Tips for Growing Pink Turtlehead

A Late Summer/Fall Bloomer

Pink Turtlehead (Chelone lyonii) is a hardy perennial in Zones 3-8 that blooms in late summer & fall. Gorgeous in butterfly gardens, rain gardens & alongside ponds and other water features, pink turtlehead will naturalize if the conditions are right.

We grow Chelone l. 'Hot Lips,' a runner-up in the 2012 Perennial Plant of the Year competition sponsored by the Perennial Plant Association.  (Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost' won.)
We grow Chelone l. 'Hot Lips,' a runner-up in the 2012 Perennial Plant of the Year competition sponsored by the Perennial Plant Association. (Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost' won.) | Source

Red, White & Pink Turtlehead

Other species of the genus Chelone include C. glabra (white turtlehead) and C. oblique (red turtlehead).

C. glabra is the hardiest of the bunch, with white flowers that are sometimes tinged with color and a strong, sweet fragrance.

C. lyonii (pink turtlehead) is very comparable to C. oblique. C. lyonii 'Hot Lips' is one of the more popular pink cultivars. As you can see from the photos, its large, showy flowers are a vibrant pink.

If you're like I am, you like to have flowers blooming in your yard year round. Not only do they add color and visual interest to the landscape, but they also provide food for pollinators.

Although our spring flowers have faded and our summer favorites like coneflowers, Shasta daisies, bee balm, butterfly weed and Mexican sunspot are beginning to falter, other plants are stepping center stage.

Summer bloomers like zinnia, love-in-the-mist and the ubiquitous butterfly bush are continuing to produce copious blooms, as are our French marigolds and rose bushes.

And late summer and fall plants are just starting to come into their own, with Montauk daisies, chrysanthemums, asters, 'Autumn Joy' sedum and pink turtlehead setting flower heads that will soon bloom.

Pink Turtlehead

Although pink turtlehead, sometimes called shellflower, isn't really suited to our dry, full-sun yard, I love its upright, bushy habit; deep green, pointy leaves; and fat pink flowers so much that I've tried to create the right growing conditions for it.

Although pink turtlehead will never naturalize in our yard, it's growing well and continuing to spread (just a little) year after year.

The Best Growing Conditions for Pink Turtlehead

Our turtlehead quadrupled in size when we moved it to a new, more moist location.
Our turtlehead quadrupled in size when we moved it to a new, more moist location. | Source
In summer, pink turtlehead develops flower heads that bloom midsummer into early fall.
In summer, pink turtlehead develops flower heads that bloom midsummer into early fall. | Source

Light

Pink turtlehead is a hardy perennial in Zones 3-8, dying down in areas that experience frost in late fall/early winter and emerging in spring along with other herbaceous perennials.

Chelone lyonii prefers full sun (6-8 hours of direct light per day).

It will also grow well in partial sun (4-6 hours per day).

A single plant will spread into clumps nearly 3 feet wide that grow anywhere from one to three feet tall. If grown in areas that are too shady, it sometimes becomes "leggy" and requires staking to maintain its upright habit.

Pink turtlehead is a good plant for rain gardens.
Pink turtlehead is a good plant for rain gardens. | Source
Last year our pink 'Hot Lips' turtlehead bloomed in late August.
Last year our pink 'Hot Lips' turtlehead bloomed in late August. | Source

Soil & Water

Consistently moist soil is a must for pink turtlehead. And it prefers soil that's rich and loamy with neutral pH (6.5-7).

Boggy areas in and around water are ideal for pink turtlehead, and if the soil is just right, too, it will easily naturalize in boggy, full-sun locations, spreading slowly by setting new plantlets from its rhizomes as well as self-seeding.


Tips for Growing Pink Turtlehead

Source

Planting Pink Turtlehead from the Nursery

In spring, I planted a small $3.95 starter pot of turtlehead, setting the root ball in a hole deep enough so that the top of it was at ground level. I then filled the hole with rain barrel water (not cold water) and filled it in with a mix of soil from the flowerbed and compost before adding a two-inch layer of mulch. During June and July, it almost doubled in size and eventually bloomed in late August.

Chelone lyonii grows from rhizomes, bulb-like stems that spread horizontally underground. As the bulbous roots grow, they develop new plantlets. (Irises also grow from rhizomes.)

Turtlehead also grows from seed, and it will self-seed, too.

Location Matters!

I first located our turtlehead in a full-sun, rich-soil area and watered it frequently during the summer drought. Because I prefer more independent plants (yes, I can be lazy!) I moved it the next spring to a partial shade location by a rain barrel.

The area is not only blessed with rich soil, but it is probably the most consistently moist spot in our yard, enjoying rain barrel overflow and overshadowed by an azalea in spring and a crape myrtle in summer.

Thanks to its new location, our turtlehead has quadrupled in size and is now setting its blooms; unfortunately, moving it to a more moist spot allowed me to ignore it during the hot, dry days of summer and set the stage for mildew, a problem that can plague pink turtlehead if it isn't cared for properly.

Mildew Problems with Pink Turtlehead

Pink turtlehead that grows in soil that dries out between waterings is prone to mildew.
Pink turtlehead that grows in soil that dries out between waterings is prone to mildew. | Source

Mildew

Consistently moist soil and full or partial direct sunlight is key to keeping pink turtlehead mildew free. I failed to do that, allowing the soil to dry out over a yo-yo summer that has been either very hot and wet or very hot and dry.

Why would you grow pink turtlehead?

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To keep the mildew from spreading, I have removed the infected leaves, washed the plant down with lukewarm, soapy water, and scraped up the surrounding mulch to remove any spores that might survive our mild winter.

I've also vowed to do better—to water our pink turtlehead during the dry times and keep the nearby azalea pruned back to allow better air circulation. After all, I wanted turtlehead in our garden, even though we don't have a naturally good location for it. I should take care of it better.

I also plan to split our turtlehead next spring, transplanting part of it to its original full-sun location and comparing how the two patches grow.

Wish me luck!

Source

About the Author

The Dirt Farmer has been an active gardener for over 30 years.

She first began gardening as a child alongside her grandfather on her parents' farm.

Today, The Dirt Farmer gardens at home, volunteers at community gardens and continues to learn about gardening through the MD Master Gardener program.

© 2013 Jill

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Comments 23 comments

ValKaras profile image

ValKaras 4 weeks ago from Canada

I am not into gardening, but I am fascinated by the beauty of flowers, which are, in my opinion the most beautiful creations in nature. You must enjoy it a lot, growing and nurturing them. I admire your choice of life style, indeed.


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 3 years ago from United States Author

Hi Thelma! Our pink turtlehead just started blooming a few days ago. The pink against the dark green leaves is so beautiful! Hope you can find turtlehead where you are and give it a try. Thanks for your comments! Take care, Jill (:


Thelma Alberts profile image

Thelma Alberts 3 years ago from Germany

Gorgeous! I have not heard about this beautiful flower. Thanks for the very informative information. I´ll be looking around for this flower.


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 3 years ago from United States Author

Hi lastheart! Appreciate your sharing the article--and thanks for commenting, too. All the best, Jill


Lastheart profile image

Lastheart 3 years ago from Borikén the great land of the valiant and noble Lord

Lovely!! Great instructions. A must bookmark and sharing.


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 3 years ago from United States Author

Thanks, Glimmer Twin Fan. I'm so happy that the deer haven't discovered our pink turtlehead. I hope it stays that way! Thanks for commenting & sharing. --Jill


Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

Glimmer Twin Fan 3 years ago

OK, Another great one. I love the turtlehead, unfortunately so do the deer, a lot. I have to spray it all the time, but it is worth it for the late summer color in my shady garden. There are not too many plants that do that for me. Shared around.


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 3 years ago from United States Author

Hey MsDora! I'd love to have you over, too. We could have a cup of tea & swap plants! Thanks for your kind comments. --Jill


MsDora profile image

MsDora 3 years ago from The Caribbean

Dirt Farmer, I wish I could visit your yard once every season. Your pictures are always so lovely. Thank you for sharing your expert knowledge.


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 3 years ago from United States Author

Thanks so much, Eddy! All the best, Jill


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

Another great article Jill.

Voted up.

Eddy.


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 3 years ago from United States Author

Hi Eddy! Hope your day's going well, too. I'm liking the fall-like weather here--chilly mornings and sunny afternoons! Take care, & thanks for stopping by! --Jill


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

Another wonderful hub; so colourful. interesting and useful.

Here's wishing you a great day Jill.

Enjoy your day.

Eddy.


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 3 years ago from United States Author

Thanks a lot, Deb! It's fun to share what I learn as I go. Hope you're doing well. (: --Jill


aviannovice profile image

aviannovice 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

A great flower. You are just a wealth of information and I hope you eventually come out with a book regarding the beautiful flora that we can have.


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 3 years ago from United States Author

Hi younghopes! I had never seen pink turtlehead before either until I ran across it at an Amish nursery & was attracted by its foliage (and the picture of the flower on the identification tag). Thanks for sharing this hub! Take care, Jill


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 3 years ago from United States Author

Oh no, Pearl, now you have me worried about the deer noticing our turtlehead! I'm going to have to spray them down real good with stinky stuff. Thanks for commenting. It's good to find another turtlehead lover out there! --Jill


grandmapearl profile image

grandmapearl 3 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

Jill, I am delighted to read this article on one of my absolute favorite perennials! I wait patiently throughout the summer for it to flower, and guard it against the browsing of the deer. But I am eventually rewarded with the most fascinating deep pink blooms, that do resemble turtles sticking their heads out from their shells.

I, too, have 'hot lips' growing in a part-shade rain garden. It is beloved by my butterflies, hummers and bumbles.

Thanks for sharing this awesome and interesting flower ;)Pearl

Voted Up++++ and pinned


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 3 years ago from United States Author

LOL That's only fair, Suzie: you're my hair & skin care guru!


younghopes profile image

younghopes 3 years ago from India

What a beautiful flower, i have never seen it nor heard the name even, i think it is not there in my country. Sharing this one hub, let others be aware of this flower


Suzie HQ profile image

Suzie HQ 3 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

Thanks Jill for checking that out for me! And wouldn't you know Dublin is coastal however my partner's place where I have moved to is more inland so I will check out nurseries here I know. he has wild land so I would container plant for now, hence the pot question. Appreciate your help!! You are my plant guru!!


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 3 years ago from United States Author

Hi Suzy! Thanks so much for your comments. I checked out a world plant map, and it looks like turtlehead will grow in most parts of Ireland, excepting the areas right on the coast. Like you, I don't think it would do well long-term in pot, but it might like a large terrarium where it could spread a bit. You never know until you experiment! All the best & thanks for the shares and votes, Jill


Suzie HQ profile image

Suzie HQ 3 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

Hi Jill,

What a gorgeous flower I am not familiar with. When I saw your hub hit my stream I just had to check it out, Pink Turtlehead! I wonder do they grow successfully here in Ireland with our climate, I must check it out as I would love to have it grow in Autumn for color and for butterflies!

Would this plant grow in containers or is it just for the ground? it seems a ground one with it's spread.

Thanks Jill for a great insight into this gorgeous and vibrant flower!

U,U,I shared and pinned to flowers!

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