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Unusual Celosia Flowers Provide Brains and Plumes, Feathers and Blooms

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Unusual Celosia Flowers Provide Brains and Plumes, Feathers and Blooms Photo © Dan McKay
They may look to you like feathery plumes, a rooster’s comb, or an alien’s brain. It’s easy to anthropomorphize this charming garden flower, which sparkles in rainbow hues all season in your full sun garden. The National Garden Bureau declared 2006 to be the year of the celosia, shining the spotlight on an underused annual.

Latin Name:

Family Amaranthaceae, genus Celosia

Common Names:

Cockscomb

Zone:

Grow as a warm weather annual in all growing zones

Size:

Depending on the variety, celosias can have a mature height from six inches to three feet in the garden. The plants stay more compact when you grow them in containers versus the ground.

Exposure:

Full sun

Bloom Period:

Summer to fall

Description:

In spite of the fact that there are about 60 species of celosia, most garden varieties are members of the argentea and spicata species. Within these species you’ll discover tall spiky flowers, dense feathery plumes, and bizarre coral-like blooms in vibrant colors. The foliage of most celosia types is green, but some varieties have burgundy or bronze leaves.

Planting:

Celosia plants won’t flower until about three months after the seeds germinate, so you should start the seeds indoors about six weeks before your average last frost for earlier blooms. They require warm soil from the very beginning, so if you have a seedling heat mat to provide warmth, use it. Otherwise, provide temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees for best germination, and to prevent damping off disease.

Maintenance:

You can prevent problems like stem rot and leaf spot by providing celosias with plenty of unfiltered sunshine and moderate irrigation. Although celosias can tolerate clay soil, if this is combined with heavy rainfall the plants will likely fail.

Celosias produce their vivid flowers without asking for much fertilization in return. If the plants begin to look tired, add some seaweed or fish emulsion to the watering can for a boost of trace nutrients.

Some celosias may require staking. If you plant a tall variety with large flower heads in an open area, winds or storms can cause stem breakage. Planting these large flowering types in a sheltered part of the garden makes staking optional, as long as the plants receive the full sun they need to stay vigorous.

Design Tips:

The differing heights and forms of celosia flowers gives them great versatility in the garden. Because of their drought tolerance, any of the small to medium size celosias make good container garden plants. In the border, combine celosias with other low maintenance annuals, like zinnias or marigolds. Celosias combine naturally with other members of the amaranth family, like gomphrena or love-lies-bleeding.

You can design an entire flowerbed with different varieties of celosia, staggering heights and creating a spectacular rainbow effect with different textures and forms.

All of the tall varieties of celosias should have a place in the cutting garden. The flowers are long lasting in the vase, and they also make excellent specimens for drying.

When the gardening season is winding down, dig a few plants for temporary indoor containers. The wine, red, and gold colors will provide the perfect fall accents for your Labor Day gathering or football party. Although the plants will start to look shabby after a few weeks indoors, they stay fresher longer than a cut flower bouquet would.

Varieties:

  • Bombay series: A conversation piece in the garden, produces those unique brain-like blooms in purple, red, and yellow
  • Castle Scarlet: For red lovers only, this variety features electrifying crimson plumes
  • Flamingo Feather: Four feet tall with spiky pink blooms
  • Fresh Look series: Feathery plumes on compact plants tolerate wet or dry conditions, as long as it’s hot
  • Golden Yellow: Buttery yellow plumes contrast with deep green foliage
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