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Scabiosa: How to Grow Pincushion Flowers

Scabiosa flowers add charm and texture to any garden. I love the delicate, pin cushion-like blooms, the whimsy they add, and the pollinators they attract. Learn how to grow scabiosa flowers with these tips.


Pincushion Flower Plant Characteristics 

Scabiosa flowers come in various colors, including shades of purple, deep purple, blue, pink, white, and even red.

Scabiosa flowers come in various colors, including shades of purple, deep purple, blue, pink, white, and even red.
Scabiosa flowers come in various colors, including shades of purple, deep purple, blue, pink, white, and even red.

These long-lasting blooms attract beneficial insects and pollinators, such as bees (bumblebees love them!), butterflies, and hummingbirds, making them an excellent choice for companion planting.

These long-lasting blooms attract gardeners and pollinators, such as bees (bumblebees love them!), butterflies, and hummingbirds, making them an excellent choice for companion planting.

Most varieties of scabiosa are 24-36” tall—varieties to try Fire King, Starflower, and Black Knight.

Most varieties of scabiosa are 24-36” tall—varieties to try Fire King, Starflower, and Black Knight.

Scabiosa flowers are relatively low-maintenance and drought-tolerant. They are an excellent choice for perennial borders, cottage gardens, cutting gardens, and container gardens.


Scabiosa Soil Preparation

Scabiosa prefers well-draining, neutral to alkaline soil that is rich in nutrients. Add plenty of compost or aged manure to the soil before planting. Pincushion flower grows well in the ground, in raised beds and containers.

Scabiosa prefers well-draining, neutral to alkaline soil that is rich in nutrients. Add plenty of compost or aged manure to the soil before planting. Pincushion flower grows well in the ground, in raised beds and containers.

Place the plant in a location with full sun exposure (at least 6 hours of sunlight per day). In northern climates, choose an area that receives full sun. In southern regions, scabiosa grows best with partial shade (especially afternoon shade). 


When to plant scabiosa

Scabiosa is an easy plant to grow, whether you start from seed, plug, or transplant. Pincushion flowers are cool-season hardy annuals that tolerate frost and grow best when they get established during cooler temperatures.

Scabiosa is an easy plant to grow, whether you start from seed, plug, or transplant. Pincushion flowers are cool-season hardy annuals that tolerate frost and grow best when they get established during cooler temperatures.
  • In zones 7 and warmer, plant pincushion transplants for fall planting 6-8 weeks before your first frost date. Look up your first and last frost dates here.
  • For spring planting, plant 6-8 weeks before your last spring frost date in all zones. 

Start scabiosa seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before your planting date.

In the low desert of Arizona, start seeds indoors for pincushion flowers from AugustSeptember and plant transplants from OctoberNovember

In the low desert of Arizona, start seeds indoors for pincushion flowers from August-September and plant transplants from October-November

To start scabiosa seeds indoors:

Scabiosa seeds need some light to germinate. Press seeds lightly into the soil and cover with a thin layer of vermiculite. Seedlings sprout within a few days. Once the seedlings are 3-5″ (7-12 cm) tall, transplant them into individual pots or the ground. Learn more about how to start seeds indoors in this blog post.

Scabiosa seeds need some light to germinate. Press seeds lightly into the soil and cover with a thin layer of vermiculite.

To plant scabiosa from plugs and transplants:

Scabiosa plugs from Farmer Bailey
Scabiosa plugs from Farmer Bailey

If you prefer plugs or transplants, you can plant them directly into the soil during your planting window. Allow 12 inches (30cm) between plants. Provide adequate space between plants to promote proper air circulation and prevent overcrowding.

If you prefer plugs or transplants, you can plant them directly into the soil during your planting window. Allow 12 inches (30cm) between plants. Provide adequate space between plants to promote proper air circulation and prevent overcrowding.

Flower supports may be required to keep plants upright. I use bamboo poles with these clips to support scabiosa flowers.



How to Grow Scabiosa Flowers and Care for Them Throughout the Growing Season

Make sure to water your scabiosa regularly, especially as plants become established. Once established, they will tolerate some drought. Pincushion flowers produce multiple stems naturally and do not need pinching.

To encourage blooms, regularly remove dead leaves and spent blooms.

To encourage blooms, regularly remove dead leaves and spent blooms. To deadhead, use clean, sharp scissors or pruning shears to snip off the spent flower head just above the next leaf or branching point on the stem. Prune deeply into the center of the plant to reinvigorate.

Scabiosa is often a perennial plant in zones 3 to 9, which means it will return year after year and divide in the spring. However, it may act like an annual in colder or hotter summer climates. It typically flowers from late spring through mid-fall and will continue blooming as long as temperatures aren’t too hot or cold. 

If you live in a hot climate, you may need to take extra steps to ensure your scabiosa thrives.

  • Provide some shade during the hottest part of the day.
  • Plant scabiosa near taller plants or structures that can provide some relief from the sun.
  • Mulch helps keep the soil cooler and retain moisture.

In hot summer climates like the low desert of Arizona, scabiosa may go dormant or die during the hottest months of the year.


Tips for Using Scabiosa Flowers as a Cut Flower

To harvest scabiosa for cut flower arrangements, harvest when ⅓ of the flowers are open for the longest vase life. Use clean, sharp scissors or pruning shears, and make the first cut on the stem at almost ground level above 2-3 side shoots. Side shoots will form at the base of the stem. Cut the side shoots back to the stem when harvesting. 

As the seeds mature, the seed head transitions from a green color to shades of brown, tan, or gray. The dried seed heads can have an almost architectural quality. They can be left on the plant to provide visual interest or harvested for seed collection. They also make excellent additions to floral arrangements.


Troubleshooting Pests and Diseases for Pincushion Flowers

Like any plant, scabiosa can be affected by pests and diseases. The most common pest is aphids. Monitor plants for signs of problems, but the damage is usually minor, and intervention is usually unnecessary. Read this post to understand more about organic pest control.  

The most common disease affecting scabiosa is powdery mildew. To prevent and treat powdery mildew, ensure proper air circulation around the plant, avoid overhead watering, and water early in the day to allow the foliage to dry. Read this post for more information.


How to Save Seeds from Scabiosa Flowers

Scabiosa seed heads develop after the flowers have been pollinated and fade away. They are often as visually appealing as the flowers, resembling tiny, rounded pincushions or thimbles with a slightly raised and domed center.

Nasturtium, Rudbeckia, and Scabiosa seeds

How to save seeds from pincushion flowers:

To save seeds from scabiosa flowers, allow a few of the largest blooms to develop into seed heads and leave them on the plant until they brown entirely. Learn more about saving seeds in this article.

  1. Harvest the dried seed heads by carefully cutting them off the plant using pruning shears or scissors.
  2. Place the seed heads in a paper bag and gently crush them using your hands or a rolling pin. This helps release the seeds from their compartments within the seed head.
  3. Once the seeds have been released, gently blow on them or use a fan to create a light breeze to separate any remaining chaff or debris. The lighter chaff will be carried away, leaving the heavier seeds behind.
  4. Allow seeds to dry completely and then store in an airtight container. This post explains how to store seeds for the longest storage time.

Remember that some hybrid varieties may not produce true-to-type plants from saved seeds, so keeping seeds from heirloom or open-pollinated varieties for consistent results is best.


Whether grown for cut flowers or to enjoy in the garden, scabiosa is a low-maintenance and beautiful addition to any garden.


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