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’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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)