Growing & Using Bachelor’s Buttons

Bachelor’s Buttons (cornflowers) are easy to grow edible flowers that attract pollinators and birds to your garden. Learn how to start these charming garden favorites from seed, plus how to harvest, dry, and use the pretty flower petals.

bachelor button flowers in garden and as dried petals
Bachelor button is a pretty edible flower that attracts pollinators and birds to your garden!

Bachelor’s Button in Your Garden

Hardy, drought-tolerant, and refreshingly unfussy, Bachelor’s Button (Centaurea cyanus) is a tall blue (most of the time) flower that’s a classic bloom in the flower garden. Not only is it beloved by humans, but it’s a pollinator’s delight, and a feast for the finches!

While the flowers are usually a shade of vivid true blue, you can buy a few varieties in colors ranging from pink, purple, maroon, or white. These are all grown the same way.

Best planted towards the back of your flower beds, where they won’t hide shorter flowers, bachelor’s button plants regularly grow to 3+ feet tall.

Close up image of bachelor's buttons flowers
Bachelor buttons, also called cornflowers, will happily thrive in hot, dry weather.

Native to Europe, these lovely, long-lasting edible blue flowers have a history of being worn in the lapels of young men who were in love. If the bloom faded swiftly, it was taken to mean the relationship wouldn’t last, or that his feelings weren’t returned- on the other hand, if it lingered, he would marry his current sweetheart.

Bachelor’s buttons were also found in grain fields, where they earn themselves the common name ‘hurtsickle’- when the harvesters would go to reap the grain, the tough stalks of the bachelor’s buttons would be hiding in the field and would get caught in the sickles.

How to Grow

Cornflowers are naturally hardy! When choosing where to sow them, all you have to do is make sure you pick a location that gets full sun, and doesn’t stay boggy with moisture. That’s it! They’ll very happily grow in poor soil, cheerfully blooming away even in hard, rocky clay.

Unless you live in a very dry climate, it’s very likely you’ll never have to drag the watering can out to water these plants once they’re out of that tender seedling stage. Bachelor’s buttons take on summer weather and drought-spells without missing a beat!

cornflower seeds and packet
“Blue Boy” Bachelor’s Button Seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Sowing Bachelor’s Button Seeds

Bachelor’s buttons are one of the easiest flowers to grow; their biggest problem is that the birds think their seeds are too tasty to leave alone!

Sow seeds in early spring, as soon as your soil is workable, for early summer blooms. (Unless you have mild winters; in that case you can plant in fall.)

Make a small furrow, spacing the seeds 5-10″ apart if you want a neat row, or if you want a dense planting, simply scatter them over a raked-up surface. Either way, you’ll want to cover your seeds with about 1/4 an inch of soil, and water them in well.

Keep soil evenly moist until germination, which should occur in 7-14 days. Seeds may germinate sooner if you happen to get a few days of warmer weather. If the birds prove to be a problem and start robbing your seeds, cover the planting area with something breathable that still allows light through, like a row cover, or a piece of tulle fabric.

Bachelor's buttons growing in a patch
Bachelor’s buttons do well planted in groups or masses, where they help support one another.

Care of Mature Plants

If you want your bachelor’s buttons to last beyond their first burst of flowers, then dead-heading them is vital!

Making a point of going outside and snapping off any spent or fading flower heads every other day or so will encourage your plants to keep putting out more buds and blooms. You don’t want to skip out on this garden chore – leave your bachelor’s buttons to do as they will for too long, and they’ll decide they’ve finished their job, and, seeds having been produced to their satisfaction, promptly dry right up and die.

Of course, you might want to let some of them go to seed anyway- after all, finches absolutely adore the seeds, and they’ll busily go plucking them right out of the seedheads if you let them form. You can feed the pollinators and the birds with the same flower!

Mixed blue boy bachelor's buttons and chamomile growing together
Sometimes your reseeding annuals might find themselves sharing space – German chamomile and Blue Boy bachelor’s buttons both reseeded themselves in the same plot in our garden one year!

Additionally, if allowed to set seed, bachelor’s buttons do an exceptional job of re-seeding themselves.

If you love these gorgeous blue flowers, and want them in your garden year after year, then consider letting your flowers finish forming their seeds at the end of the year – if you’re lucky, you’ll get a beautiful, self-sowing show next year.

Support

Depending on the strength of the wind in your area, and if you planted rows or single plants verses a dense patch, you may find that your bachelor’s buttons require some support.

Dense plantings of bachelor’s buttons tend to look more attractive than single plants. They also seem to be more resistant to leaning and falling over.

dried bachelor button petals
Cornflower petals will retain their bright blue color when dried, but they must be stored out of direct sunlight since they fade easily when exposed to light.

Harvest & Drying Bachelor’s Button Flowers

Collect flowers when they’re not covered with dew or rain. Mid-morning on a sunny day is a good time to harvest.

Bring the flowers in and spread them out in a single layer over a drying screen, clean dishcloth, or paper towels. Allow them to air dry, out of direct sunlight, for several days, turning the flowers over a few times. You could also dry just the petals, for quicker drying time.

The beautiful blue color of bachelor button flowers is very prone to swiftly fading with light exposure, so dried petals should be stored in a brown paper bag in a cool dry place.

Shelf life of dried cornflowers is one year, or as long as they hold their color. Faded petals should be composted, since they’ve lost their potency.

cornflower petals mixed with lavender buds on a bath bomb
The bright blue color of dried bachelor buttons (cornflowers) help add vibrancy to products made with dried lavender flowers – such as these bath bombs.

Uses for Bachelor’s Buttons (Cornflowers)

Edible Food Decoration

Fresh or dried bachelor button flowers can be used to decorate foods such as ice cream, cheese balls, or salads.

Tea

The dried flower petals are sometimes included in tea blends to make them more colorful and visually appealing.

Bath Bombs & Soaks

Use dried cornflowers to add bright spots of color when mixed into bath soaks, and used as toppers for bath bombs. We like to mix them with an equal part of dried lavender buds, to brighten the sometimes too-soft color effect of lavender. (See the bath bomb photo above for an example of how this looks.)

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9 Comments

  1. Hi Jan,
    Do you know if these would do okay in a large pot?
    My daughter found seeds for them this year and is excited to plant them. We’ll put some in the ground but would also like to put some in a pot outside our window so we can watch the pollinators and the birds!
    Also, thanks for the info on why they are called Bachelor’s Buttons! I always wondered but apparently have been too lazy to look it up 🙂

    1. Hi Kristen, Yes! They can grow in pots. Make sure your pot isn’t too shallow – a deeper one on the wide side will give them plenty of room to grow & enjoy! 🙂

  2. It says it needs full sun, but I don’t know why mine will getting soft under sunlight, when I move it to the shadows it will back to the healthy status. Can anyone tell me why?

    1. Hi Ryan! Is the plant in a pot? It could be that it’s getting too dried out, so when it’s in the sun it’s wilting more easily, but when moved to the shade, it doesn’t lose as much water.
      Try giving it a good drink of water more often, and maybe find a spot for it that gets a lot of morning & midday sun, but some afternoon shade when the day is at its hottest.

  3. Hi Jan, I’m in zone 6b. I have started these as a hardy flower and covered them for the first time last night.
    Can they make it through the winter covered or no!
    Theyre 6″ and super healthy. Are they going to make it or do I need to cover them at all.
    Paula

    1. Hi Paula! You could definitely cover them up and see how they do. If the spot is sheltered enough, it’s possible they could make it through the winter, but if not, at least you know you gave them a shot!
      We have a couple of microzones in our gardens where tender plants manage to survive winter, even though they would normally die off in our zone.
      So I feel like it never hurts to try! 🙂

  4. If I deadhead my bachelor buttons, and just drop the over mature flower on the ground, will it reseed next year? I had a great stand of bachelor buttons come up volunteer this year in my garden where I had them planted the year before. I have immensely enjoyed it and my daughter and I are offering cut flower arrangements. Once I see that the petals have made a trumpet shape, I know that the flower is very mature and don’t like to use those in the cut flower arrangement as these flowers would not have as long of a vase life. We have started snipping off those mature flowers and dropping them in the garden. Will those flowers make seed and come up next year, or does that flower have to totally dry up on its stalk to make the seed for next year? I am trying to get optimum quantity of blooms, but still have a nice stand of flowers come up again next year. Thank you!

    1. Hi Janis, How fun to be able to work together with your daughter making flower arrangements! <3
      The flowers need to be mature enough so the seed has fully developed; that's usually when the flowers start looking pretty rough, but you could open a few and see what stage the seed is in at that point.
      One idea is to chop and drop those mature flowers, but also have some backup bachelor buttons started from seed each year.
      That's what we like to do - let nature reseed some of the plants for us, but also throw a fresh batch of our own seedlings in so we know we never run out of those lovely bachelor buttons in our garden! 🙂

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