How to Grow Rose Campion, a Cottage Garden Favorite
The first time that I saw rose campion, I stopped dead in my tracks. It was growing in combination with larkspur and feverfew, some of my favorite cottage garden flowers, and the combination was perfect. The contrast of the hot pink flowers with the cool purples of the larkspur and bright white of the feverfew was striking. I vowed to reproduce it in my own garden.
What is Rose Campion?
Rose campion (Silene coronaria) is a short-lived perennial that is native to Southern Europe. Here in the US, it is hardy in zones 5 through 8. In the colder zones, it is often grown as a biennial or even an annual because it cannot survive harsh winters.
Rose campion are related to pinks (Dianthus spp.) and have similar flowers but that is where the resemblance ends. Whereas pinks grow in mounds with grassy foliage, rose campion has soft furry silvery gray leaves that grow in a rosette about a foot wide and 12 inches tall. The leaves resemble Lambs Ears (Stachys byzantina) Adding to the confusion, rose campion is occasionally called Dusty Miller (Jacobaea maritima) although it is not related to that plant. It is also deer resistant because deer do not like plants that have fuzzy leaves.
Rose campion is grown for both its flowers and its foliage. The flowers bloom on stalks arising out of the rosettes that can be as tall as 3 feet. They are dark pink or magenta. The flowers can also be white. Newer hybrids have combination pink and white flowers or white with a pink eye. There are double forms also. Bloom time is late spring to early summer, May through July.
How to Grow Rose Campion
As evidenced by its silvery leaves, rose campion is drought tolerant. It must be grown in well-drained soil. If the soil is too wet for too long, the plants will succumb to root rot. Rose campion prefers growing in full sun but will tolerate a little shade. Plants should be spaced 12 to 15 inches apart.
After the flowers fade, the stalks should be cut back to the ground. It is said that if you do that, you will get a second flush of flowers. Personally, this has never happened for me and I deadhead religiously. “Deadhead” means to remove dead or dying flowers, not just because they are ugly, but also to prevent them from forming seeds. Rose campion is a prolific self seeder.
Some gardeners grow rose campion in the front of their gardens despite the height of the flower stalks. When the plants have finished blooming, they cut the stalks down to the ground, leaving the low-growing rosettes of leaves to act as a silvery border.
How to Grow Rose Campion From Seed Outdoors
It is possible to divide the foliage rosettes but since rose campion is such a short-lived perennial, it’s easier to grow it from seed each year. You can allow the flowers to go to seed. The seeds will fall naturally into your garden and germinate in the spring. They need a period of cold weather to stimulate germination. In the spring, simply pull up any seedlings that you don’t want or transplant them to an area of your garden where you want them to grow.
If you don’t already have rose campion in your garden, you can purchase seed and direct sow it into your garden in the fall so that the cold weather of winter will stimulate the seeds to germinate in the spring. Choose where you want to the plants to grow in the spring and gently sprinkle the seeds over the area. Do not cover them. They need sunlight to germinate in the spring.
Most authorities will tell you to water after you sow the seeds. In my experience, with surface sown or shallowly sown seeds, watering afterwards causes the seeds to wash away. What I like to do is to water before I sow the seeds so that the soil is good and moist. Then I sow my seeds. If they need to be surface sown, I gently press them on the soil to ensure that they have good contact with it so that they don’t wash away if it rains soon afterwards. I don’t press the seeds into the soil. They need light to germinate so I just firm them on to the surface of the soil.
In the spring when the soil reaches 70⁰F, germination will occur within about 3 weeks. You can thin your seedlings to 12 to 15 inches apart. The first year, the rosette of leaves will form. Flowers will appear in the second year. Most perennials bloom the second year after they are sown from seed.
How to Grow Rose Campion From Seed Indoors
You can start rose campion seeds indoors. Because they need a period of cold to stimulate germination, you will need to cold stratify yours seeds. Cold stratification is a technique to fool the seeds into thinking that winter has occurred and now it is spring and time to germinate.
Start your seeds 8 to 10 weeks before your last frost. Surface sow them in a container on moist soil. Do not cover the seeds. They need light to germinate. Place the container in a plastic bag. Then put the whole thing into your refrigerator for 3 weeks. The purpose of the plastic bag is to prevent the soil from drying out in the refrigerator. Do check it periodically to make sure that it is still moist. If not, you will need to mist it to re-moisten it.
After 3 weeks, remove the container, still in the plastic bag, from the refrigerator and place it in a sunny window on a heat mat. Set the heat mat to maintain a temperature of 70⁰F. Germination should occur in about 3 weeks. Remove the plastic bag after the seeds have germinated. Keep the seedlings evenly moist. After your last frost, you can transplant your seedlings into your garden. Space them 12 to 15 inches apart. The plants will flower the following year.
Questions & Answers
Do they transplant well? When is the best time of year to do so?
I have never had any luck transplanting rose campion. The plants don't survive being transplanted. If you want to try it, do it either in the spring or the fall.Helpful 2
I wonder why not? My rose campion started as a transplant from a friend, and I've passed on the abundance to other friends with no problems!
I think that it depends on where you live. In warmer climates, rose campion is a short-lived perennial and survives the winters well. Where I live in zone 6, it is colder and the plants struggle to survive the winter. For us Northern gardeners, we have more success growing from seed rather than transplants.Helpful 2
I garden in Michigan, isn't Michigan considered "north"?
Michigan encompasses growing zones 4a (very cold) to 6b (relatively warm), so depending on where you garden in Michigan, you could have been "lucky" or warm enough for the plants to overwinter easily.
© 2015 Caren White