Knautia: Perfect Perennial Cut Flowers For Pollinators

Knautia is a great cut flower, a pollinator lure, and simply delightful in the garden. We’ll get you started on growing them with our guide!

Knautia macedonica 'Mars Midget'

The Knautia macedonica plant, aka Knautia (pronounced “naughty-ah”) is a relative of scabiosa and produces domed, purplish-red flowers in the garden. In fact, it’s a close enough relative of scabiosa that it was previously named Scabiosa rumelica. Like Scabiosas, Knautia is deer-resistant! 

The Knautia plant is known for its long blooming time, which begins in early summer and into the fall until the first average frost date. Its flowers are not only pleasing to the eye, but they are also attractive to a variety of pollinators, including butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees! The flowers also deserve a prized position in your cut flower bouquets. 

Find a full sun area in your garden, water regularly until established and Knautia macedonica will thrive! This is a great starter perennial plant for most beginner gardeners. It’s easy to care for, with few pests/diseases and is generally a great choice. They aren’t as long-lived as other perennials, but despite that, they’re well suited to amateurs’ full-sun cottage gardens, and readily self-seed for years to come. 

The only real drawback to this plant is in extremely hot climates, it may stop producing flowers during the peak summer heat. Outside of this, if you promptly remove spent flowers, you can encourage an additional bloom. At the end of the growing season, leave the last round of spent flowers standing as a wintertime snack for the birds who love these seeds! It makes a lovely and attractive natural feeder for birds.  

Quick Care Guide

Knautia macedonica 'Mars Midget'
Knautia macedonica ‘Mars Midget’.
Common NameWidow flower, Field scabious, Pincushion flowers, Macedonian scabious
Scientific NameKnautia macedonica
FamilyCaprifoliaceae
Height & Spread1.5-2 feet wide and tall
LightFull sun
SoilWell-drained soil
WaterDrought tolerant once established
Pests & DiseasesAphids, disease-resistant

All About Knautia Plants

Knautia plants in a field
Knautia plants in a field.

Knautia plants come in many different varieties and species, such as Knautia macedonica, K. arvensis, and K. drymeia just to name a few. We’ll be focusing on the Knautia macedonica plant since it is the most common and widely available in garden centers. Knautia macedonica common names include widow flower, field scabious, and pincushion flowers. 

Also known as Macedonian scabious, Knautia grows as a native in Southeastern Europe, including North Macedonia, Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, and Turkey. Knautia macedonica is a short-lived perennial, usually lasting between 2-3 years. Although individual plants don’t last for many growing seasons they will generously self-seed and new plants will spring up year after year. 

Some varieties of the Knautia macedonica plant, such as Thunder and Lightning, have variegated foliage which makes them stand out in the garden. Most varieties feature domed flower heads that sit atop slender, branching stems and deep green foliage at the base of the plant. The flowers bloom from early summer through fall, bringing in butterflies and moths.

The tall stems topped by small pincushion flowers sway in the wind and attract many beneficial pollinators. Knautia grows in clumps. Knautia will die back completely in the winter and come back to life in the spring to bloom again in early summer. It is extremely hardy and can survive temperatures as low as -4 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Types of Knautia

There are many types of Knautia you can plant in your garden to bring in butterflies and other pollinators! Although we will be focusing on the Knautia macedonica plant here, there are a few species that are also worth mentioning! All of these varieties have similar growth habits to Knautia macedonica. 

Knautia arvensis, also known as the meadow widow flower, blooms in mid-summer rather than early summer, between July and September, and is used by marsh fritillary butterflies and the narrow-bordered bee hawk moth as a food source. This species of scabious was used to treat scabies and other sores, including those caused by the Bubonic plague. 

Knautia drymeia, also known as the Hungarian widow flower, is a European species that prefers a southern temperate climate and can be found growing along the edges of various forests and meadows. It blooms in early summer, from June to September.

Finally, let’s examine Knautia macedonica Thunder and Lightning. This Knautia plant has attractive blossoms that are deep fuschia. Its foliage is also quite attractive, donning serrated green leaves with cream margins. The shape of the leaf margins gives onlookers a sense of lightning strikes. The average bloom time of this Knautia is from early summer to early fall.

Caring for Knautia Macedonica Plants

Closeup of knautia flower
Closeup of knautia flower.

The Knautia macedonica plant is very low maintenance and long-blooming once established in the garden. It’s drought-tolerant and attracts a variety of pollinators such as butterflies and hummingbirds. Read on to find out what to expect when caring for this attractive plant. 

Sun and Temperature

Knautia grows best in full sun, so select an area in your garden that receives at least 6-8 hours of full sun per day. Given optimum conditions, Kanutia will come back each year. That being said, it is a short-lived perennial that generally lasts 2-3 years. However, it will self-seed and spread if given a chance. 

The plant thrives in USDA growing zones 5-9 with an ideal temperature range between 65-80 degrees Fahrenheit. Knautia macedonica seems to prefer garden climates that include warm summer days with lots of sun and cool summer nights. 

Although the plant loves full sun, in the heat of the summer the plant may seem to droop and may not bloom as much, diverting butterflies to other areas of the garden. In the winter the plant will die back almost completely to the ground but will come back to life as the soil warms in the spring. They require no protection from the cold when grown in zones 5-9. 

However, if stands of the plant are grown in more northern zones, they can either be grown as annuals or overwintered as perennials with protection like burlap bags, a cold frame, frost blanket, and a little bit of luck. Above growing zone 9 tends to get too hot for Knautia, and although they can survive in light shade, they may not flower as much.

Water and Humidity

The Knautia plant will need water regularly for the first year after planting to help them get established. During the peak growing season (summer) they should be watered twice a week and once per week during the shoulder seasons (spring and fall). This can be reduced to once per week in peak season during year two and once every 1-2 weeks in year three. 

The plant can also benefit from winter watering in especially dry areas that don’t receive regular snowfall. Water during the winter only if the air and soil temps are above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, the soil isn’t frozen, and there is no snow on the ground or in the immediate forecast. Mulch will also keep the roots safe in cold weather. 

These plants prefer deep and infrequent watering and can stand to dry out between watering. A layer of mulch around the plants can help retain moisture around the roots for longer. This is especially important in areas with low humidity which is where they tend to thrive naturally. Their low water needs make them an excellent choice for the water-wise garden, and are considered to be drought-tolerant once established. 

Soil

The Knautia plant prefers dry and more alkaline soils, although it is tolerant of most soil types. The most important factor here is that the soil is well-draining. Although, as mentioned above, Knautia can benefit from a layer of mulch to help the soil retain moisture, it is important that the soil drains well and does not promote standing watering. 

If the soil is heavy with clay, it can be amended with compost and perlite to help improve its drainage. Avoid planting in low-lying areas in your garden or near downspouts where water may collect. When you spread mulch, don’t apply so much that it chokes out your plant, preventing blooms that are attractive to butterflies and forage for birds.

Fertilizing Knautia

Knautia macedonica leaves
Knautia macedonica leaves.

If you have good to average soil, you shouldn’t need to fertilize knautia. They are light feeders and can do fine with a side dressing of compost at the beginning of each season. If you choose to fertilize knautia, use a balanced product and apply it according to the manufacturer’s directions. 

Avoid using a fertilizer high in nitrogen, as this will promote foliage growth at the expense of producing attractive flowers.

Pruning Knautia

Knautia can benefit from pruning in early or late winter after the foliage has died back and the blooms have faded, but this isn’t absolutely necessary. It can be left in place until spring and pruned just before new growth appears. Leaving the dead foliage standing over the winter can provide the plant with extra protection, and the standing seed heads will provide birds with winter snacks. 

If you wish to control the spread of your knautia, you may choose to deadhead the spent blooms in early fall after the last flowers have faded to prevent further germination of seeds. Knautia is very good at self-seeding and can spread if left unchecked, though it is not considered one of those invasive perennials. 

Like most flowering plants, knautia can benefit from deadheading throughout the growing season to encourage more attractive flowers that butterflies love. This also gives an opportunity to utilize them as cut flowers. As always, prune away dead or diseased foliage as needed. 

Knautia Propagation

Knautia macedonica can be propagated by seed in pots in a cold frame. These seeds require a period of cold stratification in order to germinate. They need to be exposed to temperatures of 39 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 4 weeks before sowing. Placing the seeds in a cold frame any time between February and April is a low-maintenance way to achieve this. 

The seeds can also be left after they first bloom in June or July to drop to the ground on their own in the fall, but this is not ideal if you want to spread the plants to other areas of your garden more intentionally. They can also be propagated by taking basal cuttings in the spring. Place the basal cuttings into a glass of water, and roots will appear after a few weeks. 

Once measurable root growth has appeared, place the cutting into the soil and water a few times a week until established. Plant them out well before they are in full bloom in July, preferably as part of your spring planting. 

Repotting Knautia

Knautia macedonica can be grown in containers and pots. However, the main challenge here will be ensuring that the potting soil does not become too bogged down with moisture. Create a well-draining potting mix by adding perlite to a standard potting soil. 

Since Knautia is a short-lived perennial, you can avoid having to re-pot it by planting it in an appropriate-sized container in the first place. Follow the planting directions provided by the garden center from which you’ve purchased your Knautia plants. Then place your repotted plants in areas where you want to keep out deer. 

Troubleshooting

Cabbage white on knautia flower
Cabbage white on knautia flower.

Knautia macedonica is a fast-growing plant that requires little maintenance. That being said, there are some issues to be on the lookout for. Understanding these perennials can help you provide your plants with optimum conditions, which in turn will help them produce more flowers. 

Knautia Growing Problems

Most growing problems when you plant knautia in poorly draining soil. If your plant growth seems stunted or is wilting outside of full sun or the heat of the day, this can indicate that the roots are sitting in standing water due to poorly drained soil. 

If your knautia plant is grown in a pot or container, you may re-pot into a potting soil mix with better drainage. If your knautia plants have been planted directly into the ground, then you may choose to amend the soil by adding sandy soil to increase drainage. 

If a nearby downspout causes the standing water or if this is a low-lying area in your garden, then your best bet is probably to dig it up and plant knautia in another location.

If you’ve allowed your plant to flower in July, feed butterflies, and then drop to the ground for self-propagation and future attractive long-blooming, it’s possible that birds could eat the seeds before they have time to germinate and return in spring. If this is an issue, remove the seed heads yourself after the long blooming period, and sow them after cold-stratifying them indoors.   

Pests

The Knautia plant is known for being deer resistant, an attractant for pollinators, and specifically draws in hummingbirds and butterflies. They are generally pest resistant. However, they have been known to have occasional issues with aphids. Common pests like aphids can be blasted off with a strong spray from a hose. 

In more advanced infestations, neem oil can be used to control them. In extreme infestations, alternative insecticides such as spinosad spray may be considered. Although, as they say, the best defense is a good offense. Providing diverse habitats for predatory bugs like ladybugs, the praying mantis, paper wasps, etc, will help keep these pests in check. 

Diseases

Not only is Knautia macedonica deer-resistant, but it is also considered to be generally disease free and does not suffer from any major issues. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Knautia going to seed
Knautia going to seed.

Q: Is Knautia a perennial?

A: Yes Knautia macedonica is a perennial. 

Q: Can I divide Knautia?

A: Yes, a Knautia plant can be divided every 3-4 years in the spring. 

Q: How big do Knautia grow?

A: Knautia macedonica can grow 1.5-2 feet tall and wide. 

Q: Do Knautia make good cut flowers?

A: They make beautiful cut flowers. Since they are smaller in size, they make excellent fillers in flower arrangements. 

Q: Should you cut back Knautia?

A: If you want to prevent your Knautia macedonica from self-seeding you can cut back spent flowers. Because they are perennials, you can leave the stems and seed heads over winter as forage for birds. 

Q: Are Knautia hardy?

A: Knautia macedonica plants are hardy perennials from zones 5 through 9. Most can take full sun to partial shade, and rich soil isn’t completely necessary to grow them. 

Q: Does Knautia self-seed?

A: Yes! It will readily self-seed and spread year after year unless you regularly deadhead the spent flowers. 

Q: Can you grow Knautia in pots?

A: Yes, they can be grown in containers as well. 

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