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How to Care for a Pincushion Flower (Scabiosa)

Gorgeous bright pink scabiosa flowers with ray florets

Genus Scabiosa

Not every plant in your garden is going to be a show stopper – like sunflowers, zinnias, or a peonies – it’s necessary to compliment those bigger, more showy flowering plants with some smaller, easy maintenance plants. Though smaller, scabiosa plants are that perfect complimentary plant that are just as striking when you look up close.

More commonly known as the pincushion flower, these plants are loved amongst gardeners for their easy to care and lovely flowers. They’re the perfect plant for beds and borders or rock gardens, they do well in containers, and they make for an excellent cut flower specimen as well!

Scabiosa plants are members of the caprifoliaceae, which in the honeysuckle plant family. Members of this botanical group are known for being very rich in nectar, and they will attract all kinds of valuable beneficial insects to your property, like butterflies and bees.

Read on to learn all about the noteworthy characteristics of scabiosa plants, where the grow, some notable species, how to care for them, and how to propagate one of your very own as well! You will have a pincushion flower arrangement sitting on your coffee table in no time!

What do Pincushion Flower Plants Look Like?

Lovely growing scabiosa plants with pink flowers in the garden

Growth Habit

There are certain species of scabiosa that grow as annual flower plants and will perish after a single flowering season, and others that grow as perennial flowers that will continue to bloom each spring as long as their growing conditions are met and maintained.

These plants bear long and wiry stems that will each bear a single scabiosa flower. Each stem will grow to be anywhere from 1 to 2 feet in length. They are sturdy but flexible, and have a charming quality of fluttering in the breeze.

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Leaves

Scabiosa plants grow lush foliage that is gray to blue/green depending on the species. Each leaf is commonly slightly hairy with either lobed or simply shaped.

If it’s a perennial species, the pincushion flower plant will bear evergreen foliage. This means that the leaves will remain green and persist all year long, adding ornamental interest all year long.

Flowers

Scabiosa plants will bloom with inflorescences that come in the form of flower heads comprised of ray florets. These ray florets surround a centre that resembles a squishy pin cushion, and the stamens resemble little needles, hence the common name of the flower!

Pincushion flowers come in various flower colors, ranging from blue, purple, white, and pink. Annual species tend to come in a wider range of color options.

Pincushion flowers are known for having a very long blooming season as well. They will commonly bloom in the late spring/early summer, and last well into fall, until the first frost of the season.

What are some Notable Scabiosa Species?

Amazing deep red pincushion flowers growing in the garden

Sweet Scabiosa (Scabiosa Atpropurpurea)

Sweet scabiosa is one of the those awesome perennials that will stick around for far longer than your other spring planted perennials.

Also known as the mourningbride or mournful widow, this scabiosa species is native to southern Europe but is cultivated all over the world.

Sweet scabiosa can be identified by its pinnately shaped, fuzzy gray/green leaves that grow low to the ground, and their dramatically dark purple flowers.

Perennial Scabiosa (Scabiosa Caucasica)

Scabiosa caucasica is a herbaceous perennial species of pincushion flower, that is also evergreen, so its leaves will bring ornamental interest to your garden as long as its alive.

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The perennial scabiosa has a superbly long blooming season – lasting from the late spring to first frost of the season – with gorgeous blue, white, or pink flowers.

Scabiosa ‘Butterfly Blue’

Scabiosa butterfly blue is one of the most popular pincushion flower cultivars due to its stunning and large sky blue flowers that bloom all the way from late spring to first frost.

This herbaceous perennial cultivar can be identified by its compact and clump forming wiry stems that bear a single lavender blue flower on its end. They also grow a short mound of fern-like foliage.

Amazing field of tall scabiosa plants with pink and red flowers

Small Scabious (Scabiosa Columbaria)

The small scabious is also commonly known as the dwarf pincushion flower and it is native to Europe, Africa, and western Asia.

Scabiosa columbaria is a short lived, perennial plant that can achieve heights around 1.5 feet. They bear beautiful pale lavender or blue flowers that bloom from the early summer to very late autumn accompanied by gray/green leaves.

Starflower Pincushions (Scabiosa Stellata)

The starflower pincushion flower plant is a very unique type of perennial plant in the scabiosa family, and it is native to southwestern Europe and Northern Africa.

Scabiosa stellata can be identified by its dense, spherical clusters of flowers. Each flower is comprised of several fan shaped, papery bracts that are a bright yellow color. These flowers bloom from the early summer to late autumn.

Where are Scabiosa Plants Native?

One of the most valuable things that I have learned as a gardener is learning where a plant comes from, properly enables gardeners to understand how to keep a plant happy outside of its natural growing range.

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Scabiosa plants are native to the temperate areas all over Europe, Africa, and Asia, though they have become naturalized in many other temperate regions around the world.

Pincushion flower plants can be grown outdoors all year long in USDA growing zones 3 through 7, but should be brought indoors during the colder months of the year, or the exceptionally hot months.

What are the Ideal Growing Conditions for Pincushion

Flowers?

Beautiful lavender scabiosa flowers pointing towards the sun

Now that we’ve got all of the nitty gritty out of the way, it’s time to learn about how to care for a pincushion plant of your very own.

They can be applied in many different garden applications. They will be happy in the ground, in a pot or container, along borders or in garden beds, and they can even be happy as indoor plants! Here are some simple scabiosa care tips:

Soil Type

The ideal soil type for a scabiosa plant must have a few features. Most importantly, it is essential that the soil is well draining. It must also be organically rich, acidic and moist.

A super simple way to achieve both of these things is by incorporating compost to the soil at the beginning of the growing season. This will not only increase the nutrient level of the soil, but will improve drainage!

Another option would be to incorporate some peat moss or manure at the beginning of the growing season, as this will achieve the desired level of acidity.

Water Level

When it comes to watering your scabiosa plant, you only have to pay attention to how much rain has occurred within a certain time frame. Natural precipitation is usually completely sufficient for their needs.

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You’ll only need to water your specimen if there is an extended period of drought. When this happens, just water it a couple of times a week so that the soil isn’t bone dry.

Close up of pretty white scabiosa flowers growing in the garden

Sun Exposure

Scabiosa plants are sun loving creatures. This means that they prefer to exist in direct sunlight for a minimum of 6-8 hours per day.

Though they can sometimes tolerate partial shade, they will show you that they are less happy by producing less enthusiastic flower blossoms.

Temperature

Scabiosas are a plant type that prefer more temperate temperatures. They are not fans of extreme cold or extreme heat, and that is why it is best to grow them USDA growing zones 3 through 7.

They also don’t seem to enjoy conditions that are particularly humid or wet, so they should be brought indoors if there are extensive rains or bouts of humidity.

Fertilizer

Scabiosa plants are vigorous growers but pretty light feeders and they don’t require fertilizer to be happy. Usually, that compost that you incorporated at the beginning of the growing season will be more than enough nutrients to keep them happy and healthy.

Pruning

The most maintenance that will be required of you from your scabiosa plant occurs in the form of pruning. Deadheading the spent flowers will improve the overall appearance of the plant, and will often encourage a second period of blooming as well.

For a perennial plant type, you can actually cut the flowering stem all the way do to just above the leaf joint in the fall after the flowering period has ended. This will allow them to sprout back up rigorously the following spring.

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How do you Propagate a Scabiosa Plant?

Amazing close up image of bright purple scabiosa flowers

Now that you’re an expert in scabiosa care, it’s time for you to learn how to propagate one of your very own! The easiest way to grow a pincushion plant is from seed. Here are a few simple steps to get you going:

1. You can decide to start your scabiosa seeds indoors in the very early spring so that they’re ready to be transplanted as soon as it’s warm enough, or you can just sow them directly into the earth after the last threat of frost has passed.

2. The easiest was to sow seed outdoors is by taking a handful of scabiosa seeds and sprinkling them on the ground. They only take a couple of weeks for germination, but during this time, make sure that the soil is kept moist.

3. Once little seedlings start to appear, you can pinch some of them away so that each plant has about 10-12 inches of space between them. Seedlings will be happy in a sunny area with plenty of water.

4. From here, scabiosa roots are sturdy enough that you can safely transplant them wherever you’d like on your property — into a garden bed, container, or just leave them as is!

Lovely deep red pincushion flowers growing tall above green foliage

Happy planting!

FAQs

Are scabiosa plants deer resistant?

An added bonus to planting a scabiosa plant is the fact that they are entirely resistant to grazing from larger pests like deer, rabbits, and squirrels.

What are the damaging agents to pincushion flowers?

The main issues that pincushions flowers will experience usually occurs when they are sitting in wet soils. When sitting in wet soils they tend to develop fungal issues like powdery mildew.

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Are pincushion flower plants annuals or perennials?

A pincushion flower plant will bear annual flower clusters or perennial flowers depending on the species. They will either have one blooming season and then perish, or continue to blossom every early spring for as long as they’re alive.

Are scabiosa plants frost hardy?

Though a scabiosa plant will survive over the winter, its flowers will die away once the first frost of the season hits. The foliage and stems will die down in winter and sprout back up again once spring arrives.

Are pincushion flower plants evergreen?

Many scabiosa species bear evergreen leaves. These are leaves that will persist and remain green all year long, regardless of the season or temperature.

Can scabiosa be grown in a pot or container?

Scabiosa plants can easily be grow in pots or containers as long as those vessels have proper drainage holes and they are placed in an area that receives a sufficient amount of sunlight exposure.

Will a pincushion flower plant grow in shade?

Scabiosa plants are sun loving creatures. This means that they prefer to exist in direct sunlight for a minimum of 6-8 hours per day.

Though they can sometimes tolerate partial shade, they will show you that they are less happy by producing less enthusiastic flower blossoms.

How tall does scabiosa plants grow?

There are certain species of scabiosa that grow as annual flower plants and will perish after a single flowering season, and others that grow as perennial flowers that will continue to bloom each spring as long as their growing conditions are met and maintained.

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These plants bear long and wiry stems that will each bear a single scabiosa flower. Each stem will grow to be anywhere from 1 to 2 feet in length. They are sturdy but flexible, and have a charming quality of fluttering in the breeze.

What USDA zones do scabiosa plants grow in?

Pincushion flower plants can be grown outdoors all year long in USDA growing zones 3 through 7, but should be brought indoors during the colder months of the year, or the exceptionally hot months.

How long do scabiosa blooms last?

Pincushion flowers are known for having a very long blooming season as well. They will commonly bloom in the late spring/early summer, and last well into fall, until the first frost of the season.

Should a pincushion flower be deadheaded?

The most maintenance that will be required of you from your scabiosa plant occurs in the form of pruning. Deadheading the spent flowers will improve the overall appearance of the plant, and will often encourage a second period of blooming as well.

For a perennial plant type, you can actually cut the flowering stem all the way do to just above the leaf joint in the fall after the flowering period has ended. This will allow them to sprout back up rigorously the following spring.

Do scabiosa plants need fertilizer?

Scabiosa plants are vigorous growers but pretty light feeders and they don’t require fertilizer to be happy. Usually, that compost that you incorporated at the beginning of the growing season will be more than enough nutrients to keep them happy and healthy.

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Can scabiosa be grown from seed?

Scabiosa plants are easily grown from seed. You can either get them ready in the early spring, or they can be planted in autumn so that germination occurs after a dormancy period.

Do pincushion flowers attract pollinators?

Pincushion flowers are not only beautiful, but they are great for your garden because they attract all sorts of beneficial insects like moths, bees, butterflies, and wasps to your property thanks to that sweet smelling nectar.

What is the ideal soil type for a scabiosa plant?

The ideal soil type for a scabiosa plant must have a few features. Most importantly, it is essential that the soil is well draining. It must also be organically rich, acidic and moist.

A super simple way to achieve both of these things is by incorporating compost to the soil at the beginning of the growing season. This will not only increase the nutrient level of the soil, but will improve drainage!

Another option would be to incorporate some peat moss or manure at the beginning of the growing season, as this will achieve the desired level of acidity.