How to Grow Cleome

As a young plant, Cleome is a bit of an ugly duckling. The foliage is sometimes compared in appearance to marijuana. Grow a big patch of it and nosy neighbours might begin to wonder you're panning on smokin'!
Cleome don't begin to impress until the plants are well-established sometime in summer. By the time August arrives, the flowers seem to glow in golden light of late summer.
As much as you might think Cleome is a nice flower, it pays to research any plant you want to consider for your garden. This may sound like a bit of drudgery, but it is a smart idea to make yourself aware of any problem issues associated with the plant. A little bit of investigation will also help you chose the cultivar that will work best for your needs.
Cleome's long stamens are responsible for the common names "Spider Flower" and "Old Man's Wiskers".

The flowers have no fragrance, but the foliage has a slight scent that I have heard described as anything from 'minty' to having the 'aromatic smell of a skunk'. One review I read boasted that the unpleasant smell was enough deter deer.

The stems are a another prickly issue. They have thorn-like spines, so you definitely want to wear gloves when working among Cleome.
Cleome is an annual flower here in zone 6, but a perennial plant in zones 10 and 11.

Every thing I have read suggests that you should grow them outdoors in early spring from seed rather than starting them indoors. (Apparently they require bottom heat for indoor germination and don't like to be transplanted). With our short growing season here in Southern Ontario, I am thinking of buying seedlings that have a good head start from a local nursery.

Plant Cleome in average garden soil with at least 6 hours of sun. Too much organic matter can actually lead to leggy plants.
Water seedlings well to get them established, but after that, they are drought tolerant.

Be aware that taller varieties may require staking.

Hummingbirds, bees, butterflies and hummingbird moths all love these flowers.

Unfortunately they do not make particularly good cut flowers.
Be warned: Cleome self-seed to the point of becoming a bit of a nuisance and in some cases can even become invasive.

You can lessen this problem by removing the long slender seed pods are they appear, but this requires diligence and effort.

Perhaps a better option is to select one of newer varieties like Senorita Rosalita, which produce seeds that are sterile.
How and where best to plant Cleome?

This is one annual that benefits from being planted in a mass grouping.

Older varieties, which can be can be tall and lanky, look great toward the back of a garden. Tall Cleome make a wonderful companions for ornamental grasses.
Cleome also looks great alongside yellow Rudbeckia, Sedum, Verbena bonariensis and Zinnias.
Zinnas on the left and Rudbeckia on the right
Here Cleome are planted with pink Astilbe and Coleus.
Is this a flower that you might like to add to your garden this spring?

What's your experience with Cleome? Please share!
Three Dogs in a Garden
Want more details about this and other DIY projects? Check out my blog post!
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4 of 17 comments
  • Margo Goyette Margo Goyette on Mar 21, 2015
    I love the Zinnia's. Does anyone know how to keep them from growing mold?

  • Mary Mary on Oct 19, 2018

    This year was the first I had ever seen, heard of, or planted cleome. What a treat they are! They seemed to thrive in my new garden and never ceased to fascinate me.

    • Bdg Bdg on Nov 18, 2018

      I live in New Jersey and thrive here. They have been my favorite plant. A no fuss plant!! I have take the seeds saved them over the winter and just toss them in any are I want them to grow always a success.