Cottage Garden Favorites: Cleome
Cleome, or Spider Flower, has been a cottage garden favorites for many years. Native to the southern countries of South America, it is grown as an annual in all growing zones in the US. If you have a butterfly garden or a hummingbird feeder, you will want to plant these beauties which attract both butterflies and hummingbirds.
Cleome are nick-named Spider Flower for good reason. Their flowers, which come in white, pink and purple, grow in an umbrel shape like an umbrella with long stamens which stick out giving them a spiky look like the legs of a spider. After flowering, they develop long, bean-like seed pods which you might want to pinch off because they self-sow prolifically and can easily become a nuisance.
Their leaves grow in fan-shape groups like a hand with the fingers spread out. When they are not blooming, they are often mistaken for marijuana plants.
The stems develop thorns so it is recommended that you not grow them near paths or sidewalks. They also have a scent which some people find offensive so you might want to plant them away from windows and outdoor living areas. Personally, I have never found their scent to be offensive.
Depending on the variety, cleome can attain a height of 3- to 6 feet when full-grown. The heirloom Queen series are the tallest while the newer Sparkler series are shorter and can be grown in containers. The Queen series are an excellent back-of-the-border plants. The Sparkler series bloom all summer unlike the older Queen series which blooms for about a month.
Cleome do best in full sun. When grown in partial shade, they become leggy and fall over. They grow well in average soil, needing little in the way of fertilizer. Too much fertilizer will result in leggy plants. They are an excellent addition to your xeriscape because they are drought tolerant. They are also deer resistant for those of us who have a deer problem.
Cleome are easily grown from seed. You can start your seeds indoors 4 to 6 weeks before your last frost date or direct sow them in your garden after all danger of frost. The seeds need light to germinate, so sow them on the surface of the soil and do not cover them. Soil temperature should be 70°F to 74°F for germination which will take place within 1 to 2 weeks. Plants started indoors can be set out into your garden after all danger of frost. Depending on when they were planted, you can expect flowers by mid- to late-June.
Cleome have all the characteristics of classic cottage garden flowers. They are easy to grow, attract butterflies, hummingbirds and beneficial insects and are virtually disease free. Their only true failing is their tendency to profusely self-sow in your garden.
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© 2014 Caren White