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Growing the Cleome Flower – Spider Flowers Add Height to the Annual Garden

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Growing the Cleome Flower – Spider Flowers Add Height to the Annual Garden

The Sparkler Series Is a Compact Cleome

Photo © Faye Mozingo

If cleome flowers aren’t among some of the most popular annuals sold at home improvement stores and nurseries, it may be due in part to their homely appearance as young seedlings. Unlike pert marigolds or dazzling New Guinea impatiens, cleomes usually don’t start blooming until they’re well established in the garden, so they look rather weedy in their 6-packs. However, once the flower clusters emerge, you’ll add this plant to your list of easy-care favorites.

Latin Name:

A member of the Capparaceae family, genus Cleome

Common Names:

Spider Flower, Rocky Mountain Beeplant, Stinking Clover

Zone:

All growing zones; perennial in zones 10 and 11

Size:

3 to 6 feet tall

Exposure:

Cleome flowers grow best in full sun, as shady conditions can make them grow so tall as to topple over.

Bloom Period:

If you start with transplants, you’ll see blossoms from early summer until first frost. Gardeners growing cleome flowers from seed usually see their first flowers in mid to late June, depending on the climate.

Suggested Varieties:

  • Sparkler Series- Their short, bushy habit makes them ideal for containers
  • Queen Series- Open pollinated variety that grows up to 6 feet tall
  • Senorita Rosalita- A sterile, thornless hybrid from Proven Winners that won’t self-seed

Description:

Spider flowers don’t emit a noticeable fragrance, but hummingbirds and butterflies didn’t get the memo, because they are drawn to these flowers all summer long. An additional unusual, but welcome visitor to these flower clusters is the hummingbird moth, which looks so much like a hummingbird as it darts about at twilight you’ll do a double take.

  • Flower color- Pink, purple, white, lavender
  • Flower shape- Many petals radiate from a central point, forming an umbel, or cluster. Long stamens give flowers a spiky look.
  • Flower size- Clusters are softball-sized
  • Growing habit- Upright
  • Foliage- Medium green, fernlike

Planting:

Cleome flowers are easy to start in the garden from seed. Perhaps too easy, as the plants can self-seed to the point of being a nuisance. The seeds need light to germinate, so you can just sprinkle them in the garden after the danger of frost is past, and look for seedlings after 10 days. Alternatively, sow them in the autumn, and they’ll germinate when conditions are just right in your area.

If you do allow the plants to self-seed, thin the newly emerging seedlings to allow at least 18 inches between plants. This improves the vigor of individual plants, encouraging the most blossoms from each plant.

Maintenance:

  1. Cleome plants are drought tolerant, making them a welcome addition to the xeriscape garden. Add a 3-inch layer of organic mulch to their planting bed, and you’ll decrease your watering chores even further.
  2. Unlike some annuals, spider flowers are light feeders, and giving them too much nitrogen results in leggy plants.
  3. Cleome flowers thrive in average garden soil, and shrug off flower insect pests and diseases.
  4. If you want to limit cleome’s self-seeding habit, spend time each week plucking the long seed pods that form under the flowers throughout the season.

Design Tips:

Cleome flowers are excellent candidates for the back of the flower border, where their lanky stems can hide behind other plants, but their festive flower clusters can sway in the breeze above other flowering annuals.

You can grow cleome in large containers, but choose a compact variety like the Sparkler series for best results.

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