained soil so it matters less whether the soil is rich, poor, sandy, rocky or loamy, and more whether the soil holds water for too long. Larkspur will tolerate part shade but prefers full sun.

Larkspur generally grows best in a cool to moderate climate. When the temperature rises above 28oC, they will most likely die. But in general, it will grow fast with little maintenance until the first frost hits. As with most annual plants, frost will wipe them out. Water the Larkspurs deeply to encourage root development, but be sure the roots do not stand in water.

Strong winds will damage them, so make sure they are well-shielded. If your Larkspur grow too tall, they may have to be staked up since the blossoms will get too heavy. But if they are planted about 15cm apart, they will support one another and won’t require staking. Larkspur usually blooms very early in the spring, before any other annual plants.

Larkspur blends well with other flowering perennials like hardy geranium, phlox, roses, and lavender. Larkspur has an old-fashioned, cottage garden appeal as well, so landscape designers can try combining with other popular cottage garden plants.

Larkspur does not require too much maintenance but some gardeners might prefer deadheading to prolong the bloom time. Seedlings can grow in unwanted places so gardeners will need to dig up stray volunteers.

Add a general purpose fertiliser every two weeks prior to blooming. Use a fertiliser high in potassium just prior to blooming.

PESTS AND DISEASES

Fungal disease is common, most notably Sclerotium rot which yellows leaves and wilts plant. Larkspur is also affected by mildew. Treat affected plants immediately with a general purpose fungicide. Remove seriously diseased plants to keep the disease from spreading.

Insect problems are less frequent but aphids can rapidly become a problem if the population is left unchecked. Organic or chemical insect repellents are effective against most pests, including aphids.

IMPORTANT SAFETY NOTE

Larkspur is toxic (the stem and seeds contain alkaloids), and gardeners with grazing animals should take care to plant larkspur out of their reach. The plant is apparently quite palatable, and also high in calcium, so some animals will eat it to correct dietary deficiencies. Cows, especially, have been known to die after eating only small amounts of the attractive plant, and many people who pasture cows wait until the heat of summer to let them out onto fields where larkspur blooms, as the majority of the plants will have died back at that point. Apparently, domestic sheep are not affected by the toxins in Larkspurs. So, sometimes sheep are used to help eradicate the plant on cattle range.