How to grow cosmos – top tips for growing these colorful flowers

Find out how to grow cosmos to brighten up your summer garden and provide endless blooms for cut flower arrangements

how to grow cosmos pink flowers
(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

Once you learn how to grow cosmos, a favorite annual for summer garden color, and realize just quite how easy it is, you'll be adding them to all corners of the garden. 

Coming in a wide range of colors, from pale pastels and whites through to zingy fruit tones, they add instant wow-factor to beds, borders or as container plants. 

Many cosmos self-seed for several years, so add them to your flower bed ideas as a simple and economical way to fill your backyard borders with a stunning summer floral display. 

The pollen-rich flowers are a favorite of bees and other pollinators as wildlife garden ideas and are excellent for companion planting alongside vegetable and fruit crops in a kitchen garden, too, as they entice pest predators and valuable pollinators. 

How to grow cosmos from seed

Bee on orange cosmos getty images 146143087

(Image credit: Getty Images)

It is easy to get to grips with how to grow cosmos from seed and they can be sown any time throughout spring. The seeds are large, long and thin, so easy to handle and germinate quickly.

There are many cultivars available to choose from when growing cosmos from seed, including singles, doubles, others with tubular rays and some bi-colors, in both tall and compact varieties, so ample choice.

Cosmos bipinnatus, the most commonly grown, also known as Mexican aster, originates from the Americas.

When it comes to growing cosmos from seed you have two options. You can grow them in modules or seed trays indoors, or plant them directly out in the garden. There are benefits to both. 

pink cosmos flower in field

(Image credit: Future/Leigh Clapp)

How do you successfully grow cosmos?

Growing cosmos in modules or seed trays indoors gives you more control over the blooms. Keeping them off the ground and under cover will also protect the delicate seedlings from slugs and harsh weather. Plus, since you are starting your plants off indoors, you are able to start planting earlier – in early spring – so will have well established flowers that attract bees by early summer. 

Sow indoors in module or seed trays, covered with about 2mm of good, fresh compost. Water from below, allow excess water to drain away and position in a warm place, ideally 60 to 70 0°F (16 to 21°C), to germinate, which takes around 30 days.

Move seedlings to a cold frame or light, sheltered spot for a few weeks before planting out to harden them off. This will result in 'much faster growing and longer-lasting flowers,' says gardening guru Monty Don on his blog. He also recommends doing the same for young cosmos that are bought in the garden center, too. 

Cosmos bipinnatus cupcake blush

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

If you choose to direct sow cosmos outdoors, this is a low-maintenance choice that creates a beautiful cottage garden aesthetic. 'I place them in groups so they make drifts and clumps rather than straight lines,' says Monty.

Sow cosmos seeds outdoors once the soil has warmed up.

  • Rake your seedbed area to remove any clumps of soil and achieve a crumbly texture;
  • Cosmos don’t need any special soil preparation – in fact, a too rich soil will encourage foliage rather than flowers;
  • Sow seeds lightly, spaced about 2-3in (5-8 cm) apart;
  • Thin out seedlings;
  • Water until established but don’t over water as that can lead to less flowers.

chocolate cosmos

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Where do cosmos grow best?

Cosmos grow best in a sunny spot, protected from wind, with well-drained, light soil. It is advisable to mulch the ground to conserve moisture, and if you learn how to make leaf mulch you can use your own organic garden material.

If you live in a very warm zone that can suffer extreme heat, cosmos will tolerate part shade.

Cosmos tolerate most pH levels, but do best in neutral to alkaline soils and are quite drought tolerant, so might be worth adding to your planting palette if you're planning a dry garden. Long periods or wet and cold are detrimental and can delay flowering.

Plant your cosmos in a group to make a real focal point statement for late summer into fall until the first frost. This will also attract more bees than if they are dotted through the garden. 

Cosmos are useful for cheery color in any area of a backyard and suit a range of styles, from cottage garden ideas and wildflower meadows to prairie planting and naturalistic planting design

‘I love to grow lots of different varieties of cosmos, putting together different heights and colors in pots and for borders for wonderful layers of intense colour,’ says plantswoman Sarah Raven.

When to plant cosmos seeds

cosmos planted in a garden border with other flowers and grasses

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

Early spring is the best time to sow cosmos seeds under cover indoors, which will then produce flowers that bloom earlier in summer.

Alternatively you can direct sow cosmos seeds in their flowering position once the soil has warmed up. This will differ depending on the area where you live, but will be from about late May in cooler regions, and earlier in warmer zones.

Bought seedlings can be planted late May or June.

Is cosmos easy to grow?

Yes cosmos are easy to grow. 'Cosmos is one of the easiest flowers to grow from seed that is directly sown in the garden bed,' advise the experts at American Meadows.

They are definitely a bloom to include if you're planning a cut flower garden.

'Cosmos are the very best, low-maintenance and floweriest plants in the world. With little effort, they give you buckets of cut flowers and they have a good vase life, too,' says Sarah Raven.

‘As they grow, stake cosmos if necessary, and water regularly,' she adds.

Cosmos suffer from few pest problems. Watch out for slugs and snails, though, especially when the plants are young and tender, so use slug barriers. To avoid powdery mildew and fungal diseases ensure your plants have space and the soil isn’t soggy. 'Cosmos prefer dry, arid soil over wet conditions. Soil that is too moist may lead to disease,' advise the American Meadows experts.

Cosmos bipinnatus rubenza from sarah raven

(Image credit: sarahraven.com / Jonathan Buckley)

Can you put cosmos in pots?

Cosmos, particularly the shorter varieties, can be grown in pots, and make attractive patio and container plants. As they are good at attracting beneficial insects to veg and fruit crops, why not include them in your vegetable garden container ideas

Try a mix of shorter dwarf cosmos varieties, such as the Sensation and Sonata mixes, grown from seed, or buy as seedlings and plant out from May, spaced about 11in (30cm) apart. 

Use a light potting mix, in pots with good drainage and place in a sunny spot. Water regularly and feed with a liquid fertilizer every few weeks during summer. 

how to grow cosmos in pots

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

How to keep cosmos flowering?

If your cosmos aren't flowering, you could be making one crucial mistake. In order to keep your cosmos flowering, it is important to deadhead the blooms. This stops the plant putting its energy into creating seeds and instead puts its efforts into creating more flowers. 

Chances are you will be busy in the garden deadheading roses and other blooms, so add cosmos to the list.

'As long as you don’t cut the plants right to the ground, but above a pair of leaves, more buds will form to fill next week’s vases and more for the week after that. The lower you go in the plant, the more delay between the flower you've just picked and the next flower,' explains Sarah Raven. 

cosmos Xsenia flowers

(Image credit: Thompson & Morgan)

Do cosmos come back every year?

Nearly all cosmos are annuals meaning they do not come back every year. In order to have blooms every year, you will need to resow the seeds the following spring. 

The only exception to this rule is chocolate cosmos, cosmos atrosanguineus, which is grown like a dahlia from a tuber and is a perennial. Chocolate cosmos is loved for its delicious vanillary-chocolate scent and velvety brown flowers, and since it is a perennial, will come back year after year. 

Annual cosmos can also self seed. If you let some of your cosmos flowers die naturally and fall to the ground they will germinate seeds by themselves. Allowing plants to self seed is a step on the way to creating an eco-friendly garden.

You may also like to collect and save seed from the flowers to sow next spring. If you want to save seeds be aware that will grow true-to-type, so select varieties that have been open pollinated, as opposed to hybrids – which can vary widely in the next generation.

To collect seeds, let the flowers go brown, snip them off, hold a bag underneath and gently rub and shake loose the seeds. Scatter them in your garden or save in labelled envelopes or paper bags for sowing the next year. 

cosmos bipannatus candy stripe

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

Do you pinch cosmos?

You should pinch out the growing tips of cosmos to encourage branching and flowering, and in around 12 weeks you should see your first blooms.

If you then want to enjoy those flowers in the house as well as in the garden, cosmos make excellent cut flowers. To harvest for cut flowers, cut the cosmos blooms when they are beginning to unfurl in the morning as this is when there will be the most moisture making them less likely to wilt.

Plunge the blooms into a bucket of warm water, stripping off lower leaves to avoid them in the water. Re-cut the stems regularly and refresh the water and they should last up to 10 days in the vase.

cosmos and dahlia floral display in vase

(Image credit: Pippa Blenkinsop)

Do cosmos need staking?

The taller varieties of cosmos will need staking to prevent them flopping over.

Cosmos grow tall, up to 2.5m with their fine, feathery deciduous foliage and then burst into successions of open-faced blooms, which can reach 8cm across and can go on and on for months

‘It’s worth taking the time to stake them properly as they benefit greatly from growing straight early on. If they collapse, they’ll never grow or flower as well as when vertically supported,’ explains Sarah Raven.

Rachel is senior content editor, and writes and commissions gardening content for homesandgardens.com, Homes & Gardens magazine, and its sister titles Period Living Magazine and Country Homes & Interiors. She has written for lifestyle magazines for many years, with a particular focus on gardening, historic houses and arts and crafts, but started out her journalism career in BBC radio, where she enjoyed reporting on and writing programme scripts for all manner of stories. Rachel then moved into regional lifestyle magazines, where the topics she wrote about, and people she interviewed, were as varied and eclectic as they were on radio. Always harboring a passion for homes and gardens, she jumped at the opportunity to work on The English Home and The English Garden magazines for a number of years, before joining the Period Living team, then the wider Homes & Gardens team, specializing in gardens.