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How to Grow and Care for Bachelor’s Button — Centaurea cyanus

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Centaurea cyanus–commonly called Bachelor’s button or cornflower–is a hardy annual and member of the Centaurea genus which includes dusty miller and mountain bluet. Bachelor’s-button is one of the most popular annuals with its bright blue tufted round blossoms.

Centaurea cyanus is a bushy plant with grayish-green, lance-shaped leaves, and dense thistle-like flower heads. It grows best in full sun in well-drained soil. There are tall varieties that grow to 36 inches tall and dwarf varieties.

Bachelor’s button is used for bedding, containers, and cut flowers—both fresh and dry. They are effective when massed for color in beds and borders, in foregrounds or backgrounds.

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bachelor's button flower
Cornflower, bachelor’s button flower

Get to know bachelor’s button

  • Plant type: Annual
  • Growing zones and range: Zones 3-9
  • Hardiness: Tolerates light frost
  • Height and width: 12 to 18 inches (30-45cm) tall; 10 to 12 inches (25-30cm) wide
  • Foliage: Lance-shaped leaves 4 to 8 inches long; lower leaves with pinnatifid lobes and wooly-hairy beneath; lacy effect
  • Flowers: Flowerheads 1 or more inches across with violet-blue inner florets
  • Flower colors: Often blue flowers but also shades of pink, purple, and white; tufted, rounded blossoms
  • Uses: For beds, borders, cottage gardens; short varieties in containers; excellent cut flower
  • Bloom time: Early to mid-summer
  • Common name: Bachelor’s button, annual cornflower
  • Botanical name: Centaurea cyanus
  • Family: Asteraceae
  • Origin: Mainly in Europe and the Mediterranean

Related Centaurea articles:

How to Grow Centaurea Montana — Perennial Cornflower

How to Grow and Care for Dusty Miller – Centaurea cineraria

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Where to plant bachelor’s button

  • Grow bachelor’s-buttons in full sun.
  • Plant bachelor’s-button in humus-rich garden soil; it will grow in average, well-drained garden soil.
  • Prepare planting bed by turning under aged compost to a depth of 12 inches (30cm)

Bachelor’s button uses

  • Plant bachelor’s-buttons in beds and borders.
  • Excellent for cutting.
  • Bachelor’s-buttons attract birds
  • Interplant with yellow or orange-colored annuals such as California poppies and Gazania.
  • Dwarf forms are well suited for containers.
Cornflower or Bachelor’s Button

When to plant bachelor’s button

  • Start seed indoors 8 to 10 weeks before the last frost.
  • Sow seed outdoors in Zones 5 to 8 two weeks before the last spring frost Do not sow seed in weather colder than 25°F (-4.4°C).
  • Sow seeds outdoors in autumn in Zones 9-10 for spring blooms.
  • Set out seedlings after the last frost in spring. Set out seedlings after hardening them off for several days in the shade.
  • Make successive sowings to prolong the bloom season

Planting and spacing bachelor’s button

  • Sow seed in flats or individual six-packs; space seeds 1 inch (2.5cm) apart; sow seed in a sterile seed starting medium.
  • Cover seeds 1/8-inch deep and grow at 65°-75°F (18-24°C); seeds usually germinate in 7 days.
  • Grow seedlings indoors in bright sunlight or a few inches below fluorescent light.
  • Sow seeds outdoors 2 inches (5cm) apart and cover them with ¼ inch of soil.
  • Space bachelor’s buttons 10 to 12 inches (25-30cm) apart.

How to water and feed bachelor’s button

  • Keep the soil evenly moist but not wet. Bachelor’s-buttons are somewhat drought-tolerant once established.
  • Add a 9-month slow-release fertilizer to planting beds before planting.

Bachelor’s button care

  • Keep the soil evenly moist.
  • Fertilize with an all-purpose fertilizer at planting time; fertilize plants every 4 weeks during bloom time.
  • Mulch around plants with aged compost.

Bachelor’s button propagation

  • Centaurea cyanus is easy to grow from seed; sow in the fall for the earliest start or as soon as the soil can be worked in spring.
  • Germination takes about 7 days at 70°F (21°C).

Bachelor’s button varieties to grow

  • Centaurea cyanus is the popular bachelor’s-button or cornflower. A list of cultivars follows:
  • ‘Blue Diadem’ grows to 30 inches tall with intense blue flowers.
  • ‘Blue Midget’ grows to 10 inches tall with sky-blue flowers.
  • ‘Florence Mix’ has blue, pink, white, and red flowers.
  • ‘Frosty’ includes mixed pastels frosted with white tips of petals
  • ‘Polka Dot’ includes mixed colors of red, white, blue, rose, wine, and lavender on short bushy plants.
Mountain bluet, Centaurea montana

Other members of the Centaurea genus

  • Centaurea dealbata, Persian cornflowers, is a perennial that grows 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide.
  • C. gymnocarpa, dusty miller, is a tender perennial grown for its divided, feltlike, gray-white leaves.
  • C. montana, mountain bluet, mountain knapweed,  is a perennial with feathery, pale blue flowers.
  • C. moschata, Sweet sultan, is a half-hardy annual that needs warm weather; its flowers are large and silky.

Bachelor’s button frequently asked questions

Q: What conditions do bachelor’s-buttons prefer?

A: Bachelor’s-buttons or Centaurea cyanus want well-drained, moderately rich soil–add aged compost to the planting bed. Plant in full sun. Keep the soil just moist and give plants extra water during hot, dry weather.

Q: When should I plant bachelor’s-buttons?

A: You can start bachelor’s-buttons indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost for transplanting into the garden on about the last frost date. Seeds can be planted outdoors as soon as the soil is workable in spring. Sow seeds thinly and cover them with about one-quarter inch of soil. They need darkness to germinate. Thin seedlings to 9 inches apart.

Q: How can I get a good summer display of bachelor’s-buttons?

A: Sow seeds every two weeks throughout spring and summer. Keep faded flowers picked off.

Q: What causes bachelor’s-buttons to flop over?

A: When bachelor’s-buttons have weak stalks it’s usually because they were planted too close together.

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. Harvesttotable.com has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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