Cleome is one of the most distinctive members of the flower garden. Its spider-like blooms provide color and interest to any outdoor space. An excellent cut flower, these blooms come in a variety of colors. Also known as spider flower, spider plant or grandfather’s whiskers, this gorgeous annual plant adds contrast to mixed flower beds. They also thrive if planted on their own or in pots and planters.
Cleome may not be the easiest flower to grow, particularly if you are growing from seed, however its attractive blooms make it well worth the effort. Originating in Central America the flowers cluster on top of tall stalks, above the plant’s rich green foliage. As flowers fade. seed pods emerge from the sides of the spent blooms.
Attractive spider plants introduce texture and color to flower beds and gardens.
An annual plant in most areas, cleome is perennial in USDA Zones 10 and 11. Continuing to flower until the first frosts of the year, if you want to add this unusual plant to your garden, this is your complete cleome guide.
Different Cleome Varieties
There are a number of cleome cultivars available. Older or heirloom varieties are a great choice for a stand alone specimen or for use as background plants in a flower bed. Newer cultivars are usually hybrids, these tend to be less fragrant than heirloom cultivars. Dwarf varieties, ideal for pots and planters, are also available. Many hybrid and dwarf cultivars are sterile, meaning that they won’t set seed and spread around the garden.
Cleome Queen varieties are more compact than Senorita cultivars.
Varieties to try:
- Cherry Queen is a bold and bright plant. Reaching a height of 4 ft, its fragrant flowers are about 6 to 8 inches in size. This is an open pollinated variety that easily self seeds.
- Mauve Queen produces 6 to 8 inch sized flowers in shades of light pink deepening to a pastel purple. Another self seeding variety, the seeds require prechilling or stratification before sowing.
- Linde Armstrong is a thornless cultivar. It produces pink, mauve and rose flowers reaching 18 inches across. A low maintenance, easy to care for variety, it tolerates heat well.
- Spirit Appleblossom is a showy cultivar which reaches 3 ft. When in flower the plant produces spider-like pink and white blooms above masses of dark green foliage. It enjoys a quick growth habit and thrives in pots and baskets.
- Senorita Rosalita is a compact cultivar that rarely exceeds 3 ft. As well as attractive, dark green foliage this cultivar produces pink and white flowers. A sterile variety it happily grows in containers.
- White Queen produces attractive white blooms. A self seeding variety, it reaches around 4 ft in height.
Cleome flowers come in a range of heights and colors. You are certain to find something to suit your garden.
Garden stores often sell young plants, known as plug plants, which are ready for planting into the garden. You can also grow cleome from seed. This option takes longer but is more affordable and allows you access to a wider range of varieties. Growing from seed also tends to result in more vigorous flowering displays.
Growing from Seed
Queen cultivars germinate better if they are chilled beforehand. Sometimes you can purchase prechilled seeds. If not you can chill them yourself by spreading the seeds out on a moist paper towel. Fold up the paper towel and place it in a zip lock bag. Seal the bag and place it in the refrigerator for 2 weeks. Sow the seeds immediately after removing them from the refrigerator.
Other varieties don’t require prechilling or stratification. Check the information on the back of the seed packet. This will tell you whether or not you need to chill your seeds before sowing.
Indoor germination can be difficult. Queen cultivars can also be difficult to transplant. These are best sown in position once all danger of frost has passed and the soil has started to warm up. Alternatively, start the seeds undercover in biodegradable peat pots like these MT Products Peat Seed Starter Pots.
Sow seeds a quarter of an inch deep in pots filled with fresh potting soil. If you are sowing more than one seed per pot, space them roughly 3 inches apart.
Lightly cover with compost or potting soil and moisten, be careful not to disturb the seeds.
Place the pots in a warm, light position. To maximize the chances of successful germination the temperature during the day should averager between 75 and 80 ℉. At night temperatures can be allowed to fall to between 65 and 70 ℉. If you struggle to maintain these temperatures, try placing the trays on a heat pad. The VIVOSUN Waterproof Heat Mat is a durable product, enabling you to provide the ideal temperatures for germination.
In ideal conditions germination takes 10 to 21 days. During this period continue to keep the soil moist.
Cleome flowers do best in full sun or partial shade positions. The soil should be well draining. Whether you are growing from seed or have purchased seedlings from a garden store you will need to harden them off before transplanting. This process takes around 2 weeks. During this time prepare the soil by weeding and working in any necessary amendments.
Spider plants reach up to the sun. Planting in a sunny position helps to encourage an upright growth habit.
To transplant, make a hole in the soil as deep as it is wide. It should be big enough to comfortably hold the plant’s root ball. If you have started seeds in biodegradable peat pots the hole should be large enough to hold the pot. When placed in the hole the top of the root system, or pot should sit level with the soil level.
Place the plant, or biodegradable pot holding the seedling in the center of the hole. Backfill the hole and gently firm down the soil. Be careful not to compact the soil. Water well.
Space the seedlings 7 inches apart. Taller varieties require spacing of about 12 inches.
You can also grow cleome in pots or planters. Fill your chosen container with fresh potting soil and transplant as described above. Plants in containers often require more frequent watering and fertilizing in order to flourish.
Caring for Cleome Plants
Once established these are drought tolerant plants. They cope well with hot summers. However, they are not frost tolerant flowers. As temperatures fall the plant will die back.
Cleome thrives in mixed flower beds where it compliments a range of other flowers, in particular dahlias and cosmos. You can also introduce color and interest with a mass planting of cleome flowers. A versatile flower, the cleome is also a great companion plant. If planted in the vegetable garden the aroma of fragrant varieties helps to deter harmful pests and attract pollinators.
A reliable companion plant, cleome is just as eye-catching if planted as a specimen plant. However you decide to use it, once established these flowers are pleasingly easy to care for.
When to Water
Water well after planting. Use a garden hose or sprinkler to thoroughly soak the soil around the plant. Continue to water regularly until the plant is established in its new position and new growth is visible. After this, it is a pleasingly drought tolerant specimen. You need only water when the soil dries out.
How to Fertilizer
These are not heavy feeding plants. They happily grow and flower without any fertilizer. However, a light dose of fertilizer can help to promote mass flower displays.
Before planting, work a light dose of balanced organic fertilizer into the soil.
In midsummer apply a liquid plant food to encourage new growth and flowering. This dose can be repeated every 6 weeks throughout the flowering period.
Tall varieties in particular may require staking if planted in an exposed position. A bamboo stick is an easy way to support your plant and is best installed at the time of planting. Loosely tie the stem to the support, being careful not to damage it.
A low maintenance plant, deadheading spent flowers encourages more to form. It also helps to extend the flowering period. As the flowering season ends some gardeners allow the remaining flowers to stay on the plant. The dried out flowerheads add texture and interest to otherwise dull winter gardens. They also help to attract birds to the garden.
Deadheading spent blooms also helps to prevent the plant from self seeding. This is not a problem if you have planted sterile varieties.
As flowers flourish, seed pods begin to develop from the sides of the bloom.
If you have planted a non-sterile variety that isn’t a hybrid you can collect the seeds from spent flowers to sow on for new cleome plants the following year. Heritage and heirloom varieties are not hybrid and without deadheading will self-seed through the garden. If you want to control the spread, deadhead flowers as they fade allowing only the healthiest examples to go to seed.
Only ever harvest pods from the healthiest plants. This improves the chances of the new plants being both healthy and productive.
Emerging from the side of the flower, cleome seed pods are long and narrow. Each pod contains several seeds. Once the pods are brown and dry, cut them from the plant. Do this as soon after maturing as possible to prevent the pods from splitting and releasing the seeds.
Open the pods and remove the seeds. Spread the seeds out flat on a paper towel to dry. Place in a well ventilated area. The chosen position should enjoy low humidity and temperatures should bever go over 90 ℉. Seeds can take longer to dry in more humid conditions. As the seeds dry, gently brush your hand over them to turn them. This helps to speed up the drying process and should be done two or three times a week.
Dry seeds can be stored in an airtight container, such as a Kilner Jar, at room temperature until you are ready to use them. Try to sow the seeds within a year of harvest. Older cleome seeds are less viable and harder to germinate.
Preventing Common Cleome Problems
The cleome is a surprisingly resilient plant. If planted in a favorable position and correctly cared for, pests and disease rarely bother it. It is thought that many potential pests are probably deterred by the flowers’ pungent scent and thorny stems. Rabbits, in particular, are deterred by the plant’s distinctive aroma.
Occasionally, aphids may attack the foliage as can whiteflies. In warm or humid conditions spider mites may also be problematic. Homemade insecticidal soap applied to the foliage will cure most infestations. This treatment may need to be once every two weeks for 6 to 8 weeks in order to fully remove the pests and any eggs that they have left behind. Citrus or neem oil can also be used.
Spacing the plants out correctly when planting helps to encourage air to circulate. This reduces the chances of plants developing fungal or mildew problems. If a fungal disease does develop, apply a standard fungal treatment. This should cure most problems, particularly if caught early.
While it is very uncommon for cleome flowers, rust may also be an issue. There is no easy cure for rust, affected plants should be dug up and destroyed. Keeping the soil around the plants weed and debris free helps to prevent rust, as does correctly caring for your plants. A homemade weed killer is a great, organic way to prevent weeds from taking over your garden.
The unusual blooms of the spider flower add interest and color to the garden.
Unusual but attractive, the cleome is ideal for gardeners who like distinctive plants. An ideal choice for natural and carefully cultivated gardens. The stately cleome produces masses of intricate showy blooms in various shades throughout the summer. An attractive, fragrant plant with a distinctive appearance, it is surprisingly easy to grow. Why not add a couple of cleome flowers to your flower garden this summer?
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.