The eye catching Cockscomb plant is guaranteed to make your flower beds stand out. Producing upright, ruffled flowers in shades of red, purple, pink and yellow. Cockscomb is one of the most distinctive ornamental flowers you will see in a garden. In addition to being a popular ornamental flower, the blooms are also popular for cut and dried flower arrangements.
The name cockscomb is inspired by the plant’s attractive flowers, which are thought to resemble a cockscomb. In fact the plant is actually an exotic looking celosia.
Despite its exotic appearance, cockscomb, or wool flower as it is also known, is actually pleasingly easy to grow. If you want to add this eye catching little flower to your garden, here is everything you need to know.
Cockscomb, or wool flower, is an eye catching addition to even the smallest garden.
Different Varieties of Cockscomb
Cockscomb is part of the celosia genus. Originating in South America and Southeast Asia there are over 50 known species in this genus. Celosia is usually divided into three groups:
- Celosia Spicata, also known as spike or wheat celosia. This variety produces flowers that resemble a head of wheat.
- Celosia Argentea. Often called plumed celosia, the feathery flowers of this cultivar usually form in the shape of an arrowhead.
- Celosia Cristata, or cockscomb celosia. This group produces flowerheads that are similar to a roosters comb. The flowers come in shades of orange, red, yellow, pink and white.
Take the time to explore the different cockscomb varieties that are available and select some that suit your taste and garden. While they may all look different, the majority of wool flower varieties share similar growing habits and preferences.
Cockscomb Gypsy Queen produces wide, fan-shaped flowers in a rich, dark maroon shade. This coloring bleeds down into the foliage of the plant, making it a real stand out flower. Gypsy Queen flowers from late summer into fall. Reaching a height of 8 to 16 inches it is ideal for container gardens.
Fan Dance Scarlet produces similar broad, fan shaped flowers. As the name suggests, these are scarlet colored blooms. Reaching a height of about 3 ft, Fan Dance Scarlet is ideal for the back or middle of a flower bed. Strong stems mean that staking is rarely required unless this variety is planted in an exposed position.
Red Velvet is an attractive cultivar, producing rich crimson flowers that make the ideal centerpiece to a floral display. Reaching 4 ft in height Red Velvet is a colorful addition to both flower beds and container gardens.
The purple flowering King Coral rarely exceeds 10 inches in height. However the blooms, which have a diameter of about 12 inches, more than make up for this. King Coral is a great mass planting option in beds or pots.
Available in a range of shades and sizes, take the time to find the perfect wool flower or flowers for you.
Many garden stores sell both young cockscomb plants and seeds. While purchasing young plants is a great way to add instant impact, growing from seed can be cheaper. It can also give you access to a wider variety of plants.
Always select healthy looking plants. Avoid plants that have crowded or tangled root systems. Unlike older cultivars, newer varieties are often heat and drought tolerant.
Wait until late spring before purchasing your plants. These delicate flowers don’t tolerate frosts. Purchasing and planting out too early can see you losing your cockscomb flowers to a late frost.
Where to Grow Cockscomb
A low maintenance plant, cockscomb thrives in well-draining soil.
If planted in too heavy a soil the plant may develop root rot. Amend the soil before planting by working in compost. This lightens the soil, improving drainage.
Working in well rotted manure, leaf compost or peat also helps to enrich nutrient poor soil, giving your plants a further boost. While cockscomb can grow in poor soil types, enriching the soil helps to promote a better floral display. The plants also prefer soil with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0
If you are unsure of your soil make up, a soil test kit is an easy way to find out. The information provided by a soil test can be used to improve your soil, helping you to create the ideal growing conditions for your flowers.
Finally, cockscomb is a full sun loving flower. The plants may also grow in partial shade but flowering won’t be as profuse.
Wool flower looks equally attractive when used as a single, statement plant or as part of a mass planting scheme.
Starting Wool Flower from Seed
Cockscomb rarely transplants well. Instead sow seeds directly into their final position once the last frost has passed and the soil has warmed to at least 70 °F.
A soil thermometer, such as the Vee Gee Dial Soil Thermometer provides an accurate way to monitor your soils temperature. Placing a plastic sheet over the soil helps to warm it up. It also helps to kill any weeds that may be present.
Moisten the soil before planting. This helps the seeds to stick in place.
Sow seeds as thinly as possible and cover lightly with potting soil.
Germination takes around 2 weeks if the soil is kept evenly moist and temperatures average between 70 and 80 °F. In cooler conditions germination may take a little longer. Use a watering can to keep the soil moist. The gentle spray from a watering can is less likely to disturb and displace your seeds than a blast from a garden hose.
Thin out the seedlings when they reach a height of 3 inches. The exact spacing depends on the variety you are growing. Consult the seed packet for the precise distance, but in general taller varieties like a spacing of about 18 inches. Shorter varieties usually require a spacing of about 12 inches.
Seeds are best started in their final position and thinned out as they grow.
Sowing Seeds Undercover
Gardeners in colder climates may need to sow undercover. Sow one seed per biodegradable or fiber pot such as Skycabin’s Fibre Pots. The plants can be planted, still in their pots, straight into the soil. As the plant grows the pot slowly breaks down. Planting in biodegradable pots helps to prevent possibly fatal transplant shock.
Fill the pots with fresh potting soil and moisten before sowing.
Sow undercover 6 to 8 weeks before you intend to plant outside. Place on a sunny windowsill and keep the soil evenly moist.
Once the seedlings have at least four true leaves apply a dose of half strength liquid fertilizer once every two weeks.
Allow the seedlings to grow on until the last frost date has passed. Harden the plants off before planting outside.
How to Plant Cockscomb
Wait until the soil has warmed up to at least 70 °F before starting to harden off your plants. This is usually around two weeks after the last frost.
Don’t rush the hardening off process. If plants aren’t slowly acclimatized to their new surroundings they can enter shock. This stunts growth and may also impair flowering.
When you are ready to plant, dig a hole wide enough to hold the root system. The hole should be deep enough so that the top of the root ball sits in line, or slightly below, soil level. Planting too deeply can cause stem rot.
Carefully remove the plant from its pot and plant. If you are transplanting plants in biodegradable pots simply plant the pot in the soil.
When you are happy with the position of the plant, backfill the hole. Take care not to disturb the root system as you do this. Water well.
If you are planting more than one wool flower, space the plants out to a distance of at least 12 inches. Spacing requirements can vary between varieties. The exact distance can be found on the plant label or seed packet.
The method for planting in containers is exactly the same as planting in the soil. Fill a clean pot with fresh potting soil. The pot should also have drainage holes in the bottom. Make a hole in the soil large enough to hold the root system and plant.
Caring for Cockscomb
The majority of wool flower varieties are classed as perennial in USDA Zones 9 to 11. In other areas the plants grow as tender annuals.
Regularly weed around the flowers. Weeds can harvest nutrients and moisture from the soil. If allowed to grow they can prevent your plants from flowering as profusely as you would wish.
Taller plants may require a stake, such as GROW!T Bamboo Stakes to support their stems. Staking is particularly useful when planting in exposed positions.
Correctly caring for your plants encourages them to produce more flowers and foliage.
When to Water
Aim to keep the soil consistently moist.
Be careful when watering, too much water can cause root rot. A good rule, if you are unsure, is to water only when the top two inches of soil feel dry to the touch. For a more scientific measure, try the Yoyomax Soil Meter. This not only monitors the moisture content of your soil, but also records how much light your plant is receiving and the pH level of your soil.
Plants in containers require more frequent watering. A self watering container is a low maintenance way to keep your plants happy and hydrated.
Reduce watering in the fall and winter. The soil is naturally wetter at this time of year than during the warmer summer months.
Applying a layer of organic mulch helps the soil to maintain an even moisture level and temperature. When applying mulch try to leave a gap of about an inch around the stem of the plant. This space gives excess moisture a place to drain away.
How Often do I Fertilize my Flowers?
Apply a nitrogen fertilizer once a month during the growing season. Liquid fertilizers are easily incorporated into the growing routine.
Alternatively, apply or top dress a healthy amount of rich compost around the plant. This encourages lots of new growth to emerge. Annuals may only need one application of fertilizer. Perennial plants may require a second dose of fertilizer during midsummer.
Pruning Wool Flower Plants
Pinching out celosia stems helps to encourage a bushier plant. It also encourages new flower plumes to emerge.
Cockscomb is a prolific self seeder. If spent flowers are allowed to remain on the plant and go to seed, it will likely return the following year. Deadheading spent blooms prevents this spread. Deadheading also helps to keep plants healthy.
Cut away dead or damaged leaves and limbs when the plant is at least 8 inches tall.
Clean or sterilize your tools after use. This helps to prevent disease from spreading through your garden.
Cockscomb looks good planted en mass in beds or borders. Planting a range of varieties, so that the heights and colors vary can look particularly effective in a mass planting scheme.
All celosia varieties also look good when planted alongside amaranth, marigolds, petunias and zinnias. Try combining the plants with early-flowering perennials. This combination means that your beds and pots are filled and color long after the perennial blooms have faded. Cockscomb flowers can also provide a sharp contrast to flatter flowers, such as daisies.
A popular plant amongst pollinators such as bees and butterflies, planting cockscomb near your vegetables is a great way to increase their chances of pollination.
Common Pests and Diseases
Regularly inspect your plant for signs of infestation or disease.
For most diseases, prevention is far easier than cure. Cockscomb, like other celosia plants, is prone to fungal leaf spot, Oedema and powdery mildew. Adopting good growing practices such as correctly spacing plants and keeping the foliage as dry as possible when you water helps to keep plants healthy.
Root rot can strike if the plants are allowed to sit in overly wet soil.
Mites, such as spider mites, may also target plants but rarely do much damage. If aphids or other pests strike, wash the foliage with an insecticidal soap. This treatment cures most infestations.
Finally, remember to protect your plants from slugs and snails.
How to Propagate
A prolific self seeder, cockscomb is easily propagated by harvesting the seed from spent blooms.
As the flower matures it increases in size before fading in color. As the color fades, look closely at the flower. Along its side you will notice hundreds of very small black seeds.
To collect the seeds, simply brush them away from the plant as the flower dries.
Seeds can be stored in an envelope or air tight jar, such as a Kilner jar, until you are ready to sow.
Propagation Via Cuttings
Celosia plants are also easy to root.
Use a sharp garden scissors to take cuttings of healthy stems. Remove the lower pairs of leaves and place the cutting in either a jar of fresh water or a pot filled with sand. If you are rooting in water, remember to change the water daily.
Place the cutting in a light position such as on a windowsill. Roots emerge within a couple of weeks. Once a healthy root system has formed the plants can be potted on.
An eye-catching flower, cockscomb is a pleasingly easy to care for plant that is guaranteed to bring color and interest to your garden.
Bright, colorful and eye-catchingly unusual. Cockscomb is a stunningly attractive ornamental flower that also draws scores of pollinators to your garden. Ideal for mixed beds and containers, they also make great cut flowers. Pleasingly easy to grow, why not add cockscomb to your flower garden today?
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.