2017-06-16 / Home & Garden

Cosmos—Shake, Scatter, and Sow

Stopping to smell the flowers
By Arlene Marturano

If you like free form colorful flowers dancing in the wind, plant cosmos. Cosmos is the Greek word for “beautiful.” These wild and willowy annuals are one of the first flowers to delight children to shake, scatter, and sow directly onto garden soil or containers.

Germination comes in five to ten days. Planting them once is all one needs to do since their self-seeding ways bring many happy returns year after year. Hence, they are a favorite in cottage gardens, pollinator plots, wildflower meadows, cutting gardens, and around playhouses and along paths in children’s gardens.

The daisy-like silky flowers of cosmos are composites with tiny yellow central disc florets spiraling in a Fibonacci pattern like sunflower florets. Ray florets form a parasol around the central disc. Depending on the species, ray florets can be white, pink, red, maroon, gold, or yellow. Flower face has a diameter of two to four inches.


Dwarf Cosmos ‘Apollo’ in containers Dwarf Cosmos ‘Apollo’ in containers Foliage is feathery and airy. Plants average from two to five feet in height depending on species. Long stems contribute to its appeal as a cut flower. Pinching the tips of young plants will create bushier shorter plants. Staking or netting gives tall stems good posture.

The Mexican native’s nectar and pollen attracts butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. Songbirds harvest the prolific seeds.

With a growing season from spring to frost, one can observe the life cycle over three seasons. Each adult plant will simultaneously contain tiny flower buds still beginning to emerge lower on the stems, while the seedheads will have already dispersed the brown seeds. The mature plant presents a gestalt of all stages of life making them a model organism for teaching life cycle.

Deadheading ensures continual bloom. Keep an eye out for ripening seedheads to donate to the local seed exchange or plant sale.


Cosmos sulphureus at Sustainable Carolina Farm and Garden Cosmos sulphureus at Sustainable Carolina Farm and Garden Garden writers Eudora Welty and Elizabeth Lawrence exalted cosmos for their long-lasting vivid nonfading color, drought tolerance and non-stop extended bloom time.

Cosmos prefer full sun to part shade with well-drained soils of low to medium fertility. Do not over fertilize unless you want more foliage than flowers.

The two most common species of cosmos and their cultivars are C. bipinnatus ‘Sonata’, ‘Double Take’, ‘Seashell’, ‘Sensation’, ‘Cosimo’, and ‘Apollo.’ and C. sulphureus –‘Ladybird,’ ‘Cosmic,’ and ‘Sulphur.’

Grandmother’s cosmos have surged in popularity in the 21st century due to interest in pollinator plants and the introduction of double flowers and multi-colored blooms.


Cosmos bipinnatus as cutflower bouquet Cosmos bipinnatus as cutflower bouquet The Apollo series introduced a new variety ‘Love Song’ that first blooms in white before changing to pink and then to dark rose.

While cosmos stand on their own as a garden flower, they mix well with phlox, monarda, marigolds, zinnias, cleome, bachelor buttons, flowering tobacco, and love-in-a-mist.

To view cosmos in profusion in downtown Columbia, visit the pollinator project garden at the USC Sustainable Carolina Farm and Garden.



Cosmos sulphureus ‘Bright Lights’ Cosmos sulphureus ‘Bright Lights’

Apollo series ‘Lovesong’ Apollo series ‘Lovesong’

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