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What is a Pincushion Flower?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 05 November 2019
  • Copyright Protected:
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A pincushion flower is a plant in the genus Scabiosa, a large genus with a variety of individual species all identifiable by their papery, spiky flowerheads. Several species have been developed for ornamental cultivation by gardeners and a number of nurseries carry pincushion flower cultivars. It is also possible to grow them from seed or divided root balls, if gardeners have identified particularly interesting plants in gardens of friends and neighbors who are willing to share.

Plants in this genus have silvery gray foliage and upright stems. They can vary in size, depending on the species, and are especially well suited to border plantings. Companion plants grown commonly with pincushion flowers include pinks, geraniums, and daylilies. These plants produce nectar and are attractive to bees and butterflies, making them an excellent choice for a butterfly garden. When planted with other nectar-rich plants, they can be used to create an area of the garden that will be especially appealing to butterflies and related visitors.

Pincushion flower cultivars have flowers in colors like white, pink, and purple. The plants will bloom from late spring to early fall and can be encouraged to bloom more robustly by periodically deadheading to remove old flowers. Pincushion flowers also make excellent cut and dried flowers. Gardeners interested in maintaining plants with useful cut flowers can explore the Scabiosa genus, among many others, for options.

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USDA zones three through nine are generally hospitable to pincushion flowers. In cooler regions, it may be possible to grow the plants as annuals instead of perennials, while in temperate climates, the plants can be cut back in the winter and they should return on their own in the spring. Full sun to part shade exposure is recommended and the pincushion flower needs slightly alkaline, well drained soil to thrive. Fertilizer in the spring can help a pincushion flower patch take off and start blooming as early as possible.

In some regions, these plants can become invasive. They propagate through their own root balls, as well as seeds, and if the surrounding plants are not very robust, the pincushion flowers can take over. This should be considered when establishing a planting. Gardeners should make sure they want pincushion flowers in their gardens and may want to consider planting the flowers in a slightly isolated area to make them easier to control. If the plants do start spreading undesirably, they will need to be removed by hand and it can be advisable to sift the soil to remove any traces of the roots to prevent the flowers from returning.

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