Windflowers or anemones are perennial plants, popular for their colorful, poppy-like flowers. Suitable for a range of planting schemes, despite their delicate appearance these resilient little plants are surprisingly easy to cultivate.
Commonly known as windflowers because they sway in the breeze, the name anemone derives from the Greek word “anemos”, meaning wind. Members of the Ranunculaceae family, along with the clematis, ranunculus and delphinium, the anemone is an attractive addition to the garden.
If you want to learn more about these attractive plants, including how to grow them, this guide is for you. We will also explain the differences between the many windflower cultivars and highlight some of the most attractive varieties currently available.
The anemone, or windflower, is a low maintenance, colorful addition to the garden.
What are Windflowers?
Windflowers grow from corms or tubers. Depending on the variety the plants can be 6 inches to 6 ft tall. The flowers can be up to 3 inches in diameter with thin, delicate petals. The flowers sit above dark green, basal foliage.
Flowering in either the spring or the fall, the flowers of the windflower come in shades of pink, purple, red, white and yellow. While many are single flowering, you can also find double flowering varieties. These produce large, eye-catching frilly flowers that can resemble chrysanthemums. Adding further interest, the foliage can be lobed and daisy-like.
An attractive addition to the perennial garden, anemones are suited to planting in a range of different schemes such as rock gardens, natural or woodland schemes and cottage gardens.
Favoring a shady spot, many types of windflowers are ideal for planting under trees or shrubs.
Windflowers can be divided into tuberous and non tuberous types.
Tuberous types include:
- Grecian Anemone (Anemone Blanda), this is a small cultivar rarely exceeding 8 inches tall. Ideal for pots and rock gardens it is also a good groundcover choice. When planted as groundcover the blue, pink or white flowers provide a colorful spring carpet. Hardy in USDA Zones 4 to 8.
- Chinese Anemone (A. Hupehensis) is similar in appearance to the Japanese cultivar. More compact than the Japanese variety, Chinese types typically grow to a height of 2 to 3 ft. It is suitable for planting in USDA Zones 4 to 9.
- Poppy-flowered Anemone (A. coronaria) is a small flowering variety reaching 6 to 81 inches in height. The flowers can be single or double and in shades of blue, white and red. One of the most eye-catching varieties is Scarlet Windflower. This spring flowering type blooms in shades of scarlet with eye-catching contrasting black stamens.
Non tuberous anemones include:
- Wood Anemone (A. Nemorosa) is similar in appearance to the Grecian cultivar. Hardy in USDA Zones 3 to 9 Wood anemones become dormant during midsummer. .
- Japanese Anemone (A. x hybrida), these are hybrid types that flower during the late summer and early fall months. Reaching a height of 5 ft they are a good choice for the back of a perennial border. Hardy in USDA Zones 4 to 8 Japanese anemones flower in shades of purple, pink and white.
- Meadow Anemone (A. Canadensis) is a native American variety. Flowering during the spring and summer months, this variety can reach a height of 12 to 24 inches. Meadow anemone is hardy in USDA Zones 3 to 8.
- Snowdrop Anemone (A. Sylvestris) is native to Europe. A sweetly fragrant variety, the white flowers with yellow centers can be single or double.
Grape Leaf Anemone is named after its grape-like foliage. During the late summer and early fall months silvery-pink flowers develop. Reaching a height of 3.5 ft it is hardy in USDA Zones 3 to
The range of different styles, sizes and preferences means that you can find windflowers to suit almost every situation.
The Snowdrop anemone is one of the most popular types thanks to its fragrant flowers.
5 Types of Windflowers
There are a range of windflowers currently available. These are suitable for a range of planting schemes and growing conditions. The following 5 are amongst the most interesting and versatile.
1 Dreaming Swan
A Japanese Anemone, Dreaming Swan is popular for its pink, semi-double flowers. As they mature the blooms fade to shades of white or pale lavender. A long lasting flower, typically blooming from early summer to the start of fall, Dreaming Swan’s deep green foliage adds further interest.
Hardy in USDA Zones 4 to 8, Dreaming Swan reaches a mature height of around 2 ft and achieves a similar spread. Popular with butterflies and pollinators, Dreaming Swan is resistant to most common pests and diseases as well as rabbits and deer. Salt tolerant, Dreaming Swan is a good choice for a coastal flower garden. The long, elegant stems mean that this is also a good cut flower.
Like many types of wildflowers, Dreaming Swan is best planted in well draining soil that is rich in humus. It tolerates both full and partial sun but does require a mulch to protect it during cold winter months. Dreaming Swan is a low maintenance, long lasting choice.
Pink flowers help to lift and brighten flower beds.
The similarly named Wild Swan is another Japanese Anemone variety with similar care needs and preferences. The Wild Swan cultivar is particularly prized for its white flowers. On the underside of the petal a light lavender hue and deep green foliage further adds to the interest.
2 Blue Shades
A Grecian windflower, Blue Shades is a winter hardy cultivar, ideal for USDA Zones 4 to 8. One of the smallest windflowers, typically reaching a height of 4 to 6 inches, Blue Shades quickly naturalizes to its surroundings.
During the spring months, the plant produces attractive lilac colored daisy-like flowers. These sit above deep green fern-like foliage. A versatile specimen, Blue Shades is ideal for planting at the front of flower beds, edging paths, filling containers or adding color to rock gardens.
Despite being a smaller windflower, the blooms of Blue Shades are an eye-catching addition to the rock garden.
Resistant to both deer and rabbits, Blue Shades is a low maintenance specimen. Best planted in partial shade and moist, well draining soil, in most climates, after flowering, Blue Shades enters a period of dormancy.
3 Blue Poppy
Blue Poppy is popular for its violet-blue poppy-like flowers. These emerge during the middle and late spring months. Sitting above fern-like foliage, the flowers of Blue Poppy draw scores of pollinators, in particular butterflies, to the garden.
Blue Poppy windflowers are best planted in full sun and well draining soil. This cultivar is a great choice for the front of mixed flower beds, rock gardens and containers. Hardy in USDA Zones 7 to 10 Blue Poppy is also deer resistant. Reaching a height of 8 to 10 inches and a spread of 6 to 9 inches Blue Poppy is a reliable, low maintenance cultivar. Like many other windflowers it is also a good cut flower.
Planting in full sun helps to enrich the colors of the Blue Poppy flower.
4 Bressingham Glow
A semi-double, pink flowering cultivar, Bressingham Glow is a Japanese Anemone. This attractive specimen typically starts flowering towards the end of summer and lasts well into the fall. The yellow stamens of the flower contrast nicely and add interest to the pink flowers.
Bressingham Glow plants typically reach a height of 2 to 3 ft and a spread of around 3 ft. The plants are a great choice for mixed flower schemes and cottage gardens. They are also suited to wildflower areas and coastal gardens.
The yellow stamens contrast nicely with the rich, pink petals.
A good cut flower, Bressingham Glow is popular with butterflies and pollinators. Like other types of windflowers Bressingham Glow is largely pest and deer resistant. Best planted in full sun, Bressingham Glow also grows in partial sun but here flowering may not be as profuse. These windflowers are best planted in soil that is rich and well draining. Hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 8, a protective layer of mulch should be applied during the winter months in cooler areas.
5 Blue Star
Blue Star is a Grecian type of windflower which produces attractive deep blue flowers. These blooms sit above masses of fascinating fern-like foliage. Easy to naturalize, Blue Star is a great choice for planting in full and partial sun positions as long as the soil is moist and well draining.
For a good effect try planting around 20 Blue Stars in a group. A low growing plant, typically reaching 6 to 9 inches, it is a good groundcover choice. Ideal for woodland paths, the front of beds and rock gardens, Blue Star is hardy in USDA Zones 4 to 8.
Blue Star is an ideal plant for woodland style planting schemes. You can also use it to underplant trees and shrubs.
How to Grow Windflowers
Different types of wildflowers are suitable for different planting styles and conditions. While some are suited to a woodland planting scheme others may be better placed in a rock garden or blended into a colorful perennial mixed flower bed. Planting the right variety in the right position encourages the plants to thrive. It also cuts down on the amount of maintenance you have to do.
Warning. All parts of the anemone are considered toxic. Consuming even a small quantity can cause pain in the mouth. Significant exposure to the sap can trigger skin problems. Wear gloves and long sleeves when handling the flowers. The toxicity of these plants applies to both humans and animals.
Where to Plant Windflowers
A herbaceous perennial, anemones belong to the ranunculaceae family. Mature plants, depending on the cultivar, can reach from 6 inches to 4 ft in height depending on the type.
Spring flowering types of windflowers can be planted with daffodils and tulips. They are also a good choice to edge paths or add interest to the front of borders. Fall flowering types are good for plugging gaps in between larger, mounding plants such as chrysanthemums.
Most types of windflowers are hardy in USDA Zones 4 to 10. The ideal temperature is 58 to 65 ℉ during the day and no lower than 42 to 50 ℉ at night.
Windflowers are best planted in partial shade. In cool areas windflowers tolerate full sun, but in warmer positions it is best to plant somewhere where the plants receive a little protection from the intense heat of the afternoon sun. Ideally the flowers should receive at least 4 hours of sunlight everyday.
Planting in a favorable position encourages healthy growth.
Anemones are best planted in a sheltered position. Avoid planting in places that are overly exposed to the wind. Exposure to the wind can blow the flowers apart.
A woodland plant, the anemone does best in soil that is rich with organic matter. The soil should also be well draining and evenly moist. If drainage is poor, elevating the plants so that the top of the root system sits above soil level encourages excess water to drain away and prevents root rot. Working in lots of organic matter, such as compost or well-rotted manure, before planting also helps to improve drainage.
When to Plant Windflowers
Spring flowering types of anemone are best planted in the fall. Likewise, fall flowering types are best planted in the spring. When planting, bear in mind that different types of anemones have different root structures. This means each type may also have different planting and care needs.
Normally the plants are purchased as bare rootstocks. You can also grow them from seed or purchase young plants, known as plug plants from a garden center.
If you are creating a wildflower garden you can also purchase strips of turf that have a range of wildflower seeds, including windflowers, already sewn into it. To lay the wildflower turf rake and weed the soil. Lay the turf evenly and water in.
Starting Plants from Seed
Seeds can either be started undercover or sown directly into the soil. Seeds are best started outside in either the fall or spring. The soil should be damp, not wet. Work over the soil, breaking up clumps and weeding, before sowing. Before sowing, the soil should be fine and crumbly.
When you are ready to sow, scatter the seeds over the soil by hand. Spread them as evenly as possible. A Coolrunner Seed Dispenser Set helps you to evenly sow small, difficult to handle seeds. Gently rake the seeds in or cover with a thin layer of compost. Do not cover the seeds too deeply, they need light to germinate.
After sowing, continue to water the soil regularly. It shouldn’t be allowed to dry out.
If you are starting the seeds undercover, sow into modular or cell seed starting trays filled with fresh potting soil. Moisten the soil before sowing the seeds as thinly as possible. Cover with a thin layer of potting soil and place in a light position.
Following germination thin out any seedlings that are weak or too close together. Continue to grow on, keeping the soil evenly moist, until you are ready to plant out. Remember to harden off your seedlings before transplanting outside.
How to Plant Windflowers
Windflowers are best planted in the fall before the soil freezes for winter. Before planting, prepare the corms by soaking them in water at room temperature for at least 24 hours. This helps to wake the corm, encouraging it to double to twice its size.
You can either plant directly into the ground or pre-sprout the corms in a seed tray filled with fresh potting soil. Pre-sprouted types tend to flower several weeks before those planted directly into the ground.
As we have already noted, windflowers are best planted in partial or full shade, such as forest planting schemes or the base of trees. Make a hole in the soil and plant the corms 2 to 3 inches deep. The corms should be spaced 2 to 3 inches apart. If you are planting in a cluster, dig a hole 1 ft square and plant up to 10 corms.
Some types of windflowers such as the poppy anemone have a bulb or corm like root system. These are best planted in groups like daffodils or tulips. Most spring flowering types are tubers. One anemone corm can produce up to 20 blooms.
To plant, dig a hole in the soil roughly 2 inches deep. Position the plant in the center of the hole and backfill with a mix of soil and compost. Water well. Space the plants 1 inch apart.
Spacing the plants out gives them room to thrive and fully develop.
Once flowering has finished for the year it is important that the foliage of bulb plants is left in place until it naturally withers away. During this period the corms are replenishing their stock of nutrients. These are vital in helping to stimulate flowering the following year.
Other types of anemones, such as Grecian windflowers have a tuberous or rhizome-like root system, similar to dahlias or tuberous types of iris. Plant in the same way as anemones with a corm like root system, but slightly deeper. Ideally plants with a rhizome-like root system should be planted 3 to 6 inches deep. Once established these, like other types of windflowers, are low maintenance plants. Rhizomatous types require lifting and dividing every few years.
Planting in Containers
You can also grow anemones in containers such as pots or windowsill boxes. Your chosen container should have lots of drainage holes in the bottom. Fill with fresh potting soil and plant as described above.
Plants growing in containers may require more regular watering than those in the ground. A soil moisture sensor helps you to monitor how dry the soil is meaning that you will know exactly when to water your plants.
Caring for Windflowers
Once planted these are pleasingly low maintenance specimens. Try to keep the soil around the plants as weed free as possible. Be careful when weeding so as not to damage the plants.
Water your plants regularly. The soil should be kept evenly moist. Do not allow the soil to dry out. Some types of windflowers such as Wood Anemones die back to the ground during the summer, after flowering has finished. The plants do not require further watering until they start to re-emerge in the fall.
Low growing Wood Anemones do not require water when dormant.
Fertilizer is not necessary if the windflowers are planted in good soil. In poor soil, the plants may require a little extra help. A dose of bone meal, applied in the fall for spring flowering types or in the spring for fall flowering types, can help. A dose of balanced fertilizer after planting and again the following spring helps windflowers to settle in their new position.
Taller varieties may require some support to help them retain their upright growth habit. Natural looking supports, such as Bamboo Plant Stakes, provide robust support whilst blending into the planting scheme.
After flowering, allow the foliage to remain in place until it turns brown. At this point the plant can be safely cut down to ground level. In colder climates a layer of mulch can be applied to protect the roots from the damaging effects of freeze and thaw cycles. This should be removed in the spring to encourage new growth to emerge.
Properly cared for, anemones are largely disease resistant. Infestations of pests such as aphids are rare but can sometimes develop. An application of homemade insecticidal soap helps to treat most infestations. If disease or infestation does become severe cut the plant down to ground level. When the plant grows back it should be healthy and problem free. Slugs and snails can target the foliage. If these slimy pests are a particular problem in your garden, why not consult our article on how to get rid of slugs for some simple but effective solutions?
Nematodes are one of the most problematic pests that can target windflowers. These can cause the plant to weaken and the foliage to yellow. Nematode infestations can be treated by drenching the soil around the affected plants with a nematocide.
Mature plants will, after a few years of steady growth, require division. This is best when the plants are dormant, either in the fall or early spring. To divide the plants, carefully dig them up. Break the large corms or tubers into pieces. Each piece should be healthy. Any pieces that are diseased or damaged should be discarded.
If you are lifting in the fall, you can store the roots over winter before replanting in the spring. Lifting and storing roots is also a useful way of preventing root rot if your garden is wet in winter.
Colorful and easy to care for, windflowers are a reliable addition to the garden.
Fluttering their petals in the breeze, windflowers are a serene and colorful addition to the garden. A reliable inclusion in a perennial planting scheme, the range of colors and shapes adds interest throughout the year.
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.