Feather cockscomb (Celosia argentia plumosa) is an old garden favorite. I’ve used the annual (perennial in USDA Zones 10 to 12) in seasonal displays the past couple of years with great success. Plants provide high-impact color all summer long while requiring little to no maintenance. It’s no wonder cockscombs are a favorite of gardeners and designers!
Cockscombs appreciate well drained soil and full sun. Plants will not tolerate wet, soggy soil. They are easily grown from seed and take 90 days to flower after planting. However, I typically purchase and install bedding plants. At planting I remove the central leader. This insures plenty of lateral branching. Often, this is the only pruning/grooming I do all season.
I find cockscombs look best when massed in a large groups (as illustrated in several of the photos below). However, in some cases Celosia works well in a solitary fashion such as in containers or if the plant is used repeatedly to create a rhythm. For instance, the photo above shows Celosia ‘Fresh Look Red’ as part of a narrow border where 27 different varieties of plants repeat themselves around the perimeter of a large square patio.
Celosia argentea plumosa 'New Look' under Washingtonia robusta with Nassella (Stipa) tenuissima (left), Asparagus densiforus 'Myersii' and Petunia x hybrida 'Easy Wave Blue' (foreground), Cyperus papyrus 'King Tut' (background).
A few of my favorite cultivars include:
'Fresh Look Gold' sports bright golden plumes that remain colorful all season, not browning with maturity. 2007 All-America Selections winner.
‘Fresh Look Yellow’ grows numerous side shoots, which cover the mature blooms, eliminating the need for deadheading. Plants mature at 12-17" tall and 12-15" spread. Shown here with 'Fresh Look Red', 'Fresh Look Orange' and Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Hameln'.
'Fresh Look Red' thrives in summer heat and humidity with drought or rainy conditions. The cultivar is an All-America Selections Gold Medal winner (2004) for consistent performance with minimal maintenance and pest-free growth. Plants mature at 12-18" tall and 12-20" spread. Shown with 'Fresh Look Yellow'.
'New Look' is a 1988 All-America Selections winner with deep bronze foliage and large blazing red plumes.
'Fresh Look Orange'. Image courtesy University of Georgia.
These colorful, low-maintenance bedding and container plants make wonderful cut flowers for fresh arrangements as well.
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Adam Woodruff has practiced garden design since 1995. He trained as a Botanist at Eastern Illinois University. Woodruff attributes his unique design aesthetic, naturalism with a twist, to early college exposures to a diverse range of plants and environments (collecting trips in local prairies, field excursions to bogs in Canada and treks through forests of the Northeast). He also maintained the campus greenhouse, where he fell in love with tropicals. In recent years, influences on his designs include travels abroad to Europe, Asia and the Yucatan peninsula as well as observation of the work of great plantsmen such as Piet Oudolf and Roy Diblik.
Woodruff’s designs often combine grasses, prairie natives and perennials with lush tropical foliage and seasonal blooms. This harmonious blending of plant material that is not conventionally grouped together is the ‘twist’ that makes his style unique.