Gardening from Southern California

by Gerald Burke
by Gerald Burke


Gerald Burke is a freelance travel and horticultural writer. He spent 35 years in the seed business, 30 of them with Burpee, and is a member of the Garden Writers Association and the North American Travel Journalists Association

June 15, 2003

Cosmos may be one of the easiest flowers to get to grow and bloom. Seed germinates readily, plants grow well in the poorest of soils, they manage with minimal watering and little or no fertilizer and their color range is magnificent.

And yet, you don’t see many of them in urban flower gardens. As I walk by various neighborhood gardens I can’t remember seeing any beds of cosmos. And I have to admit, I haven’t grown them for the last two or three years, but I will this year.

The old cosmos, Sensation Mix, is a bit tall for many flower gardens, reaching a good three to four feet, but there are other varieties that are much shorter. Sonata is better, at around 18 to 20 inches tall, and a couple of the sulphureus types, a different kind altogether, are very low growing at only 12 to 15 inches.

The Sensations, and the other tall Sensation types are called bipinnatus, and they have the largest blooms, many four to five inches across and the color range is many shades of red and pink, lavender pink, white, carmine; some are bicolored, and one, Seashells, has unusual rolled and quilled petals. A variety called Versailles is used by cut flower growers because it makes longer stems, but I haven’t found it as productive in the garden.

Two of the best sulphureus kinds are Cosmic Orange and Cosmic Yellow. The orange won an All-America Selections Award a few years ago. Both get about 12 to 15 inches tall, and are loaded with the bright, electric looking orange or yellow blooms, two to three inches across.

Flower gardeners in temperate climates plant cosmos in the early spring for summer bloom, but in the warm Southwest we can grow them all year long, the Sensation types blooming well even in the winter, the sulphureus kinds doing best in the summer.

And an added bonus for growing cosmos is that you’ll make hummingbirds and butterflies deliriously happy because they love the blooms and flock to them all year long.

There are some rather unusual kinds of cosmos other than the quilled and rolled petal type. One is called cosmos atrosanguineus, and it’s commonly known as the “chocolate” cosmos, because of its dark, burgundy, almost black flowers that have a definite chocolate fragrance. And there’s a double, not too interesting from my point of view, but worth trying at least. It’s listed in Park Seed’s catalog under the name Psyche Mixture, and the blooms are more or less double, sort of frilly, in deep lavender-pink, white and crimson, three to four inches across on plants that get four feet tall.

Plant any cosmos in late spring to late fall, or in January through March in any soil. Keep well watered to start, then only when plants look stressed. Disease isn’t much of a problem, but snails do seem to like to chew on the ferny foliage when the plants are young. Seed racks usually carry two or three varieties, seed catalogs have several, and you’ll find started plants in the nursery usually late in spring through the summer.



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