Annual Vs. Perennial Snapdragon Plants: How Long Do Snapdragons Live
By: Darcy Larum, Landscape Designer
Whether trailing out of hanging baskets or urns, lowly bordering a flower garden, or growing in masses of tall spires, snapdragons can add pops of long-lasting color in any garden. Snapdragons are specifically a common addition to cottage gardens. With folk names like lion’s mouth or calf’s snout, snapdragons are also a favorite in children’s gardens, because snapping the dragon’s mouth open and closed by squeezing the sides of the flowers is a fond childhood memory that has been passed down throughout generations. Snapdragons are also very easy to grow from seed and produce full size plants loaded with blooms in just one season.
Are Snapdragons Annuals or Perennials?
The most common question about snapdragons is: are snapdragons annual or perennial? The answer is that they can be both. Some varieties of snapdragons are true annuals, meaning they grow, flower, set seed, and die all within one growing season. Other varieties of snapdragons are considered to be short-lived perennials, hardy in zones 7-11, which are usually grown as annuals.
A few varieties of snapdragons are even known to withstand winter temperatures in zones 5 and 6. In many areas, snapdragon seeds will survive low winter temperatures, and new plants will grow from these seeds in spring, making the plant seem as if it came back like a perennial.
Annual and perennial snapdragons do not have many differences. Either may grow from 6-36 inches (15-91 cm.) tall, both bloom for long periods, both come in varieties with classic snapdragon flowers or azalea-like blooms, and both grow easily from seed unless they are hybrids.
Because of their short-lived nature, perennial snapdragons tend to be grown as annuals and are replanted every year. Nurseries may make the matter even more confusing by labeling snapdragons as “half hardy annuals” or “tender perennials”. How long do snapdragons live as a perennial? This all depends on the variety and location, but generally short lived perennials live about an average of three years.
Annual vs. Perennial Snapdragon Planting
Many gardeners find that it is more reliable to plant snapdragons annually. This way they know they will have long blooming snapdragons each year; if perennial varieties come back or last year’s seeds sprout, it’s just more blooms to enjoy. Snapdragons are considered cool season plants. While cold temperatures cause die-back, extreme heat can also kill them.
In northern climates, snapdragon seeds or plants are planted in spring after the danger of frost has passed. In southern climates, zone 9 or above, snapdragons are oftentimes planted in autumn to provide colorful blooms throughout the winter. Perennial snapdragons generally do best in zones 7-9.
- Spanish snapdragons are known to be hardy in zones 5-8.
- The short-lived perennial variety Eternal, hardy in zones 7-10, has colorful, long blooming flowers and green and white variegated foliage.
- The Snap Daddy and Autumn Dragons series are also well-known perennial varieties of snapdragon.
For reliable, long blooming annual snapdragons, try the Rocket, Sonnet, or Liberty series. Other common annual snapdragons include Plum Blossom, Candy Showers, and the Solstice Mix. Hybrids like Bright Butterflies or Madame Butterfly are annuals with azalea-like blooms.
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Difference Between a Snapdragon & a Summer Snapdragon
The snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus) nod in the cool breeze of spring, the pastel flower spikes rising above the green foliage. Nearby, the summer snapdragons (Angelonia angustifolia) are still growing mounds of foliage. You know from past experience that summer snapdragons won't bloom until the long, hot summer arrives. While the flowers are similar in appearance, considering the differences in the plants and growing conditions, you may question whether the two snapdragons are related or simply lookalikes.
How to Grow
- Keep weeds under control during the snapdragon growing season. Weeds compete with plants for water, space and nutrients, so control them by either cultivating often or use a mulch to prevent their seeds from germinating.
- Mulches also help retain soil moisture and maintain even soil temperatures. For annuals an organic mulch of shredded leaves lends a natural look to the bed and will improve the soil as it breaks down in time. Always keep mulches off a plant’s stems to prevent possible rot.
- Keep plants well-watered during the growing season, especially during dry spells. Plants need about 1 inch of rain per week during the growing season. Use a rain gauge to check to see if you need to add water. It's best to water with a drip or trickle system that delivers water at low pressure at the soil level. If you water with overhead sprinklers, water early in the day so the foliage has time to dry off before evening, to minimize disease problems. Keep the soil moist but not saturated.
- Until plants become established, some protection from extreme winds and direct, hot sunlight may be necessary. Good air movement is also important.
- After new growth appears, a light fertilizer may be applied. Keep granular fertilizers away from the plant crown and foliage to avoid burn injury. Use low rates of a slow release fertilizer, as higher rates may encourage root rots.
- Taller varieties may require staking.
- Remove spent flower spikes to encourage flowering and prevent seed development. Pinching the growing tips of plants can encourage bushiness. Snapdragons make terrific cut flowers, and cutting the flowers encourages new blooms.
- Monitor for pests and diseases. Check with your local Cooperative Extension Service for pest controls recommended for your area.
- Remove plants after they are killed by frost in fall to avoid disease issues the following year.
When snapdragons are grown as annual flowers, they are not expected to bloom the next year without replanting. The flowering season is extended by removing the dying flower spikes. This encourages the plant to produce more flower spikes. At the end of the season, allow the last flowers to produce seeds. Gather the ripe seeds for planting in spring or allow the plants to self-seed in the garden.
If you're growing the snapdragons as perennials, they need to be planted in a sheltered area. The cold is not what kills these flowers in most areas, but the seasonal winter rainfall. The roots to these plants are sensitive to cool moisture. A thick layer of loose mulch protects the roots and crown during the winter and helps the tender perennials survive the cold months. Use organic materials like straw, grass clippings or chopped leaves.