The Great Lionmouth (Antirrhinum majus) is the best known species of the genus Antirrhinum, which once belonged to the brown-root family (Scrophulariaceae) but now belongs to the plantain family (Plantaginaceae). It comes from the rather dry Mediterranean zones and grows wild in crevices and walls. The lion’s mouth has been cultivated as a garden and cut flower since the 15th century and therefore belongs firmly to the repertoire of annual summer flowers.
The lion’s mouth is an annual summer flower and grows herbaceously. It can reach between 20 and 100 centimeters growth height depending on breeding form.
The leaves of the lion’s mouth are arranged opposite each other and have an ovoid to elongated elliptic, pointed shape.
The flower of the snapdragon consists of several individual flowers, which stand closely together on short stems, so that they resemble an ear or panicle. With light pressure the flower opens like a small mouth. The flower colours range from white, yellow and orange to various shades of red and pink. The “lower lip” has a characteristic yellow spot. The widespread pastel shades are particularly attractive, and two-colour varieties are also available on the market. The lion’s mouth blooms from June to September.
Location and soil
Like the real lion, the Big Mouth appreciates a warm ground. Therefore, nutrient-rich, not too dry, low lime garden soils in full sun are ideal, as long as the heat there is not too great. Even semi-shade locations are possible. It is important that the leaves dry quickly after a downpour, so the location should be reasonably airy. The substrate may be slightly acidic, therefore rhododendron soil is well suited for planting. But also in a good potted plant soil the lion mouth grows without any problems.
Sowing and planting
Since the snapdragon is one year old, it must be sown anew every year. In order for the plants to flower from June onwards, the fine seeds are sown in growing trays from January to March. The light buckets are only lightly pressed into the growing soil and the substrate is kept moist. As a cold germ, the seeds together with the growing soil should first be placed in the refrigerator for a few weeks. To germinate, the plants need to be placed in a bright place with a room temperature of around 20 degrees. Two to three weeks after germination, the snapdragons should continue to grow cooler at about 15 degrees. A well rooted lion’s mouth can withstand light night frosts, a fleece cover protects against strong late frosts. From the end of May it is also possible to sow directly into the bed, but this leads to a flowering that starts a little later. Plants from the plant trade grown in the greenhouse can be placed directly into the bed. Depending on the growth height, a planting distance of 10 to 50 centimeters is recommended. Attention: All breeding forms of the lion mouth tend to run wild.
In order for the young plants to branch out better, the shoots are initially snapped off at a height of 10 centimeters. Later, regular cleaning at ground level helps to stimulate the lion’s mouth’s joy in flowering. The lion’s mouth needs regular fertilizer for its persistent flowering splendour. Suitable are compost, horn shavings or 14-day liquid flowering plant fertilizer. If necessary, water is poured with low lime rainwater, with the lion’s mouth tolerating dry soil better than stagnant water. Attention: High varieties are often not stable, so it makes sense to support them with bars.
As summer flowering plants, medium-high and high lion mouth varieties in the bed can be combined well with other summer flowers and perennials such as chrysanthemums, decorative baskets (Cosmos), student flowers, summer asters (Callistephus), larkspur (Delphinium), bellflowers (Campanula) or balloon flowers (Platycodon). It is best to reserve entire bedding lots for colourful lion mouth mixes. They are great colorful beacons in the colorful mixed garden. Low and dwarf forms are suitable for rock gardens, bed borders or as bucket and balcony flowers. The high forms of the lion’s mouth are also suitable as cut flowers.
With the Big Lion’s Mouth, the hybrid groups are graded according to their height of growth: High forms reach 60 to 100 centimeters, half-height 40 to 60 centimeters and dwarf forms remain below 40 centimeters. All hybrid groups are available in various colours. In the garden specialized trade mostly color mixtures are offered as seeds. Lion’s mouth ‘Rosella’ belongs to the high forms and enchants with pink, wide open flowers. The low ‘Twinny Peach’ variety grows compactly and is only 25 centimeters high. The apricot-coloured flowers of the mini variant are filled and weatherproof. The also low variety ‘Bronze Dragon’ impresses with its pink and white flowers on almost black leaves. Tip: If you are looking for a hanging species for hanging baskets and boxes, use the hanging snapdragon (Antirrhinum pendula).
If the flowered inflorescences are not removed, seeds are formed which overwinter in the soil after self sowing and sprout again next year. The young plants can then be transplanted in early summer. If you want to preserve and propagate the best varieties, you can collect the ripe seed capsules about six weeks after flowering, shake out the seeds, keep them dark and dry over the winter and sow them next spring.
Diseases and pests
As robust as snapdragons are against pests, fungal diseases can plague them. Whether lion’s mouth rust, downy mildew or downy mildew: they all colonise the long, pointed leaves when they are constantly moist. This is why draughty, open locations where the leaves dry off more quickly after rain are an advantage. Sulphur-based pesticides help against the fungi themselves. If the lion’s mouth is too wet in the bucket, root rot may occur.
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