It would be difficult to find a flower with a more interesting shape and structure than celosia. Some look like fluffy flames blooming in your garden, while others have a definite Dr. Seuss-like appearance.
All types of celosia have bright, vibrant colors and really make a statement in your landscape. They can also be used in flower arrangements or dried and used in many DIY craft projects.
Pretty easy to care for, these flowers do have a few specific requirements if you want to successfully grow them. With that in mind, here’s a complete planting and care guide to help you grow your own celosia plant.
What Is Celosia?
Also known as cockscomb or wool flower, celosia (Celosia spp.) is a member of the amaranth family and native to North Africa. The flowers can look quite exotic, but it’s still a plant that’s easy for home gardeners to grow.
Mostly grown as an annual, celosia is hardy to USDA planting zones 10 and 11, so if you live somewhere tropical, you can probably grow it as a perennial.
The plants will grow to different sizes depending on the variety. Some get only a foot tall, while others can grow up to four feet.
The flowers of the celosia plant are what it’s grown for. They will be different shapes, depending on the type, and bloom with bold, bright colors. Most celosia are warm shades like orange, yellow, and red, but there are also some shades of purple.
Celosia usually comes in bright, warm colors. No matter which type you grow, it’s sure to stand out in your garden and cause people to comment.
Plants will start blooming in summer and often continue until cold weather arrives in the fall.
Types of Celosia
The main species of celosia grown by gardeners is known as Celosia argentea. There are also three main subtypes of celosia that are popular. Each one has their own unique flower shape and is considered a subspecies of C. argentea.
Here’s more about each one:
- Wheat Type (C. argentea var. spicata)– This is probably the tamest type of celosia, but it will still make an impact in your landscape. The flowers resemble wheat, except for their bright colors, although some look more like a bottle brush. Plants may bloom for longer than the other two types.
- Plume Type (C. argentea var. plumosa)– The best way to describe this type is to say that the flowers look like small, bushy flames coming out of the plant. This is especially the case because they come in vibrant flame-like colors.
- Cockscomb Type (C. argentea var. cristata)– This type is so named because someone thought the flowers resembled the crest on a cock (rooster). It’s more accurate to say that they resemble coral due to their unique, fan-shaped, ruffled blooms. They really make a statement and draw attention in the garden.
Cockscomb celosia blooms with some of the most unique flowers you’ll ever see. They have wavy ridges and fan-like folds that make them resemble coral.
Top Cultivar Choices
Once you’ve decided what type of celosia plant you want to grow, there are many great cultivars to choose from. Here are some of the best:
- ‘Bombay’ Series– This is a series of cockscomb celosia that comes in a rainbow of colors. ‘Fisal,’ ‘Firosa,’ ‘Candy,’ and ‘Pink’ are all pink varieties of different shades. ‘Fire,’ ‘Cherry,’ and ‘Bordeaux’ are dark red. Many more options are available.
- ‘Chief Mix’– This is a mix of multiple, brightly-colored cockscomb celosia. The plants grow strong stems and are great as a cut flower. Colors are gold, rose, pink, and red. You can also buy individual colors.
- ‘Pampas Plume’– This is a lovely mix of plume-type celosia. Shades are softer and include orange, yellow, cream, pink, and red. Plants are very productive.
- ‘Sunday Gold’– This is a bright, golden-yellow variety with plumed flowers. Great color for autumn bouquets.
- ‘Flamingo Feather’– This is a wheat-type celosia in a beautiful shade of pale pink with rosy hints. Blooms early.
- ‘Red Flame’– This is one of the best red cockscomb celosias with vibrant flowers and burgundy stems and leaves.
- ‘King Coral’– This cockscomb-type is an eye-catching shade of pink-purple. The huge flowers can grow up to a foot long and at times resemble brains.
- ‘Arrabona Red’- This is perhaps the best red, plume-type celosia with brilliant blooms of scarlet red. Blooms from spring to late summer and is drought tolerant.
- ‘Sylphid’– This plume-type has unique lemon-lime blooms.
- ‘Plumed Castle’– One of the shortest varieties, this cultivar tops out at a foot tall. Color is a mix of pink, orange, red, and yellow. Great for a container garden.
The wheat-type celosia can sometimes have blooms that more resemble bottle brushes. Deep pink to purple flowers really standout and bloom for a long time.
How to Grow a Celosia Plant
You can buy celosia seedlings from a local nursery or garden center, but they are also easy to grow from seed. Growing from seed also gives you a wider variety to choose from than what you would find at any store.
Starting from Seed Indoors
The best method for growing celosia from seed is to start your plants indoors about 6-8 weeks before your last average frost date in the spring.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Celosia seeds
- Cell flats or peat pots
- Good quality seed starting mix
- Grow lights (or a sunny window)
- Heat mat (optional)
- Plastic domes (optional)
Start by getting your seed starting mix moist by mixing it with water. You want it to just clump together when you squeeze it, but it shouldn’t be dripping wet.
Fill your trays or peat pots with the damp soil mix and sow your seeds on top of the soil, one per cell or pot. Celosia seeds need light to germinate, so you should either simply press them into the soil, or barely cover them with a tiny bit of the seed starting mix.
Water your seeds well and place your trays or pots where they will get some light each day. This can be by a window that gets a good amount of sunlight or under grow lights.
The seeds germinate best at temperatures between 70-80°F. If your house tends to get chilly, using a heat mat to give them bottom heat can help.
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Make sure you keep the soil damp (but not overly wet) during the germination period. You can cover your trays with plastic domes or something similar to help keep moisture in. Germination should happen in 1-2 weeks.
After your seeds have sprouted, remove the plastic domes or any other covers, and place your seedlings under grow lights (preferably). Keep them watered and give them good airflow while they grow.
Harden your seedlings off about 2 weeks before transplanting them to your garden.
Starting from Seed Outdoors
You can grow your celosia plant by directly sowing seeds outdoors. This method has some advantages and drawbacks.
Celosia doesn’t always transplant well, so starting your seeds directly in the ground avoids this problem. However, unless you have a long growing season, it will take a while for your plants to flower, which means you may miss out on most of their bloom time.
If you do live in a milder climate with a long season, planting seeds outside is a good option. If you live somewhere with long, cold winters, you’re better off starting seeds indoors.
Celosia usually start blooming in mid to late summer. Flowering will take longer if you choose to start plants from seeds outdoors in the spring.
The first step to directly sowing seeds is to get your garden area ready. Get rid of all rocks, weeds, and debris. This is also a good time to add amendments like compost to give your plants a nutrient-boost later.
Finally, rake the top of the soil until it’s relatively smooth, so that you have a good place to plant seeds.
Plant your celosia seeds only ⅛” deep, or just barely cover them with soil. Remember, they will need light to germinate.
Water your newly seeded area well, and make sure you keep it damp while seeds germinate. Once seedlings pop up, let them grow for a week or two. Then, you can thin them out to a proper spacing if needed.
Growing Celosia from Cuttings
A third method for starting a celosia celosia plant is to grow it from a cutting. For this to work, you’ll need to have access to a celosia plant you love and permission to cut a few stems off.
You’ll want to use a sanitized pair of hand pruners to take 4-6 inch cuttings of healthy, leaf-only stems. Remove about the bottom third of the leaves from your cuttings.
Then, place each cutting stem side down into pots filled with a good quality potting soil. You can dip the ends in rooting hormone before putting them in the pots to increase your chances of success.
Growing celosia from cuttings is a good way to propagate plants if you have access to a variety you like. You can also take cuttings from your own plants at the end of the season.
Put your pots and cuttings in indirect sunlight and keep them watered (but not soggy) until the cuttings root. This should take about 3-4 weeks.
You can then continue to let them grow in the pots or transplant them somewhere else.
The only downside to taking cuttings is that your plants may take longer to flower than those started from seed indoors. One option to avoid this is to take cuttings in the fall, grow your plants inside over the winter, and plant them out in the spring.
Planting Your Celosia
When to Plant Celosia
Celosia is sensitive to cold, so wait until all danger of frost has passed in the spring to plant. This goes for direct seeding as well.
It’s always tempting to get plants in the ground early in the spring, but play it safe with your celosia, since it is a tropical plant. Wait until your last average frost date has passed and the soil has had time to warm up.
This is usually in early to mid May in colder climates and April in warmer ones.
Where to Plant + Growing Conditions
You can grow celosia in the ground or in containers. It does equally well in both, but you’ll want to select a smaller cultivar if you plan to use containers.
Smaller varieties of celosia are great for container gardens. Larger varieties will do better planted in the ground so that they can reach their full height.
The celosia plant loves sun and heat, so put yours where it will get full sun. In fact, plants do best with at least eight hours of sunlight each day.
Celosia is drought tolerant but does not like having its feet wet for long, so make sure your planting site has good drainage. The same goes for containers. Use a good quality potting mix that drains well, and make sure your pots have drainage holes in the bottom.
If you are gardening in clay (especially heavy clay), it would be best to amend it before trying to grow celosia.
Though it doesn’t like bady drained soil, celosia is a plant that will grow just fine in poor soil. However, it will do better if you add some nutrients to the soil. Mix in compost or leaf mould before planting to give it a good dose of organic matter.
Spacing varies depending on the mature height of the cultivar you’re growing, but plants generally need to be 6-12 inches apart.
Getting Your Seedlings Planted
Celosia can be planted much like any other seedling.
Once you have your bed or container prepared, simply dig holes that are about the same size at the root balls of your plants.
Make sure you not only let the danger of frost pass, but also give the soil time to warm up before planting your celosia. They are very sensitive to cold weather, and you don’t want to lose any plants before the season even starts!
If you grew your seedlings in peat pots, you can plant them as is, but rip off the bottom of the container to let the roots grow out. Otherwise, gently lift each seedling out of its pot and put it in one of the holes.
Fill in around each seedling with soil so that the top of the root ball is just covered. Firm them in with your hands so that they won’t fall over.
The last step is to water them in well, and you’re all done!
Celosia Plant Care
Overall, celosia is a pretty easy plant to take care of. Established plants are drought tolerant, but you’ll need to regularly water your seedlings until they get established.
You can add a layer of mulch around your plants to make them look nice and to suppress weeds, but don’t overdo it. Keeping the soil too moist will encourage rot.
Most of the time, celosia doesn’t need fertilized, but you can apply a balanced fertilizer about once a month if you wish, especially if plants look a little scraggly.
Deadheading celosia flowers is optional. The main reason you may want to do it is to prevent the plants from reseeding all over your garden. Or if you welcome volunteer plants, just let the flowers go.
Once it’s established a good root system, celosia is very easy to take care of. Plants are drought tolerant and can stand a bit of neglect, although you’ll get healthier plants if you take care of them.
Taller varieties of celosia may need staking, especially if you frequently get strong winds. Shorter varieties will be fine.
Pests and Problems
The great news is that celosia rarely suffers from pests or diseases. Plants are also deer resistant, which means they won’t be the first choice for hungry critters to snack on.
Occasionally, you might get spider mites or aphids on your plants. They usually won’t do enough damage to cause severe harm, but you can use a natural insecticidal soap to get rid of them if necessary.
The most common diseases to affect celosia are root rot and other fungal pathogens. This usually happens if conditions are overly wet. Space plants properly, make sure they have good drainage, and avoid getting the foliage wet whenever you water your plants.
Harvesting and Drying Celosia
Celosia flowers are very unique. Not only can they be used fresh in bouquets and floral arrangements, they can also be dried with their beautiful colors intact.
To do this, harvest individual flowers that look healthy and are completely open. Just snip them from the plant with a sanitized pair of garden clippers. The best time to harvest is right after the dew has fully evaporated in the morning.
Cut off stalks that are long enough to bunch and tie together. You can cut them close to ground level to keep your plants looking neat.
You can keep the bright blooms of your celosia flowers for months by drying them. The dried flowers look great in flower arrangements and natural craft projects.
Then, completely remove all the leaves from the stems, and tie them in small bundles of 6-8 stems. Hang these bundles upside down somewhere that’s dark, dry, and preferably warm with good airflow.
Exposure to sunlight will fade the colors of your flowers, so it’s very important to keep them somewhere dark.
Leave them hanging until fully dried. The flowers will retain their color for up to six months and can be used for many lovely DIY projects.
Companions for Celosia
Celosia is most often used as a bedding plant or planted solely for cut flowers. The plants look great in a home garden planted en masse with a variety of types, heights, and colors.
If you want some other companion plants for your celosia, it goes well with a wide range of annuals, especially others with bright colors or white-flowered options.
With just a little effort, you’re sure to be pleased with how these gorgeous flowers grow in your garden!