Scabious (Scabiosa) – The Complete Guide

With delicate lightness, its delicate flowers dance above a bushy mop of leaves. The scabious enchants as an elf-like perennial in cottage gardens and summer borders.

Learn how to elicit a never-ending bloom from this graceful flower beauty.

Planting Scabious Properly

May is planting time for home-grown or ready-bought scabious, also known as pincushion flower. Welcome the perennial to your garden in a full-sun location characterized by loose, humic, and fresh soil.

While you let the still potted root ball soak with water, dig planting pits at a distance of 14 to 16 inches (35 to 40 cm).

Mix compost, horn shavings, and a little garden lime or rock flour into the excavated soil. Then, plant the potted root ball in the center of the planting hole and fill it with the substrate up to the lower pair of leaves.

After you pressed down the soil and watered it, spread a layer of mulch with leaves or bark mulch.

Care Tips

With its natural charm, the scabious will transform the garden into a summer sea of flowers if you provide it with the following care measures:

  • Water regularly but moderately in the bed and pot.
  • Any waterlogging is deadly for the perennial.
  • Clean out withered blossoms every 2-3 days.
  • In April/May, give the plant a start with compost and horn shavings.
  • Add a liquid fertilizer to the water for scabious in pots.

In fall, cut off the lanceolate, grass-like foliage to just above the ground. Bedding plants should receive a protective layer of leaves, straw, or brushwood, while perennials in pots need to be relocated to frost-free winter quarters.

Which Location is Suitable for Scabious?

With their colorful flowers, scabious pay homage to the sun, trying to grab every last ray of it.

Therefore, treat the summer perennial to a full-sun location, warm and ideally protected from the wind.

If the soil is fresh, moist, nutrient-rich, and well-drained, the care required for the pincushion flower is reduced to a minimum.

What Soil Does the Scabious Need?

This summer-flowering perennial feels at home in humic, well-drained soil that can indeed be calcareous. A sandy-loamy, fresh texture of the soil perfectly suits the needs of a scabious.

In containers and balcony boxes, the pincushion flower shows its best side when it can stretch its roots in standard potting soil enriched with sand, perlite, or lava granules.

When is Flowering Time for Scabious?

The duration of the flowering period is up to the gardener. If you give your scabious a free hand, a delicate sea of flowers in beautiful shades of blue, pink, or white will spread in the bed from June onwards.

In the process, the head flower is surrounded by up to 3 rows of petals, most of which grow decoratively wavy.

Without your intervention, however, this flowering spectacle will remain unique. By immediately trimming out the faded flowers, the blooming period continues seamlessly into October.

Pruning the Scabious Properly

With the help of your pruning shears, you can motivate the perennial to bloom for what feels like an eternity.

If you consistently cut off the withered flower heads every few days, fresh buds will unfold within a short time. If you care for your scabious in this way, it will show no signs of fatigue from June until well into the fall.

Ideally, cut off the retracted foliage only in late winter to provide additional protection for the root ball underneath.

Watering Scabious

Water your scabious regularly during the summer drought, as it feels at its best in fresh, moist soil.

In no case should the perennial suffer from waterlogging, because the root ball will not survive this situation.

If the flower thrives in a planter, there is usually a more frequent need for watering than in the bed. Here, on hot summer days, check the moisture content of the substrate daily, to water immediately if the surface is dry.

Fertilizing Scabious Properly

In terms of its nutrient supply, the perennial is modest. With a starting fertilization in spring, you have already dealt with this aspect of care.

A well-measured portion of compost with horn shavings gives scabious the necessary plant energy for lush flowering.

After planting in a pot or a balcony box, the nutrient reserves are used up within 4-6 weeks. Therefore, fertilize the perennial subsequently until August every 4 weeks with a liquid preparation for flowering plants.

Wintering Scabious

Except for a few annual varieties, scabious thrives as a perennial. Although the above-ground parts of the plant retract during the winter, the root ball can withstand bone-chilling temperatures as low as -30 °F (-34 °C).

Nevertheless, for the sake of caution, we advise light winter protection for flower grace, covering the root disc with leaves and brushwood after pruning.

Cultivated in window boxes and tubs, move the perennial into frost-free quarters before winter. To prevent the root ball from drying out, water occasionally until spring. Do not fertilize during the winter.

Propagating Scabious

It only takes a few steps to propagate this pretty perennial. Experienced amateur gardeners swear by the division of the root ball because this vegetative method preserves all the attributes of the mother plant.

In early spring, dig up the root ball to cut it into the desired number of segments with a spade or knife. As long as a segment has at least 2-3 buds or shoots, it will develop into magnificent new scabious.

It is important to note that the root pieces should be planted exactly as deep as before, and subsequently be watered abundantly and regularly.

Scabious in a Pot

It is primarily the small scabious (Scabiosa columbaria) that thrives wonderfully in a pot. As a substrate, we recommend a potting soil with a small amount of peat, optimized with sand, perlite, or lava granules.

Some clay shards over the water drainage holes prevent dangerous waterlogging. To care for the perennial in the pot, it comes down to these measures:

  • Water regularly when the potting soil dries out.
  • In a pre-fertilized substrate, fertilize for the first time after 4-6 weeks at the earliest.
  • Clean out withered flowers every few days.
  • Cut back the grassy foliage close to the ground in the autumn.
  • Repot the plant in fresh soil in early spring.

Throughout the winter, the perennial lingers in a frost-free place to be watered a little now and then. From May, the scabious can return to its usual place on the sunny balcony.

Is Scabious Poisonous?

The common name scabious results from the fact that some species, such as the small scabious, were used in medicine to relieve an unpleasant skin rash: scabies.

Thanks to the valuable ingredients, such as essential oils, minerals, and vitamins, the leaves have a strengthening effect on the metabolism as a tea or in a salad.

Thus, the perennial can rightly be counted among the medicinal and herbal plants, without any toxic danger to humans and animals.

Beautiful Varieties

  • Scabiosa caucasica ‘Clive Greaves’: A delicate floral beauty with light purple flowers that spread radially. The height of growth is 36 inches (90 cm).
  • Scabiosa caucasica ‘Perfecta Alba’: This perennial lives up to its cultivar name with pure white flowers and a height of growth of up to 28 inches (70 cm).
  • Small scabious (Scabiosa columbaria): Pretty mini variety with double flowers in light blue and white. It is ideal for the balcony with 10 inches (25 cm) growth height.
  • Scabiosa columbaria ‘Pink Mist’: A distinctive small scabious whose pink flowers bloom profusely from June to October. Its height of growth is 10 inches (25 cm).