How to Grow Stock: A Cottage Garden Staple

Matthiola incana

Stock, Matthiola incana, is a member of the Brassicaceae family of plants that includes cabbages. Originating in Europe, it is easily cultivated in all temperate zones, and is especially prized by cottage gardeners for its terminal clusters of fragrant, showy blossoms.

It is also a favorite of florists who appreciate the robust blooms for their vertical interest, sturdy stems, spicy-sweet aroma, and longevity in vase arrangements.

A close up vertical image of light purple Matthiola incana (stock) flowers growing in a garden border pictured on a soft focus background. To the center and bottom of the frame is green and white printed text.

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In this article, we discuss all you need to grow your own stock flowers.

Here’s the lineup:

Let’s get growing!

Cultivation and History

M. incana is one of approximately 50 Matthiola species.

A close up horizontal image of white Matthiola incana flowers growing in the garden pictured on a soft focus background.

Also called gillyflower and ten-weeks, as well as hoary, Brompton, or vintage stock, the native species has been widely cultivated, and today’s varieties come in shades of apricot, lavender, pink, purple, red, white, yellow, and bicolor. There are many hybrid series of plants from which to choose.

Plant dimensions range from 12 to 36 inches tall, and nine to 18 inches wide. They are upright and may have one of two growth habits.

Columnar varieties have a single stem and a dense cluster of flowers.

Spray types are multi-stemmed with loose terminal blooms.

A close up horizontal image of light purple and white stock flowers (Matthiola incana) growing in the garden.

Like a snapdragon, the blossoms appear sequentially, from bottom to top, and sit above lush, somewhat hairy, grayish-green foliage.

The petals are arranged in either a single or double row, and have a spicy-sweet scent. The occurrence of single or double blossoms is random.

By chilling seedlings and examining their “cotyledons,” or seed leaves, professional breeders are often able to identify and thin out the single-petal types and retain the doubles, to bring the most robust blooms to market.

There are other Matthiola species, including M. longipetala. Visually, this plant pales in comparison, with its sparse, narrow petaled blooms. However, it makes up for its shortcomings by emitting a heady scent in the evening.

M. incana is a cool-weather plant that blooms from early spring into summer.

For buds to set, the temperature must be below 60°F.

Plants require full sun to light shade, and average to rich soil that drains well. The ideal pH is near neutral, or about 6.8 to 7.5.

M. incana is referred to as a half-hardy annual, short-lived perennial, or biennial.

How can this be?

In cool regions, it grows as an annual that may withstand a frost or two, hence the term “half-hardy.” Plants may thrive right through to fall in these locales.

A close up horizontal image of deep purple Matthiola incana flowers growing in a planter in the garden.

M. incana is a tender perennial In USDA Hardiness Zones 7 to 10 that may live for a few years, coming back with woodier stems each spring. Here, it blooms until the summer heat becomes oppressive.

The biennial characteristic refers to the tendency of perennial plants to bloom in the first year and set seed in the second year.

Stock is an odd name for a flower. It seems to be a reference to the “stocky” stems of perennial growth, and its use as an early-season garden filler.

Its Latin name is said to commemorate 16th-century herbalist Peter Matthioli (or perhaps Mattioli), personal physician to King Ferdinand I of Austria. A 1905 article titled “Memorial Plant Names,” in a Victorian-era British periodical called The Leisure Hour, refers to this likely origin.

It is believed that M. incana was imported by Thomas Jefferson and was growing in his Monticello gardens in 1771. And by Victorian times, it had become a delightful cottage garden staple.

Today, it’s cultivated commercially for both the floral industry and home garden planting.

Propagation

Start plants with seeds, divisions, or nursery seedlings.

From Seed 

In Zones 7 to 10, pre-seed the garden or outdoor containers in the fall for early spring blooms.

In cool regions, start seeds indoors eight to 10 weeks before the last average spring frost date.

It is best to use individual seed starter cells for minimal disruption when transplanting to the garden.

Moisten the potting medium and press two seeds gently into each cell.

Barely cover the seeds with an eighth of an inch of soil, as they need light to germinate.

Maintain even moisture without oversaturation, by letting the cells almost dry out before watering again.

Place the cells in a sunny room with a temperature between 65 and 75°F.

The seeds should sprout within two weeks.

There are varieties of M. incana that have been bred to have a shorter growing season ranging from seven to 10 weeks – hence the nickname, “ten weeks.” Sow these directly outdoors in spring after the frost danger has passed. You’ll find some of the earliest blooming plants in the Cheerful and Cinderella series.

After the danger of frost has passed, gradually acclimate the seedlings to the outdoors for a few hours a day, and then transplant them to the garden or containers.

Place the seed starter cells level with the garden soil, to maintain the same planting depth.

If you are container gardening, choose pots that can accommodate their mature dimensions, plus an inch to fit in a hose nozzle or watering can spout.

When starting from seeds, expect it to take 10 to 12 weeks for them to reach maturity.

For plants to set buds, nighttime temperatures must not exceed 60°F, and they begin to decline once daytime temperatures climb to 80°F.

By Division

If you already grow perennials that come up yearly, divide existing plants to make new ones.

First, take note of how deep the plant is in the ground, because you will want to replicate this depth when you plant the divisions.

Dig your plants up at any time, slice down through the rootstock to make two or more, and transplant to new locations as desired.

From Seedlings/Transplanting

In both cool and warm regions, you can purchase nursery seedlings to transplant to the garden or containers as soon as they are available in early spring.

Plant at the same depth the seedlings are in their nursery pots. And if you’re container gardening, remember to accommodate the mature dimensions.

Why not experiment with seeds and plants and see what works best in your growing zone?

How to Grow

Find a location with full sun and average to moderately-rich, well-draining soil with a nearly neutral to slightly alkaline pH of 6.8 to 7.5

To determine the composition of the earth in your garden, conduct a soil test through your local agricultural extension.

A close up horizontal image of stock (Matthiola incana) seedlings growing in a terra cotta pot in a sunny location pictured on a soft focus background.

Work the soil to a depth of eight to 10 inches, until the large clods are broken up, and a smooth consistency is achieved.

Sprinkle a few seeds every nine to 18 inches, depending upon the mature dimensions of your plants. Barely cover them with 1/8 inch of fine soil.

Maintain even moisture during germination, but do not oversaturate.

When the seedlings have two sets of true leaves, thin them to one every nine to 18 inches.

Provide about an inch of water per week in the absence of rain. Take care to water the soil, and not the leaves, to inhibit fungal growth.

A close up vertical image of light pink Matthiola incana flowers growing in a sunny garden.

When the first buds appear, some people like to do what professional growers do, and pinch off the top inch or so of the budded growing tip for a more uniform, compact top.

If you garden in containers, consider the mature widths of the varieties you choose, and select pots with a diameter at least one inch larger, to allow room for watering. Standard pot depths are adequate.

And finally, if you are transplanting nursery seedlings, settle them into the ground so they are at the same depth they were in their starter pots.

Growing Tips

When planting, remember the following for best results:

  • This is a cool-weather flower that needs to be planted early, because it declines with summer heat.
  • Sow seeds shallowly, barely covering them with 1/8 inch of fine soil.
  • Maintain even moisture during germination, then one inch per week. Avoid oversaturation.
  • Pinch budding growing tips for more compact flower clusters.

Pruning and Maintenance

Weed the garden regularly to reduce competition for water, deter pests, and promote air circulation that inhibits fungal growth.

Add a two-inch layer of mulch for weed control, soil moisture retention, and ground cooling.

During the growing season, deadhead spent flower stems to their points of origin to maintain an attractive appearance. They are not likely to rebloom.

At season’s end, cut plants to the ground and remove the debris to inhibit the wintering over of pests and disease pathogens. Even perennials with woody stems should be maintained in this way.

Where to Buy

There are many cultivated varieties of M. incana from which to choose, ranging in height from 12 to 36 inches tall.

As you shop, you will find seeds and plants that have been bred for exceptional disease resistance, shortened days to maturity, and unusual colors and color combinations.

Imported seed packets often, but not always, include the phrase “phytosanitary certification” to guarantee that they are free of pests and diseases and meet the standards of the receiving country.

Here’s an attractive mix of dwarf seeds that you may like. ‘Midget’ is a dwarf variety that matures in 70 to 84 days.

A close up square image of 'Midget' mix stock flowers pictured on a soft focus background. To the bottom right of the frame is a white circular logo with text.

‘Midget’ Mix

Mature heights are eight to 12 inches tall, and you can expect between 60 to 80 percent of the seeds to produce double blossoms.

Find Midget Mix stock seeds from True Leaf Market in packages of 1,000 seeds, for flowers that range in color from purple to white.

Managing Pests and Disease

Quality plants and seeds that grow in conditions that suit them are the least likely to suffer the ravages of pests and disease.

However, sometimes trouble starts with extreme weather conditions, or an infestation or infection in a nearby plant.

Some pests to watch out for when cultivating stock are:

Aphids and cabbage white caterpillars suck the sap from plant tissue, and flea beetles chew it. Try handpicking, spraying with the hose, or treating plants with organic insecticidal neem oil to be rid of them.

Possible diseases that may affect plants include:

  • Bacterial Blight
  • Damping Off
  • Fusarium Wilt
  • Gray Mold
  • Leaf Spot
  • Root Rot
  • Verticillium Wilt
  • Wire Stem

These conditions are primarily fungal and may respond to fungicidal treatment. For small scale issues, snip off affected foliage, discard it in the trash, and sanitize your pruners afterwards.

Large scale infections may warrant the removal of plants from the garden and rotating to a new location next year.

Best Uses

From neutral to bold shades, the abundant, fragrant blooms of M. incana bring an aura of charm and romance to early-season settings.

A close up horizontal image of colorful stock flowers growing in a mixed planting in bright sunshine.

With heights ranging from 12 to 36 inches, there are options for front, middle, and rear placements in beds, borders, and container gardening arrangements.

Pair plants with cottage garden favorites like dianthus, heliotrope, iris, larkspur, pansy, petunia, and snapdragon that share similar cultural requirements.

Place them in a pot with calla lily and swan river daisy to highlight each specimen’s unique form.

Mix colors and plant en masse for a sweeping vista to rival the watercolors of the Impressionist masters.

You’re going to love having a ready supply of lush-blossomed cutting flowers when you introduce stock to your outdoor living space!

Did you know that you can keep vase arrangements looking and smelling fresh longer with two easy tips?

1. Remove leaves from the bottom portion of stems that will be under water.

2. Refresh vases daily by snipping the bottoms of all stems and changing the water.

This is especially important for M. incana, as it gets a cabbagey smell if the foliage begins to decompose in vase water. With good care, flowers should stay firm and fresh for at least a week.

Stock is not just another pretty face in the garden. It adds value to its surroundings by attracting bees and other types of beneficial insects, as well as butterflies and moths, that pollinate other plants like herbs and veggies.

In addition, birdwatchers are sure to enjoy watching a variety of avian species feast on the flower seeds at season’s end.

Quick Reference Growing Guide

Plant Type:Herbaceous flowering perennial (or annual depending on zone)Flower / Foliage Color:Bicolor, apricot, lavender, pink, purple, red, white, yellow/gray-green
Native to:Southern EuropeTolerance:Deer, light shade
Hardiness (USDA Zone):7-10Soil Type:Average to moderately fertile
Bloom Time:Late spring to early summerSoil pH:6.8-7.5
Exposure:Full sunSoil Drainage:Well-draining
Spacing:9-18 inchesAttracts:Bees, birds, butterflies, moths, other beneficial insects
Planting Depth:1/8 inch (seeds)Companion Planting:Calla lily, dianthus, heliotrope, iris, larkspur, pansy, petunia, snapdragon, swan river daisy
Height:12-36 inchesUses:Beds, borders, containers, cottage gardens, cutting gardens, fragrant gardens
Spread:9-18 inchesFamily:Brassicaceae
Water Needs:ModerateGenus:Matthiola
MaintenanceLowSpecies:Incana
Common Pests:Aphids, cabbage white caterpillars, flea beetlesCommon Diseases:Fusarium wilt, gray mold, leaf spot, root rot, Verticillium wilt, wire stem

Vibrant and Versatile

To recap, stock, or M. incana, does best in cool weather with full sun and moist, well-draining soil of average to moderately fertile quality.

Depending upon where you live, it may behave as a half-hardy annual, tender and short-lived perennial, or biennial.

A close up horizontal image of brightly colored stock flowers growing in the garden.

Its sturdy, upright racemes add vertical interest to early-season gardens with a delightful palette of color-saturated blooms.

In addition to the varied hues, there are different sizes available that are well-suited to multiple garden placements.

It’s time to get out the garden planner. Be sure to add stock for armloads of blooms and the best vase arrangements you’ve ever made!

Does stock grow well where you live? Do you grow it as an annual or perennial? Tell us about your plants in the comments section below.

If you found this article informative and would like to read about more early-season flowers, we suggest the following:

About Nan Schiller

Nan Schiller is a writer with deep roots in the soil of southeastern Pennsylvania. Her background includes landscape and floral design, a BS in business from Villanova University, and a Certificate of Merit in floral design from Longwood Gardens. An advocate of organic gardening with native plants, she’s always got dirt under her nails and freckles on her nose. With wit and hopefully some wisdom, she shares what she’s learned and is always ready to dig into a new project!

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Jil
Jil (@guest_1617)
3 years ago

Something is eating my stock flowers!! Any ideas?

bojons flowers
bojons flowers (@guest_3403)
2 years ago

can stock be used in oasis? does it last?

Lori Austill
Lori Austill (@guest_3670)
2 years ago

It sounds like this would not work well for color in the summer in Florida. Is that correct? I want something that blooms all summer long.

Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu (@allison-sidhu)
Admin
Noble Member
Reply to  Lori Austill
2 years ago

Stock is a cool weather flower that blooms earlier in the season, so it’s not the best choice for summer color in Florida. Of course, this is a big state ranging from zone 8 in the panhandle down to zone 11 in the south. Depending on where exactly you’re located, and how much sun you get per day, some plants known for their colorful blooms throughout the summer may do better than others. We recommend blanket flower, hibiscus, coreopsis, and alliums, just to name a few. Keep an eye out for cultivars known for doing well in your growing zone,… Read more »

Dodie
Dodie (@guest_6478)
Reply to  Allison Sidhu
1 year ago

I’d just like to add that this would bloom well in the winter in Florida.

Mary J. Ratliff
Mary J. Ratliff (@guest_4175)
2 years ago

Do you have to dead head stock to keep it blooming?

Lisa Capper
Lisa Capper (@guest_5894)
1 year ago

I live in zone 6a. I tried stock last year but it did not flower. After reading your article I realize I planted it too late. I waited until after our last frost which was around May 20. I’m trying stock again this year can you advise me how early I should put the transplants in the ground? Thanks for your help.

Mandy N
Mandy N (@guest_6307)
1 year ago

I Live in Zone 5B…Central IL. I would like grow these but, I do not have any growing light fixtures for starting them indoors from seeds. I am wondering, if I can start to grow them in pots and leave the pots in garage or south facing window?. ..Can you suggest how else I can grow them. Thank you.

Nan Schiller
Nan Schiller (@rellihcsnan8)
Member
Reply to  Mandy N
1 year ago

Hi Mandy – As you are trying to grow stock outside its comfort zone, you’re on the right track with creative ideas.
Stock may be started indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last average frost date. Optimal germination temperatures are 65-70 °F. After the last average frost date, seeds may be sown directly outdoors. You may be able to get your seeds to sprout in the sunny garage window, and have everything to gain by trying.

Nat
Nat (@guest_6372)
1 year ago

Lovely article. I’ve got stock in my garden and it’s flowers for the last few years. Are you meant to prune it after flowering? It’s getting quite tall! Many thanks, Natalie

Brenda Swann
Brenda Swann (@guest_8299)
1 year ago

I never received my Purchase, They just took my money and I never heard from them

Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu (@allison-sidhu)
Admin
Noble Member
Reply to  Brenda Swann
1 year ago

Sorry to hear this Brenda. Did you place an order with one of our affiliates? Many company are experiencing shipping delays. My best advice would be to contact them directly.

Lynda
Lynda (@guest_8453)
1 year ago

Stock is one of my favorites to grow. Here in Utah the nurseries get them out for purchase too late always. And very few carry them. I also have a very difficult time finding seed. They grow well in my pots by my east facing front door where they get extra care and only morning sun, even though our temps get very hot. Any help in finding that seed?
Thank you, Lynda

polly li
polly li (@guest_12016)
Reply to  Lynda
4 months ago

I bought my stock seed from botanic interest

Margaret Scott
Margaret Scott (@guest_12469)
3 months ago

I can’t seem to find stock flowers in Toronto, Canada. Can you suggest any nursery in the city of Toronto or the provinces of Ontario that I could call?