How to Grow and Care For Colorful Cosmos Flowers

Cosmos spp.

“Cosmos” is the Greek word for harmony or ordered universe and is directly opposite of “chaos,” which is how one might describe the riotous explosion of color these attractive flowers bring to the home landscape.

Spanish priests in Mexico named these cheery little blooms because of their evenly placed, orderly petals.

Close up of a bright pink cosmos flower.

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Indeed, the plant’s pink, red, white, lavender, orange, or chocolate petals are beautifully spaced around a (usually) yellow central disk.

Growing Conditions

These plants belong to the huge Asteraceae family, and are cousins of daisy and marigold. Of the 20 or so species of cosmos genus, two are most commonly grown in home gardens: C. sulphureus (sulphur and yellow cosmos, Mexican aster) and C. bipinnatus (common and garden cosmos and also – because, of course – Mexican aster).

White Cosmos |
Photo by Lorna Kring.

C. sulphureus is native to Mexico, Central America, and northern South America. It has naturalized in most other parts of the world. C. bipinnatus, also native to Mexico, has found its way into most corners of the globe, as well.

Sulfur Cosmos |

These pretty flowers liberally reseed – to the point where they are sometimes referred to as weeds. In the event that you have too many blooms, cut the flowers and put them in vases.

Hot, dry conditions, along with poor to average soil, are optimum conditions for this plant. Usually grown from seed, you may also find starts at a nursery.

How to Grow Cosmos |
Photo by Lorna Kring.

In most parts of the United States, this plant is considered an annual, though gardeners in zones 9 and 10 may find them to be perennial.

And with a long growing season, they add vibrant color to the autumn garden.

Tips for Growing Cosmos |

They also make a great choice for children’s gardens and novice gardeners thanks to their easy and quick growth habits.

Recommend Cultivars

You’ll find a wide variety of cultivars and mixtures available from seed suppliers. For a brilliant red, orange, and yellow collection of C. sulphureus, try this packet of 500 seeds from Mountain Valley Seed Co., available via True Leaf Market.

Cosmos Cosmic Mix |

Cosmos Cosmic Mix

These plants will reach about 12 inches tall and produce semi-double, 2- to 3-inch flowers that bloom throughout the season.

Or, choose classic cosmos in a rainbow of colors in this seed mix from David’s Garden Seeds, available via Amazon.

Crazy for Cosmos Mix

You’ll get 10 open-pollinated varieties in this mix of 500 seeds that will grow from 45 to 54 inches tall.

David’s Garden Seeds also offers a stunning deep red variety, also available on Amazon. ‘Tetra Versailles Red’ flowers open wine-red and gradually fade to a bright pink.

Cosmos ‘Tetra Versailles’ Seeds

You’ll get 500 non-GMO, hand-packed seeds that produce 2- to 3-foot plants that bloom in about 80 days.

Want More Options?

Check out our supplemental guide: “25 of the Best Cosmos Flower Cultivars for Your Yard.”

Care and Maintenance

This low-maintenance plant tolerates fairly poor, well-drained soil with a pH between 6.0 and 8.5. You don’t want to fertilize much because you’ll end up with lots of foliage and not many flowers.

Sow seeds outdoors at a depth of 1/16 inch, or indoors five to six weeks before the expected date of last frost.

Grow Gorgeous Cosmos |
Photo by Lorna Kring.

These 1- to 6-foot-tall plants can become top heavy and floppy, so plant them in masses and they’ll support each other.

These cosmic gems flower best in full sun, but the plant will tolerate a bit of shade. It requires only a moderate amount of water.

Plant tall varieties at the back of borders or as a central focal point, and use smaller varieties as mid-sized plants in mixed beds.

A field of orange, pink, red, and white cosmos flowers in bloom.

For planters and containers, make sure to use dwarf varieties. Full sized specimens will crowd out the other plants, and their roots will dominate available soil.

Deadhead spent flowers to encourage more blooms, but leave some in place to develop seeds – they’re a favorite of visiting winter birds!

Pests and Diseases

This Asteraceae plant family member can be plagued by aphids and thrips.

For both of these pests, try insecticidal soap, such as this one from Garden Safe, available via Amazon.

Garden Safe Houseplant and Garden Insect Killer, 24-Ounce Spray

Also look out for aster yellows and powdery mildew.

The only cure for aster yellows is prevention. Use diatomaceous earth or insecticidal soap to kill the insects that spread the bacterial disease. Plants infected with aster yellows must be pulled up and destroyed.

Safer Brand Garden Fungicide, 24 Ounces

Treat powdery mildew with a fungicide, such as this one from Safer Brand, available via Amazon.

A Little Order, A Lot of Beauty

If your garden universe doesn’t include this worldly annual, perhaps it should. This easy-care plant thrives on sun and heat, offering glorious color in return.

Look for seeds online, plant indoors a few weeks before the last freeze, or outdoors in early spring. Keep diatomaceous earth and insecticidal soap on hand and you’ll be set.

Cosmos Quick Reference Chart

Plant Type:Most are annuals, self-sowingFlower Color:Red, pink, orange, white
Native to:Mexico, Central America, Northern South AmericaMaintenance:Minimal; slightly invasive
Hardiness (USDA Zone):1-11Tolerance:Drought (when mature)
Bloom Time:Summer, early fallSoil Type:Loamy, poor to average soil
Exposure:Full sunSoil pH:6.5-7 (neutral to slightly acidic)
Time to Maturity:55-100 days, depending on cultivarSoil Drainage:Well-draining
Spacing:4-6 seeds, thin to 20-24 inchesCompanion Planting:Makes an excellent trap crop for aphids
Planting Depth:1/8 inchUses:Borders, beds, containers, cut flowers
Height:1-5 feet (depending on cultivar)Attracts:Birds, bees, butterflies
Spread:1-2 feetFamily:Asteraceae
Water Needs:ModerateGenus:Cosmos
Pests & Diseases:Aphids, thrips, aster yellows, powdery mildewSpecies:Cosmos spp

Are cosmos growing in your garden? In the comments section below, tell us about your experience with this galactic favorite. And learn about another Asteraceae family member in this article about Swan River daisy.

Photos by Lorna Kring, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via True Leaf Market, David’s Garden Seeds, Safer Brand, and Garden Safe. Uncredited top photo by Lorna Kring. Other uncredited photos via Shutterstock. With additional writing by Lorna Kring.

Photo of author
A former garden editor for a daily newspaper in Austin, Texas, Gretchen Heber goes through entirely too many pruners and garden gloves in a year’s time. She’s never met a succulent she didn’t like and gets really irritated every 3-4 years when Austin actually has a freeze cold enough to kill them. To Gretchen, nothing is more rewarding than a quick dash to the garden to pluck herbs to season the evening meal. And it’s definitely time for a happy dance when she’s able to beat the squirrels to the peaches, figs, or loquats.

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Jane Anderson
Jane Anderson (@guest_992)
4 years ago

Hello Gretchen, I love flower gardening. I always spend some time with my garden and family. I always teach my kids about gardening. You have such a beautiful garden. Thanks for sharing this post.

Elly (@guest_3637)
2 years ago

We recently moved and I planted cosmos for the first time this spring. I now have a few, dime-sized pink blooms. The plants are only 8″ tall or so. I’ve given them no care whatsoever in the corner of our garden and though they’re tiny, they are still pretty. In WA, I remember seeing large cosmos plants with 3″ blooms. Hopefully these bitty ones will grow a bit make it through the TX summer.

Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu(@allison-sidhu)
Reply to  Elly
2 years ago

These flowers do love hot and dry conditions, so they should do well in your area! Keep in mind that the size of the blooms is dependent on the cultivar- different varieties may grow to a range of different heights, with blooms of different sizes as well. If you love large blossoms, try the Cosmic Mix. The Apollo, Sensation, and Double Click series are also known for large blooms.

Jack (@guest_3938)
2 years ago

I love planting colorful flowers and I think they are very much perfect for the Spring season! 🙂

Mike Quinn
Mike Quinn(@mike20)
Reply to  Jack
2 years ago

We’re with you there Jack! Thanks for reading.

Michelle (@guest_3982)
2 years ago

Great article! My cosmos are coming up again this year having reseeded all over the place. I am in no way upset about that. My first year growing them, they grew taller than the house. 7ft.+, those crazy, happy, cosmos.

Mike Quinn
Mike Quinn(@mike20)
Reply to  Michelle
2 years ago

Hi Michelle! Sound beautiful and very cottage gardenish (my favorite ornamental style…I’ve been watching too much “Escape to the Country” via Britbox).

Do share some photos with us when they reach maturity! You can attach them to the comments using the little camera icon at the bottom of the comment box.

diane (@guest_9401)
Reply to  Michelle
1 year ago

Hi Michelle! Did you fertilize or add anything to them? I need some help getting them growing!

Sheri Davis
Sheri Davis (@guest_4355)
2 years ago

I have seeds and was unable to plant this last spring. The seeds are dated 2/19/19 will they be too old to plant next spring?

Apollo GT
Apollo GT (@guest_4444)
2 years ago

Thank you for your advice 😀 I am just now starting to collect these. wanted to mix them with marigold and coreopsis. you think it will be ok in the same pots?

Lynn (@guest_4539)
2 years ago

I have a hillside too steep to mow–a hill whose wild growth the butterflies love in the fall. I thought to plant cosmos there…will scattering seeds be enough to do that?

Richard warren
Richard warren (@guest_4677)
2 years ago

Hi I have Cosmos but the flower never seems to fully bloomed it turns like a brown black what causes that

Sandy (@guest_4748)
2 years ago

After 2 attempts with cosmos from store plants that failed, I started from seed this year. My plants are 3-4 feet tall with only 1 bloom????. Thought maybe the needed more water as there is brown, dying foliage at the bottom and then have also fed them twice with Miracle Grow. And now I read that they do best without this. I live in Plano and want blooms now!! Soil here is more alkaline clay. Help!!