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.
Red, White & Pink 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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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?
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!
© 2013 Jill Spencer