Cleome is known as the spider flower, and blooms in white or shades of pink or purple. It can be direct seeded and will germinate in one to two weeks if the temperatures are around 70 degrees. Simply press the seed into the soil where you want it to grow (it needs light to germinate) and space the plants about 12 inches apart. As they grow, pinch them out to help produce sturdy stems and a slightly shorter flower. Cleome reseeds, but remember that if you plant hybrid seed it won't be true to that color. Why not stick with the tall, old fashioned variety that has been grown in gardens since the 1800s?
Cleome will grow in most soils in full sun, and they are drought tolerant, but will do better if watered during dry spells. They aren't always a favorite of some gardeners because they do reseed if they are left on their own and could become a pest. However, you can remedy this by deadheading the flowers and leaving just a few flowers on near the end of the summer and collecting the seeds and under most growing conditions. If you have a section of your landscaping devoted to a casual look, try planting cleome with other flowers that also attract butterflies such as Gay feather (Liatria), snapdragons, cosmos, and try mixing in some dill or bronze fennel.
I've seen cleome described as graceful, elegant and delicate. The beauty of there being SO many flowers to grow is that there is something for everyone! In many ways the blooms remind me of softer colored large honeysuckle blooms. Granted, they don't come close in fragrance, but they are pretty none the less! Try partnering them with Bachelor Buttons or geraniums, with the cleomes in the back border. Cleomes should surely be part of every cottage garden. I think they add an almost whimsical look with their spidery blooms, especially in large numbers. By themselves, one or two plants at a time just don't do them justice, and you can't really appreciate them unless you give them a stage to show off, even if it is behind shorter dancing flowers to hide their bare feet.
Care for Cleome
Cleomes are easy to grow from seed, either indoors under lights or outdoors in the garden. If you had some in the garden last year, they will likely show up all by themselves. If direct seeding is your choice for Cleome, sow seeds directly into the garden bed 2 to 3 weeks before expected last frost.
Plant Cleome seedlings purchased at the garden center or nursery, or those you've started indoors, as soon as danger of frost is past and the soil is warm (when night time temperatures stay above 50 degrees). See Yardener’s Helper re: hardening off seedlings before planting outside. Space plants about two feet apart.
If Cleomes are growing in good soil containing lots of organic material, they want only a light feeding in the spring when the seedlings are set out, about a half a tablespoon of slow-release granular fertilizer per plant. In poor soils use a bit more; one tablespoon of slow-release granular fertilizer per plant. That is all you need for the season. See Choosing Fertilizers in Yardener’s Tool Shed
Cleomes grow best when mulched. As soon as the Cleome seedlings are tall enough, spread a 2 or 3 inch layer of some organic material such as chopped leaves, dried grass or wood chips on the soil around the plants. For more information see the file on Using Mulch
Cleomes can use some support to protect them against heavy rain, wind and passers-by. Choose unobtrusive green stakes available at garden centers or find straight, sturdy sticks that are at least as tall as the eventual height of the Cleome plants.
Your Cleomes will appreciate, in preparation for the heat of summer, a light feeding of fertilizer using a liquid fertilizer diluted to half strength according to the label. This can be poured into the soil or sprayed right on to the plant. See Choosing Fertilizers in Yardener’s Tool Shed.
Cleomes benefit from deadheading. This practice of snipping off the dead blossoms prevents the plants from forming seeds, thus stimulating the production of more blooms. It also keeps the plants looking attractive.
Your plants will die with the first hard frost. Remove them to the compost pile but keep the beds mulched right through the winter, ready for next year’s plants. This plant will readily reseed itself next year.
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