Rose Campion Care: How To Grow Rose Campion Flowers
By: Jackie Carroll
Rose campion (Lychnis coronaria) is an old-fashioned favorite that adds brilliant color to the flower garden in shades of magenta, bright pink and white. Rose campion flowers look at home in cottage garden settings and more. Read on to learn more about these interesting plants.
Rose Campion Information
Native to northern Africa, southern Europe and the Middle East, rose campion has become naturalized in many parts of the United States. It grows naturally on rocky, scrubby hillsides. The plants do well in rock gardens, xeriscaping, wildflower meadows and cottage gardens.
The genus name ‘Lychnis’ (Greek for lamp), comes from the fact that the felt-like leaves were used as lamp wicks in olden days. The soft, pale, gray-green foliage makes the perfect backdrop for the brightly colored flowers, with each blossom lasting only a day. The foliage adds soft texture in the garden when the flowers are not in bloom.
Flowers are sparse the first year but numerous in the second year. In the third year, the numbers of blossoms begin to decline, but they are eager reseeders that regenerate themselves every year.
Rose Campion Care
Growing rose campions is a snap if you choose the right location. The plants prefer full sun but tolerate partial shade, where they produce fewer blossoms. The plants survive winters in USDA plant hardiness zones 4 through 8, but they may not survive particularly severe winters in zone 4.
Rose campion prefers poor, dry soil over rich soil, and tolerates alkaline or calcareous soil. Dry soil is best, but the plants may need supplemental watering during extended dry periods. If you have to water, apply the moisture slowly, making sure the water sinks deep into the soil.
The seeds need a chilling period before they will germinate, so plant them in the fall for spring germination. If you live in an area that typically has warm periods in fall and winter, plant the seeds in winter, several weeks before the last expected frost date. The seeds need light to germinate, so press them onto the surface of the soil without covering them.
Deadhead the plant regularly to keep the flowers blooming. To encourage the plant to reseed itself, remove the mulch from areas where you want seedlings to take root, and leave the last flush of summer flowers in place to form seed heads. In spring, thin the seedlings and move some of the excess to other locations.
The only additional care the plants need is late fall or early winter pruning. Cut them back to about one-third of their original size. The trimmings are fine for the compost pile.
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After a summer of drought, extreme heat, and marauding insects and deer, you’re probably on the lookout for a plant that can withstand all these assaults. But perhaps you were thinking that there’s no such plant. In fact, there is: rose campion. It withstands hot, dry summers, has a long season of bloom, and best all all, is shunned by deer and other four-legged nibblers. Oh, and it is not bothered by pests or diseases, is easy to grow, and holds up nicely as a cut flower.
Rose campion. Note basal rosette — a first year plant — in foreground. Photo: Cathy Caldwell
Rose campion ((Lychnis coronaria or Silene coronaria) has been classified by some experts as a short-lived perennial and by others as a biennial, but since it reseeds like crazy, it will function like a perennial in your garden. It has a basal rosette, which looks much like lambs ears (Stachys), out of which grow multiple tall stems (2-3 ft.) topped by small, brilliant magenta flowers. It starts blooming in late May in this area, and continues through July, and into August. This plant, a native of Europe, has been popular in gardens for at least 2,000 years, and has been in cultivation in the United States since colonial times. In recent decades, however, it has become a rarity in nurseries and garden centers, though the seeds are readily available. Apparently, the fact that it doesn’t bloom until its second year renders it less appealing to the nursery trade.
But what about the name? Unfortunately, the species name is an unpleasant reminder of the current coronavirus pandemic. Horticulturally speaking, the term “coronaria” refers to its use in making garlands, perhaps for champions. And yes, the common name campion, refers to athletic champions. The genus name lychnis comes from the Greek name for lamp, and is believed to refer to the use of the leaves as lamp wicks.
Video: Champion of the Garden, Rose Campion
The brightness of the flowers is not universally appealing, and some gardeners feel that the flowers do not play well with others. Here’s how Phillips and Burrell put it: “The campions have strongly colored flowers that can be difficult to incoporate into the garden.” And Allan Armitage refers to the flowers of the species as “gaudy,” though recommends the hybrids, including ‘Abbotsford Rose’. All three are more fond of the white-flowered version — ‘Alba’ — and the bicolor ‘Angel Blush’. Don’t be discouraged, though. In my humble opinion, the key lies in is using it effectively: it’s all about placement and pruning. If you’re not yet excited, just watch this video: Champion of the Garden, Rose Campion/Okla.Ext.
This plant was pruned in August and is now blooming on much shorter stems. Photo: Cathy Caldwell
I’ve had the magenta-flowered rose campion for several years now, and they’re great in masses (as shown in the above-mentioned video). They’ve been a bit tall for my borders, but with timely pruning, they fit in with others more felicitously. I also employ pruning to control the number of seedlings that appear next year I prune some plants in mid-summer to encourage a second, shorter (in height) flush of bloom, while leaving others to set seed. Tracy DiSabato-Aust has experimented with pruning and deadheading rose campion, and her advice is highly recommended. She offers a couple alternative methods:
- You can pinch or cut backthe stems before flowering, which will give you shorter, more compact plants that will play well with others in your mixed borders.
- If you do this cutting back when the plants are 15″ tall and in bud, they will flower at 2 ft rather than at the normal 3 ft., though flowering is delayed by 2 to 3 weeks.
- If you cut them back when they are only 6 inches tall, there will be no delay in flowering.
- You can deadhead every week or so through July and August to prolong bloom by several weeks.
I should also note that if you cut back your rose campion down to the basal rosette right after its initial bloom, it will “behave more like a perennial” — and have a longer life.
Rose campion ‘Alba’
Photo: Leonora (Ellie) Enking, CC BY-SA 2.0, Creative Commons
I started with one plant a few years ago thanks to the seeds from that one plant, I now have countless plants. The best way to start, however, is with seeds, and you can plant those seeds now — or as soon as the weather cools off. Planting the seeds in early fall is highly recommended, as is sowing the seeds close together if you want a massed effect. The seeds need about three weeks of moist cold for good germination. If started indoors in spring, seeds require light and three weeks of moist chilling. Rose campion grows well in any good, well-draining garden soil, either acidic or alkaline, in full sun. Though it will tolerate dry conditions once established, it needs plenty of water during the germination and establishment period.
Rose Campion ‘Gardeners’ World’ — a new double-flowered cultivar. Photo courtesy of Select Seeds, Union, CT. www.selectseeds.com/Seeds & Plants
I should mention that there’s a relatively new variety of rose campion that has shorter stems, larger, double-flowered, rose-red blossoms, and is sterile. It was discovered and introduced into commerce by the BBC television show, Gardeners’ World.
Common Name: Rose campion
Skill Level: Beginner
Exposure: Full sun
Soil type: Well-drained/light, Clay/heavy, Acidic, Chalky/alkaline, Moist
Time to plant seeds: March to May
Time to divide plants: March to May
Flowering period: August to September
This is a superb plant for a sunny border. A clump-forming perennial but often grown as a biennial as it is short lived but does seed itself. The silver woolly leaves are a pleasant backdrop to the bright magenta flowers which appear in late summer. It can tolerate most well-drained soils but produces the best leaf colour in dry soil. The Royal Horticultural Society has given it its prestigious Award of Garden Merit (AGM).
Rose Campion Uses and Considerations
Rose campion will suffer if the soil is wet or waterlogged. It is generally a healthy plant and is not susceptible to disease or pest infestations. Although it's a perennial, many gardeners opt to grow it as an annual or biennial.
Rose campion is striking when grown as a mass planting or in a border. It will grow in a rock garden, and after it blooms, the foliage makes a good ground cover. Rose campion is also essential for a water-conserving cottage garden. Consider planting it with other plants and flowers such as lavender, borage, Russian sage, Mexican evening primrose and sunflowers, advises the University of California Master Gardener Program of Sonoma County.
Although the traditional rose magenta blooms are stunning, you can select cultivars of other colors to highlight in your garden. For example, ‘Abbotsford Rose’ features rose-colored blooms, and ‘Alba’ has white flowers, notes North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension.
Russian Sage (Perovskia)
Russian sage (Perovskia) is a perennial flower. In the case of Russian sage, it's the stems, even more so than the foliage, that inject silver color into your landscape design. The profusion of delicate flowers, its gray-green leaves, and its silver stems all work to give Russian sage an airy look.
Russian sage is perennial in USDA hardiness zones 4 to 9, although zone 4 may require some winter protection. It grows up to four feet in height but often tends to sprawl.
Pruning and Deadheading
Rose campion will self-seed after blooming and spread in your garden. Purdue University Extension classifies rose campion as an aggressive grower, but you can still enjoy the flower in your garden with proper care and management. If you don't want your plants to spread, deadhead the blooms as soon as they start to die back and before they start to seed.
Some garden designs may benefit from the self-seeding nature of rose campion. If you have a cottage garden, consider allowing the flowers to go to seed. New plants will grow back the next year, and when they sprout, you can simply remove any that you don't want.
Prune back the rose campion in the late fall or early winter, advises Calaveras County Master Gardeners. Before pruning, make sure to disinfect your pruning shears by cleaning any dirt and debris and then soaking them in a diluted bleach solution, advises the University of Florida.
Rose Campion Care
Voksende rose campions er et snap, hvis du vælger den rigtige placering. Planterne foretrækker fuld sol, men tolererer delvis skygge, hvor de producerer færre blomster. Planterne overlever vintre i USDA plantehardiness zoner 4 til 8, men de må ikke overleve særlig alvorlige vintre i zone 4.
Rose campion foretrækker dårlig, tør jord over rig jord, og tolererer alkalisk eller kalkholdig jord. Tørr jord er bedst, men planterne kan have brug for supplerende vanding i længere tørre perioder. Hvis du er nødt til at vand, sug fugt langsomt og sørg for, at vandet synker dybt ned i jorden.
Frøene har brug for en afkølingstid, før de vil spire, så plant dem om efteråret til forårspiring. Hvis du bor i et område, der typisk har varme perioder om efteråret og vinteren, plantes frøene om vinteren flere uger før den sidste forventede frostdato. Frøene har brug for let at spire, så tryk dem på overfladen af jorden uden at dække dem.
Deadhead planten regelmæssigt for at holde blomsterne blomstrende. For at opmuntre planten til at vende sig selv, skal du fjerne mulch fra områder, hvor du vil have kimplanter til at slå rod, og lad den sidste flush af sommerblomster være på plads for at danne frøhoveder. Tør kimplanterne i foråret og flyt nogle af overskuddet til andre steder.
Den eneste ekstra pleje, planterne har brug for, er sen efterår eller tidlig vinterbeskæring. Skær dem tilbage til ca. en tredjedel af deres oprindelige størrelse. Trimmerne er fine for kompostbunken.