“What’s that unusual plant?” is a question that almost always indicates someone has just spied the cleomes blooming in my garden. I enjoy watching their eyes widen when I tell them they are “spider flowers.” Cleome’s common name captures how the whiskery blooms seem to explode from the top of the stems. I can always count on these fanciful flowers to add an element of surprise to my garden.
If you want an easy source of big, beautiful swaths of color, cleomes are a fast way to get there. A few years ago, most cleomes were found growing in the back of the border to accommodate their tall and lanky (5-6 feet) height. But these days, there are several new varieties that are more compact in form. These newcomers are sporting a host of fresh colors creating a renewed interest in these old fashioned annuals.
Coming in about a foot or two shorter and with more branches than their taller cousins, the Spirit™ series of cleomes require little to no staking. That’s a real time saver for me. I’ve planted the pure white Spirit™ Frost, as well as several of the cool pastels in the series. This year I’m trying the Spirit™ Appleblossom. The airy flower clusters are abundant, long-lasting, and large – 6 to 8 inches in diameter. They seem undaunted by hot, dry summer days.
One of the newest cleomes to make its debut is Senorita Rosalita®. Along with a memorable name, this annual is out to prove that less is more. While many of the other cleomes share a list of common traits: spiny stems, foliage with a pungent aroma and flowers that ripen into seedpods that freely reseed themselves; Senorita Rosalita® (2-3 feet), is odorless with sterile flowers that don’t produce seeds, and has no thorns; all qualities that add to its appeal for many gardeners. Senorita Rosalita’s purple-lavender blossoms are smaller than most cleome and unlike other varieties, are produced all along the stem, not just at the top.
And for a truly diminutive cleome, there’s ‘Linde Armstrong’ with rosy pink flowers atop 12-18 inch plants. This cleome is also thornless and noted for its heat and drought tolerance.
With so many new cleomes to choose from, you’re sure to find one that’s perfect in your garden.
Cleome – Planting and Care
• Cleomes are at their finest growing in a full sun (6 hours) location, in fertile, well-draining soil, but are tolerant of a wide range of soil types.
• Plant in spring after all danger of frost has passed. Space 1 to 2 feet apart in groups of 5 or more.
• Keep soil moist, especially in hot weather to help them get established.
• Stake tall varieties (4-6’) and those located in windy or shady sites to prevent flopping.
• Fertilize every six to eight weeks, or work in a slow-release fertilizer (or plenty of compost) at planting time.
• Remove spent blossoms to encourage the plants to rebloom. Regular deadheading also prevents reseeding.
• Cleomes will flower from summer through frost. For a fresh set of plants, reseed in August.