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Cleome Guide: How to Grow & Care for “Spider Flowers”

Guide to Cleome for everything you will ever need to know! Tips for planting, growing and caring for “Spider Flowers”
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Originating from South America and the West Indies, Cleome hassleriana is a beautiful addition to any flower or cottage garden. The charming Spider Flower was first introduced to the U.S. and England in the early 1800s as an ornamental flower. However, it didn’t become popular until the Victorian era when it was a common sight in coquette cottage gardens or potted in the famous Victorian greenhouses. Unfortunately, Cleome hassleriana fell out of favour as time moved on and gardens got smaller.

Nowadays, the Spider Flower is making a huge comeback, so grab your gardening tools and get ready to welcome a new member to your plant family! There are many modern cultivars available that require less care and make this plant more versatile than it has ever been. If you suffer from arachnophobia, don’t worry! This delicate flower has nothing to do with spiders, besides the appearance of its elongated seedpods and thread-like stamens. The Spider Flower also goes by the name grandfather’s whiskers, pink queen, and spider legs, so you can choose to call your new pet plant whatever you like most.

What we love most about Cleome hassleriana is its exotic, spiky appearance. Even its fern-like, delicate foliage is attractive. Unlike other flowers, Cleomes start blooming only after they are well established in the garden. However, once the flower clusters emerge you will understand why gardeners add this lovely plant to their list of favourites. Besides being good-looking, Spider Flowers are also low-maintenance and easy to care for. Keep on reading our guide to find out everything you need to know about C. hassleriana so you can start growing it right away!

About Cleome Hassleriana

  • Spider Flowers are an excellent addition to an annual bed. They can be planted alone or combined with perennials in mixed beds. Mass planting will give it a shrub appearance, so it’s great for filling empty spaces in your garden.
  • You can successfully combine Cleomes with other upright flowers such as zinnias, dahlias, snapdragons, Liatris, or cosmos. You can either go for a monochromatic effect and plant purple cultivars with lavender petunias and violet salvia or create a dramatic contrast with bold cosmos flowers.
  • Taller varieties can be used as a screen along fences or as a summer hedge. Shorter cultivars do great in containers.
  • Some gardeners might be reluctant to plant Spider Flowers because of their thorns and musky fragrance, which is considered unpleasant. However, hybrids such as Cleome Señorita Rosalita are thornless and odourless.
  • The leaves of Cleome hassleriana look very similar to cannabis leaves, so it will always strike a fun conversation with your neighbours or guests.
  • Spider Flowers will bring adorable hummingbirds and insects to your garden, including butterflies, hummingbird moths, bees, and other pollinating insects. Usually, hummingbirds visit Cleome flowers at dusk.
  • Cleome hassleriana can be confused with the similar-looking Clammy Weed plant. The best way to tell the difference between them is by looking at their seed pods. Cleomes have pods that hang down or stick straight, while Clammy Weed pods are oriented upwards.
Cleome Hassleriana
Cleome Hassleriana

Cleome Hassleriana Features: An Overview

  • Spider Flower can grow tall, reaching a height of up to 5 feet (1, 5 meters). However, they do not need staking, making it a good plant for borders. Dwarf cultivars exist, in case you are looking for a more compact look.
  • Cleome hassleriana is grown as an annual in most areas, as it is sun-loving. In USDA zones 10 and 11 it is perennial.
  • Under the right conditions, Cleomes bloom from early summer until the first frost. They can grow as wide as they are tall. Petals may be rose, white, pink, purple, or bicolour. The flowers are followed by seedpods that are green at first and then ripen to brown before splitting open.
  • Cleome hassleriana is known to enthusiastically reseed itself. If you worry about its invasive nature, choose varieties that don’t self-seed, such as Señorita Rosalita or Cleome Clio Magenta.
  • Spider Plants form seed pods under the flowers that ripen and open to disperse seeds. To prevent this, harvest the pods and save the seeds for future uses.
  • Cleome flowers grow in open racemes and have loose clusters of tiny blooms at the end of each stem.
  • Spider Flower petals radiate from the centre, forming a softball-sized cluster. Its long stamens give the flower a spidery look.

Growing Cleome Hassleriana

As you already know, our favourite plants are the ones that don’t need constant attention, and Cleome hassleriana is top of the list. Not only they are good-looking and low-maintenance, but they also attract beneficial insects to your garden. The only thing that they ask in return is lots of sun and warmth. Spider Flowers grow best in full-sun conditions, as the shade can make them grow tall and leggy. These plants are not drought tolerant, so as winter creeps in they will slowly fade away.

Although you can deadhead Cleomes to encourage a more vigorous blooming throughout the season, this is not necessary. This flower has almost zero need for attention, making it perfect for busy gardeners. The only major requirement is removing the plant out of the ground at the end of the season when it dies, normally in late fall or early winter. Some Cleome varieties have thorns, so make sure you grab your gardening gloves!

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Another perk is that Cleome hassleriana has almost no disease or pest issues, and it’s remarkably hardy to the few that might attack it. Moreover, the risk of animals munching on this plant is very low. Sometimes, Cleome can be bothered by aphids, unwanted regular visitors to most gardens. To get rid of these pests, introduce natural predators such as ladybugs, blast them off with water, or use insecticidal soap. You can do the same for whiteflies and spider mites.

As long as your plants have good air circulation, plant diseases shouldn’t be a problem. In case you do notice Cleome hassleriana becomes infested with disease such as powdery mildew, standard fungal treatment should get rid of most issues. The only serious disease that your plants can suffer from is rust. Unfortunately, there is no treatment available, so remove and destroy affected Cleomes to prevent further spread.

Planting Cleome Hassleriana

Besides sunny conditions, Spider Flower plants also require well-drained soil to flourish. Although it will tolerate heavy soils, it will be happier in lighter soil that is organically rich. Cleome will be happy to do its thing without too much attention from you, but it does require a bare minimum of fertilization. Simply add some compost to the growing bed annually and keep in mind to avoid fast-acting fertilizers which can cause your plants to become leggy.

When planting Spider Flowers in your garden, make sure that the soil has warmed and the danger of frost has passed. Space the plants at least a foot apart (30 cm). If you want a bushier appearance, leave up to 3 feet (90 cm) in between them. Self-seeding plants need to be thinned out or they will become weak and spindly. When growing indoors, choose large containers and more compact varieties such as the Sparkler series.

Watering Cleome Hassleriana

Once established, Cleome hassleriana becomes extremely drought-tolerant, making it perfect for xeriscaping gardens. To decrease their watering needs, even more, add a 3-inch (7 cm) layer of organic mulch to the planting bed. Although Cleomes can tolerate drought, they will require an occasional drink of water, especially if the weather is dry for a long time.

New plantings should be watered daily for the first couple of weeks. After that, you can water every two or three days, depending on the weather and type of soil in your garden. Sandy soils don’t hold moisture as long as clay soils, so expect to water more frequently. The general rule is to water for a total of 1 inch (25 ml) per week.

Spider Flowers
Spider Flowers

Propagating Cleome Hassleriana

If you have a fondness for no-fuss flowers, give Cleome hassleriana a try! This is a plant that’s effortless to start from seed both indoors and outdoors. Also, it’s a perfect choice for those who like a tidy garden. Getting Spider Flowers to germinate is an easy task, and allowing them to self-seed to produce more plants is even easier.

The only requirements for starting Cleomes from seed are providing the right amount of light and proper soil conditions – as well as timing it properly, after the danger of frost has passed. Start by cultivating the bed as deeply as possible, add some compost, and rake smooth.

Sow the seeds no more than ¼ inches (60 mm) deep so light can still reach them. Keep the soil moist and give it a drink only when it’s starting to dry up. It will take about a week for the seeds to germinate. Thin them out 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) apart to give them enough room to spread.

Alternatively, you can start Cleome hassleriana indoors 6 weeks before the last average frost date. Choose a sunny location for the seeds or use a grow light. Keep them at a constant temperature of 75-85°F (24-30°C). To germinate, seeds require fluctuating temperatures, so make sure the nighttime temperature is approximately 10°F (5°C) lower. Wait until the soil has warmed before planting in the garden. Make sure you harden the seedlings by gradually exposing them to outdoor conditions.

In Conclusion

Popular during the Victorian era, Spider Flower plants are making a huge comeback into modern gardens. This exotic-looking flower will definitely spark up a fun conversation with your neighbours or guests.

We love Cleome hassleriana because it’s a charming, undemanding plant. It’s super easy to grow, so get growing gardener! All you have to do is provide it with plenty of sunlight, fast-draining soil, and the occasional drink of water. Once the plant starts blooming, you will certainly fall in love with its beauty.

Are you already growing Cleomes? Share your experience in the comments below!

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Miruna is an experienced content writer with a passion for gardening. She is the proud owner of an outdoor rose garden and an indoor collection of tiny succulents. She bought her first succulent 10 years ago - an adorable Echeveria Setosa. Now she owns more than 100 succulents and cacti of different colors, shapes, and sizes. Miruna is a versatile writer and, as you might have guessed, her favorite topic is gardening. Contact miruna@gardenbeast.com

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