How to grow cleome

Growing Cleome From Seed.

Growing Cleome from seed is moderately tricky…well…in as much as you may not get wonderful germination rates. However Cleome is a statuesque flower and you shouldn’t need all that many plants in your cutting patch to keep you contented.

Cleome Seedling…about 7 weeks old.

These cracking plants are native to Central America, I have it on good authority (Brian, down the pub) that the name Cleome come from the Greek kleio meaning ‘to shut’…which may relate to it’s peculiar petals which only fully open at sundown. Equally it could be Brian spouting rubbish after four pints of Skinners.

The flower clusters develop at the top of the stalks and seed pods project out from the sides, this is an odd looking bloom to be fair. I like the pink and violet varieties but may have been swung round to some pure whites. I shall experiment this year and perhaps add another variety to the shop for next season.

Cleome in flower.

Being late flowering, Cleomes have a vital part to play in extending the productivity of your cut flower patch…it’s true to say they are not everyone’s cup of tea…but if you have never grown them I should give them a go and see for yourself. They will flower right up until they get duffed up by a meaty frost…usually in early November.

How To Grow Cleome From Seed.

*I put mine in the fridge for a week before sowing.

*Being half hardy you cleome seeds need to sown undercover.

*I sow in modular trays to avoid disturbing their roots when I plant them out.

*They need light to germinate…so just firm down into good potting compost…don’t bury the blighters. Like most seeds they need to be kept damp…either water from the bottom or water gently from the top…preferably with a mister. Some folk put the seed trays in a clear plastic bag to help keep them moist.

Cleome ‘Violet Queen’.

*Fluctuating temperatures will also assist the germination of Cleome seeds…cold nights and warm greenhouse days…or a window sill in the home and a few nights out side in the cold. (I am sooooo mean)

*These days I sow mine fairly late April…and I sow quite thickly…if you buy Higgledy Seeds you will get far more than you need…so sow thickly to increase the uptake.

*They must not be planted out until all chances of frost have disappeared…mid May and beyond is good.

*Pinch them out if you want bushier plants.

cleome seeds

*I space to just over a foot apart.

*In exposed areas they made need staking.

*Give them LOTS of time to germinate…some of mine took up to six weeks to germinate this year.

I sell ‘Violet Queen’ at £1.95 for 200ish seeds.

Try growing Cleomes with other big and late flowers like Dahlias and Sunflowers.

Here is a link to what the good people at Wiki have to say about Cleome.

Kind regards

Mr Higgledy.

If you enjoyed me warbling on in this post, perhaps you may enjoy ‘Godetia From Seed’. 🙂

Learn About Cleomes

Alternaria Leaf Spot: Small, round reddish brown spots with white to gray centers form on the upper surface of the leaves and along the midrib. The lesions may encircle the stems and cause wilt. This disease is worse in warm, wet or very humid weather. Burpee Recommends: Avoid getting water on the foliage. Remove infected plant parts and do not work around wet plants. Provide plenty of air circulation. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for fungicide recommendations.

Damping Off: This is one of the most common problems when starting plants from seed. The seedling emerges and appears healthy; then it suddenly wilts and dies for no obvious reason. Damping off is caused by a fungus that is active when there is abundant moisture and soils and air temperatures are above 68 degrees F. Typically, this indicates that the soil is too wet or contains high amounts of nitrogen fertilizer. Burpee Recommends: Keep seedlings moist but do not overwater; avoid over-fertilizing your seedlings; thin out seedlings to avoid overcrowding; make sure the plants are getting good air circulation.

Downy Mildew: This fungus causes whitish grey patches on the undersides and eventually both sides of the leaves. Burpee Recommends: Avoid overhead watering. Provide adequate air circulation, do not overcrowd plants. Do not work around plants when they are wet.

Powdery Mildew: This fungus disease occurs on the top of the leaves in humid weather conditions. The leaves appear to have a whitish or greyish surface and may curl. Burpee Recommends: Avoid powdery mildew by providing good air circulation for the plants by good spacing and pruning. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for fungicide recommendations.

Rust: A number of fungus diseases that rust colored spots on foliage and stalks. Burpee Recommends: Remove infected plants. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for recommendations.

Common Pest and Cultural Problems

Aphids: Greenish, red, black or peach colored sucking insects can spread disease as they feed on the undersides of leaves. They leave a sticky residue on foliage that attracts ants. Burpee Recommends: Introduce or attract natural predators into your garden such as lady beetles and wasps which feed on aphids. You can also wash them off with a strong spray, or use an insecticidal soap.

Edema (Oedema): Leaves become distorted due to excess moisture in the soil. Plants absorb more water than they can use. Burpee Recommends: Do not overwater plants, keep the soil moist but not wet. If drainage is poor add compost or peat moss to improve drainage.

Harlequin Bug: A flat, shield-shaped insect up to 3/8 inch long. The bug is black with red, orange or yellow stripes. Eggs are tiny white barrel shapes with black stripes and are found on the back of leaves. Nymphs are yellow to orange with black stripes. Harlequin bugs suck the juices out of the leaves, causing white or yellow blotches to appear. Leaves can turn brown and wilt. Burpee Recommends: Search for and destroy the egg masses on the back of leaves. Handpick and destroy adults and nymphs. Check with your Cooperative Extension Service for insecticide recommendations for your area.

Spider Mites: These tiny spider-like pests are about the size of a grain of pepper. They may be red, black, brown or yellow. They suck on the plant juices removing chlorophyll and injecting toxins which cause white dots on the foliage. There is often webbing visible on the plant. They cause the foliage to turn yellow and become dry and stippled. They multiply quickly and thrive in dry conditions. Burpee Recommends: Spider mites may be controlled with a forceful spray every other day. Try hot pepper wax or insecticidal soap. Check with your Cooperative Extension Service for miticide recommendations.

Whitefly: These are small white flying insects that often rise up in a cloud when plants are disturbed or brushed against. Burpee Recommends: They are difficult to control without chemicals. Try hot pepper wax or insecticidal soap. Check with your Cooperative Extension Service for pesticide recommendations.

Cleome Seeds – Spider Flower Rose Queen Flower Seed

Flower Specifications

Season: Annual

USDA Zones: 3 – 10

Height: 36 – 42 inches

Bloom Season: Summer and fall

Bloom Color: Rose

Environment: Full sun

Soil Type: Moist, well-drained, pH 6.6 – 7.5

Deer Resistant: Yes

Planting Directions

Temperature: 68F

Average Germ Time: 10 – 21 days

Light Required: Yes

Depth: Do not cover

Sowing Rate: 2 – 3 seeds per plant

Moisture: Keep moist until germination

Plant Spacing: 18 inches

Care & Maintenance: Cleome

Cleome (Cleome Hassleriana Rose Queen) – Also known as Spider Flower or Grandfather’s Whiskers plant, Cleome flower seeds produce airy blooms and a bushy, full plant. This compact Cleome Spider Flower gives you armloads of blooms over a very long season on plants that don’t exceed 4 feet tall. This Cleome plant also attracts butterflies and hummingbirds to the garden which every gardener enjoys.

Cleome Rose Queen offers big, 4 – 6 inch spidery blooms of warm rosy-red. The blooms are also great for cutting, and they provide long-lasting color to bring indoors. The dark green foliage is narrow and stylish, too, making an attractive back drop for the big, fluffy blooms.

Cleome Hassleriana begins flowering in early summer when hot weather begins and doesn’t quit until the temperature drops in fall. A sun-lover, it is at home in the baking-hot border, bed, or patio, and once established is quite tolerant of dry conditions. It rapidly reaches 36 – 42 inches tall and about 1 1/2 feet wide, with a bushy fullness that adds weight to its presence as an accent, low hedge, poolside planting, or mid-border standout.

Sow Spider Flower seeds indoors in late winter for transplanting outdoors after danger of frost. Or sow the flower seeds directly in the garden after danger of frost has passed and the soil temperature has warmed. Do not cover the flower seeds but firmly press them into the soil. Keep the Cleome seeds moist until germination occurs and then water regularly to provide a great start for this prolific bloomer. Spider Flower plants are known to re-seed, dropping their flower seeds for next year’s display.

Cleome or Spider Flower

An easily grown annual native to South America, cleome (Cleome hassleriana synonym C. pungens, C. spinosa) is a favorite in Southern gardens. The delicate pink, rose, purple, white, or bicolor spider-like flowers along with the spidery seedpods give it the common name, spider flower. It grows best in average, well-drained soils and in full sun to light shade. Somewhat drought tolerant, cleome will benefit from supplemental irrigation during dry periods. Many new dwarf hybrid cultivars (Cleome hybrida) have been bred for more compact growth habits and prolific blooms.

Cleome (Cleome hassleriana) mixes well with other summer annuals, such as sunflowers (Helianthus annus).
Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension


Depending on the cultivar or series, cleome will range in height 1½- to 5-feet tall with a 1- to 2-feet spread. The newer dwarf cultivars are 1½- to 4-feet tall by 1- to 2-feet wide, making them a good choice for smaller areas and containers.

Ornamental Features

Cleome bloom from June until frost. The 4- to 8-inch spider-like blooms start at the bottom of the stalk and move upwards. Deadheading, the removal the spent flowers, is not necessary. The flowers are followed by thin green seedpods that ripen to brown and split open to disperse the small seed. Older cultivars, such as the Queen series, produce viable seed and will potentially self-seed in nearby areas. Newer hybrids are sterile and do not produce viable seed.

The thin, spidery green seedpods give spider flower its common name.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

The sticky, palmate green leaves have 5 to 7 leaflets that have a strong, sometimes unpleasant fragrance, and sharp spines at the base of each leaf. Most newer cultivars are odor and thorn free, making them a more desirable addition to the garden.

The flowers are followed by thin green seedpods that ripen to brown and split open to disperse the small seed.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2018 HGIC, Clemson Extension

How to Grow

Seeds may be sown directly in the landscape after the fear of frost has passed. The soil temperatures should be 70 to 75° F. Thinly sow the seeds 4- to 6- inches apart and cover with ¼-inch of soil. Keep the bed moist, but not wet, until germination. Seedlings will appear in 7 to 14 days. Depending on the cultivar, thin the seedlings to a spacing of 10- to 15-inches apart. Seeds may also be started indoors 6 to 8 weeks before transplanting outside. Cleome will bloom 70 to 80 days after germination.

The Queen series seed have a better germination rate if they are chilled for 4 to 5 days prior to planting. To chill the seed, evenly spread them on a moist, not wet, paper towel, fold, place inside a zip-lock bag, and keep in the refrigerator. This series reseeds itself and should be considered for areas where the gardener wishes for it to return year after year. The hybrid Sparkler™ series seeds do not need to be chilled prior to germination. The Spirit™ series has the ability to self-sow, but may be established either by planting seed or by buying plants from a nursery. As the ‘Linde Armstrong’ and Señorita® series flowers are sterile and do not produce viable seeds, transplants must be purchased and planted into the garden.

After planting, add a thin layer of 1 to 2 inches of mulch to help retain moisture as well as discourage weed seeds from germinating. Due to the strong taproot, staking is usually not necessary.

Landscape Use

Cleome works well in borders, background plantings, masses, cutting gardens, and containers. It contrasts well when combined with many other summer annuals, such as sunflowers, zinnias, cosmos, salvia, or celosia. Cleome makes a better impact in the landscape when planted in masses 2 to 3 feet wide. It is beneficial to plant other smaller annuals in front of the taller cleome cultivars as they tend to have bare lower stalks. Cleome is deer and rabbit resistant. The flower nectar attracts hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, and other pollinating insects. Another unusual visitor attracted to cleome is the hummingbird moth that visits the flowers at dusk.

Smaller cultivars, such as the Sparkler™ and Senorita® series along with the ‘Linde Armstrong’, have a more compact growth habit and are excellent additions to annual container combinations.


Overall, cleome is a tough annual. There are no serious insect or disease problems. Aphids, spider mites, and whiteflies can be a problem. It is susceptible to powdery mildew and rust in hot, humid climates; therefore, it is important to space the plants properly to allow better air circulation to help prevent infection.

In order to avoid disease issues the next year, remove dead plants after they are killed by frost.


´Helen Campbell´ cleome will enhance moonlit gardens.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

  • ´Helen Campbell´ has dramatic, pure white flowers and will reach a height of 4-feet and a width of 1- to 2-feet. The Royal Horticulture Society awarded this selection the prestigious Award of Garden Merit in 1993.
  • ´Linde Armstrong´ is a dwarf, compact, odorless, and thornless grower with pink flowers that will reach 12- to 18-inches high and 12-inches wide. It is an Athens Select hybrid with sterile seed and is produced from cuttings. Transplants must be planted in the garden.

The Queen series is the oldest of the series bred cleome. The flowers are easily pollinated and produce viable seeds. The resulting seedlings will be similar to the parent plants, but not necessarily the same color. It is the tallest at 3- to 5-feet tall by 1- to 2-feet wide and will self-seed aggressively. The foliage has a strong odor along with sticky leaves with spines at the base. Mixed color seed blends are available along with individual color cultivars.

  • ´Cherry Queen´-bright, cherry rose flowers
  • ´Rose Queen´-pastel, rose-pink flowers

The delicate rose-pink flowers of ´Rose Queen´ cleome add an airy effect to the garden.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

´Violet Queen ´cleome has purple flowers and the leaf edges are tinted purple.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

  • ´Violet Queen´-purple flowers and the leaf edges are tinted purple
  • ‘White Queen’-pure, white flowers

Señorita® series is a sterile, thornless hybrid that will not self-seed. The plants are 2- to 4-feet tall with an 18- to 24-inch spread, and have odorless leaves that are not sticky. The darker green foliage is smaller, and the plants do not become leggy. These hybrids do not produce seed and can only be started from transplants.

  • ´Señorita® Rosalita´-rose pink flowers
  • ´Señorita® Blanca´-pure white flowers
  • ´Señorita® Mi Amor´- pink flowers

Señorita® series is a sterile, thornless hybrid that will not self-seed.
Karen Russ ©2007 HGIC, Clemson Extension

As they are shorter and bushier, the Sparkler™ series is an excellent choice for containers.
Karen Russ ©2007 HGIC, Clemson Extension

The Sparkler™ series was the first hybrid cleome developed. It is more vigorous and heavier blooming than the Queen series. The seed germinate easily, so no pre-chilling is necessary. This selection is an upright grower that reaches a height of 2- to 3-feet tall and 1½- to 2-feet wide. As they are shorter and bushier, the Sparkler™ series is an excellent choice for containers.

  • ´Sparkler™ Blush´-blush pink and white flowers
  • ´Sparkler™ Lavender´-pastel lavender flowers

Spirit™ series is more compact with a height of 2- to 4-feet tall by 15- to 18-inches wide. It has a better branching growth habit, but does have thorns and sticky foliage. It also has the ability to self-seed.

  • ´Spirit™ Appleblossom´-pale pink fading to white flowers
  • ´Spirit™ Frost´- white flowers
  • ´Spirit™ Violeta’ -pink-purple flowers

Cheat Sheet

  • Deadhead to ensure continuous, full-season bloom time.
  • The species grows tall (from three to five feet) and needs no staking, making it a good plant for the back of the border.
  • Mix with other sun lovers such as zinnias, cosmos, sunflowers, black-eyed Susans, dahlias, celosias, and castor beans in cottage gardens, meadows, or butterfly gardens.
  • Cut the flowers for dramatic, if somewhat short-lived, indoor arrangements.
  • Beware the thorns on many varieties. Handle with care and avoid planting in high-traffic areas.

Aside from the thorns, a couple of other characteristics of cleome may prevent some gardeners from wanting to use this plant. It emits a musky fragrance, which some people describe as “skunky” and find unpleasant. And it has a penchant for enthusiastically reseeding itself. The seed pods form under the flowers and, unless you intervene, will ripen and split open to liberally dispense the seeds. Harvest the pods to prevent rampant self-seeding, to save seeds to plant in another part of the garden, or to preserve the pods for use in dried arrangements.

Above: Photograph by Dinesh Valke via Flickr.

Keep It Alive

  • In most areas, Cleome hassleriana is grown as an annual. It is hardy only in USDA zones 10 and 11.
  • This plant thrives in bright sun (at least six hours a day) and is unfazed by sunstroke-level heat.
  • Once established, Cleome is drought tolerant (especially if dressed with a layer of organic mulch).
  • Cleome will grow in virtually any type of soil as long as it has good drainage.

Above: ‘Senorita Rosalita’. Photograph by Serres Fortier via Flickr.

Hybridizers have developed new cleome cultivars that make this plant even more useful and appealing. The Spirit series is shorter and bushier than the species, making it a good choice for containers as well as the fronts of beds.

However, the newer cultivar ‘Senorita Rosalita’ represents an even more dramatic breakthrough in cleome breeding. Not only is it somewhat shorter than the species, it also is thornless, scentless, and sterile (it will not produce seed pods or, therefore, unwanted seedlings). In addition, because no energy goes into seed production, Rosalita’s pretty lavender-pink flowers bloom vigorously all season, and the bottom of the plant does not have the tendency to get yellowed and scrawny over time like the older varieties.

For more growing tips, see Cleome: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design. If you are looking for a flower to add late-season color to a garden bed, see our favorites:

  • Annuals 101: A Field Guide
  • Superhero Plants: Take That, Aphids
  • Carnations: Rethinking a Supermarket Flower
  • It’s High Season in Grace Kennedy’s Garden

Cleome, or spider flower, in bloom.

Cleome is a genus of about 170 species in the caper family (Capparaceae). Spider flower, Cleome hassleriana (sometimes referred to incorrectly as C. hasslerana or by the synonym C. spinosa) is a common annual flower from South America (Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina and southern Brazil) that also goes by other common names including spider legs and grandfather’s whiskers. The common name of spider flower comes from the appearance of the long, thread-like stamens of the individual flowers and the elongate seedpods that develop below the blooming flowers. It has been a garden favorite since the 1800’s.

This tender annual grows quickly from seed to form tall, strong stems up to 6 feet tall from a stout taproot. Plants branch readily, and given enough space, can grow as wide as they are tall. The alternate leaves are palmately compound with 5-7 leaflets tapered at the base (although the leaves on the upper parts of the stems are smaller and simple). There are prickles on the midrib on the underside of the leaf and a pair of small spiny stipules at the base of each leaf petiole (some varieties are thornier than others), as well as glandular pubescence, so the aromatic foliage is slightly sticky with exudate and a foetid smell from the glandular hairs. Many people suggest the plants have a slight skunk-like scent. The lower leaves often fall toward the end of the season.

Cleome plants can grow as wide as tall (L), with palmately compound leaves (LC) and hairy stems with a pair of spiny stipules at the base of each leaf petiole (RC and R, from different angles).

Cleome inflorescence.

Plants bloom from early summer until frost in a dense, 6-8 inch wide, ever-lengthening terminal inflorescence (a raceme). Each 1–1½” wide individual flower on a 2-inch pedicel has 4 reflexed light green sepals, 4 clawed petals and 6 erect to spreading stamens that grow to 3-inches long with yellow-orange anthers. The petals may be white, pink, rose or purple. The flowers may be visited by hummingbirds, hummingbird moths, many types of bees and butterflies. Bats are thought to be the main pollinator in its native tropical habitat. Many types have no noticeable fragrance, while others are very fragrant, often described as a musky, sweet and pungent, or spicy scent. Cleome can be an excellent, striking cut flower if the scent is not considered disagreeable.

Buds open at the top of the plant (L), with the long stamens furled under the petals (C) before the flowers open (R).

Each flower is replaced by a seedpod (an elongate, cylindrical 2-valved fruit filled with numerous seeds) that develops on a long narrow stipe as bloom progresses upward on the flower stalk. Wait until seed pods start to yellow if collecting seed; dry seed pods shatter read. Once the pods dry, they pop open to release the small round brown seeds. Cleome often self-seeds readily, although cultivars may not produce progeny the same as the parent plant (and after several generations all end up a pale pink color). Removing the seedpods as they develop can help limit self-seeding or spreading thick mulch over the area the following spring will reduce volunteers. Although this plant self-seeds prolifically and has naturalized in some areas, it is generally not considered invasive as it rarely persists in undisturbed areas.

Elongate seedpods (C) develop below the blooming flowers (L and LC), and when mature split open (RC) to release the small seeds (R).

Cleome adds height in a mixed bed.

Cleome is a nice addition to annual beds, can be combined with perennials in mixed beds, or used in a mass planting for a dramatic effect. When planted in mass, they can look like a blooming shrub, and works well to fill empty spaces in a young planting until the shrubs mature. Depending on the variety, they may be best at the back of a border or in the center of island beds (for the tall types) or interspersed throughout (for shorter cultivars) a planting. This plant works well in cottage gardens, combined with other upright flowers such as Liatris, cosmos and snapdragons, and tall types could be used as a temporary summer hedge or as a screen along a fence. Go for a monochromatic effect by planting purple cleome with violet salvia and two-toned or lavender petunias in front. Or use it as an airy foil to contrast with the bold flowers of cosmos or purple coneflowers in similar colors. With its exotic appearance, cleome also combines well with hibiscus, bananas, and other bold foliage and flowers for a tropical feel. Shorter cultivars can be used in large containers.

Cleome adds vertical interest in an island annual bed.

Spider flower grows best in full sun in moist, well-drained soil. Although it tolerates dry conditions, watering will promote better growth and flowering, but overwatering and overfertilizing causes leggy growth. Staking is usually not necessary, except in windy locations. Pinching them back when young will promote a shorter, bushier plant, otherwise they tend to be upright and columnar. Because the plants are somewhat spiny and sticky, you may want to wear gloves when handling the plants. Cleome has few insects or disease problems and is generally not favored by deer or rabbits. Occasionally flea beetles or imported cabbageworm (Pieris rapae) caterpillars will feed on the foliage.

Start this annual indoors 6-8 weeks before the average date of last frost or seed directly in the garden after all danger of frost has passed. Seed must be cold stratified (just like they would be if they overwintered outside) first, press the seed into the soil without covering it (this plant requires light to germinate), then should germinate in a little over a week. Wait until the soil has warmed to plant in the garden, spacing the plants (or thin if self-seeded) at least a foot apart (up to 3 feet if you want a bushier plant). Self-seeded plants need to be thinned, or all will be weak and spindly.

Self-seeded cleome can be quite prolific (L) and must be thinned. The seedlings are distinctive (R), so are easy to identify and remove where unwanted.

Cleome Señorita Rosalita®.

There are a number of cultivars of cleome, including

  • ‘Helen Campbell’ – is a white-flowered cultivar which received the RHS Award of Garden Merit in 1993.
  • ‘Linde Armstrong’ – is a very compact, thornless cultivar with pink flowers. This is an Athens Select plant (University of Georgia) with good heat tolerance that only grow 12-18” tall.
  • ‘Queen’ – is a series which comes in white, rose, cherry and purple shades on 3-5 foot tall plants.
  • Señorita Rosalita® – is thornless, odorless and sterile, with smaller purple-lavender flowers all along the stem (not just at the top) that don’t produce seeds, and the foliage on the 12-18” tall plants is not sticky. Señorita Mi Amor® is the pink version.
  • Cleome ‘Sparkler Blush’.

    ‘Sparkler’ – is a F1 hybrid series with 3-4 foot tall, very full and bushy plants. ‘Sparkler Blush’, with pink and white flowers, was a 2002 All-America Selections award winner. Other colors in the series are lavender, rose and white.

  • Spirit™ Series – a more compact (24-48” tall) and better branching series from Proven Winners includes Appleblossom (pale pink fading to white), Frost (white) and Violeta (pink-purple).

– Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin – Madison

Download Article as PDF

Cleome, Spider Flower

Cleome, or spider flower, is an annual known for its exceedingly long seedpods. They develop below the flowers as bloom progresses upward on the stalk to give the plants a spidery look, as do the projecting stamens of the flowers.

Description: Cleome flowers, with many opening at once, grow in airy racemes, or clusters of flowers, six to eight inches in diameter. Cleome flowers come in white, pink, or lavender. They perch atop stems that grow up to six feet high.


How to grow: Cleome grows well in average soil located in full or nearly full sun. It is very drought-tolerant, though it will look and grow better if it is watered well. Space spider flower plants one to three feet apart.

Propagation: Sow after the last frost when the ground is warm. Cleomes may also be started indoors four to six weeks earlier at a temperature of at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Germination time is 10 to 14 days. In the garden, it reseeds prolifically and should be thinned.

Uses: Plant cleome for its height, to back up borders, in the center of island beds, or in any spot where its dramatic quality stands out.

Related varieties: Helen Campbell is a popular white variety. Rose Queen is salmon-pink, and Ruby Queen is rose colored. Sparkler is a newer strain that grows three to four feet tall, not six.

Scientific name: Cleome hasslerana

Want more information? Try these:

  • Annual Flowers. Discover your favorite annual flowers. We’ve organized them by color, sunlight, soil type, and height to make it easy to plan your garden.
  • Annuals. There’s more to an annuals garden than flowers. Learn about all of the annuals that enhance your garden.
  • Perennial Flowers. Complement your annuals with these delightful perennial flowers. They are also organized by height, soil type, sunlight, and color.

Many beautiful plants have come to us from the tropical regions of the world. The cleome plant, or spider-flower (not the spider plant chlorophytum comosum), is one of them.

Its showy clusters of flowers with long-stalked petals and unique long-protruding stamens seem to bloom forever.

Cleome “Spider Flower” Facts

  • Origin: South America
  • Family: Capparidaceae
  • Botanical Name: Cleome
  • Common Name: Spider Flowers
  • Plant Type: Annual flower
  • Size: 4′ – 5′ feet
  • Leaves: coarse with short spines on stalks
  • Flowers: Unusual flowers spider like flower heads, graceful, showy, flower colors – white, pink and yellow forms
  • Bloom Time: early summer until frost
  • Hardiness: Deer resistant
  • Exposure: full sun for best results
  • Soil: grows in average well-drained garden soils
  • Water: drought tolerant
  • Propagation: seed – self-seeds

The blossoms around the base of the cluster fade as buds above open to keep the plant in flower.

Long bean-like seed pods of the spider plants develop as the faded petals fall, and add to the strange beauty of the cleome flowers. By late summer the lower seed pods ripen, and pop open to reseed the plant, while above, new buds are still fanning and bursting.

These three processes of regeneration continue until frost. Perhaps in the dense jungles it goes on indefinitely until the plant dies of old age.

In temperate climates, grow the Cleome spinosa as an annual. It comes in shades of pure white to a pinkish purple. I have seen several different shades on one plant.

Cleome species include:

  • Cleome gynandra
  • Gynandropsis gynandra
  • Cleome hasslerana

While the top clusters showed light pink flowers, the laterals sported white flowers. Another strange thing about the flowers is that they fade as quickly as they open, giving the plant a beautiful blend of one particular shade.

For instance, if the new blooms are a rich pink, those that opened two or three days before will have faded to a pale pink to give the cluster that look of forever going upward.

Side branches constantly develop and produce more flower clusters. Meanwhile, the first cluster of the season will still be blooming and growing upward upon a thin, hairy, goose-like neck.

Using Cleome Plant In The Landscape

The cleome is most useful for backgrounds or tall borders in full sun. Try planting them in a large bed by themselves. Last spring we planted 20 cleomes in one long bed beside our garage.

They certainly became a car-stopper. Everyone who admired the flowers wanted to know the name of the plant. Many had never seen it planted in such abundance before.

Grow The Spider Flower In Pots

The ‘Sparkler series” which are dwarf varieties of Cleome makes great looking short, bushy container plants.

  • Sparkler Blush – a 2002 All-America Selection winner with pink and white flowers

Plant in well-draining soil in full sun.

Turn Offs Of The Cleome

Like people, cleome has its faults, too. There are two peculiarities that gardeners may find irritating.

The stems, covered with thorns sharper and stronger than those found on Knockout rose bushes, and the plants give off a faint, offensive odor, especially after a rain.

These minor faults pale when considering the beauty of the cleome. These are still plants for a butterfly garden and the hummingbirds like them too, smell and all.

Several popular older varieties of spider-flower include, Cleome hassleriana known as ‘Pink Queen’ and ‘Helen Campbell’ a pure white.

Its shades run from almost pure white to a deep pink. Blooms appear in late June and continue until frost.


Cleome species are easy to grow in any type of soil if it is given a sunny location. So put them in a place where they can get direct full sun.

It does best, however, in a rich well-drained garden loam. If using good well-drained soil, no fertilizer is necessary. Once started, it takes care of itself.

Once established Clome is drought tolerant.

When placing mulch among the plants, one needs never more to weed or water the plants.

The thick foliage will soon discourage weeds, and the strong root system will reach down for as much as 18 inches in search of water. If you like a really good bloomer that requires none of your attention throughout summer, choose the cleome.

How To Propagate Spider Flower Plant

Cleome is grown from seeds. Cultivate the bed where the spider-flower grows as deeply as possible, break up the clumps, and rake smooth. Then take a hoe, and dig small holes four feet apart in all directions.

If planting in rows, alternate the holes so that those of the second row fall in between those of the first row.

That way the bed looks compact when in full bloom. Drop about six seeds into each hole and cover with a quarter inch of soil. Plant the seeds as early as the ground can be worked in spring.

Plant directly outdoors, no cold frame is necessary. Do not worry about frost.

The seeds will germinate only after the weather warms. Should the ground freeze again after planting, no harm will be done.

In fact, many gardeners plant their cleome seeds in late fall in the beds where they are to grow, eliminating that part of spring work.

However, when planting seed directly out in the landscape garden wait until the last danger of frost passes before sowing seed.

When plants are six inches high, thin out all but one to a “hill.” Never leave more because the plants develop into monsters. Hill the remaining plants slightly, and mulch the entire area with lawn clippings, old hay, sawdust, or peat moss.

If the weather is dry, water the young plants to get them off to a good start.

After this first planting, you will never have to seed-plant cleome again. Every spring dozens of healthy plants will spring up in the spot where the old plant stood.

Allow them to reach six to eight inches, then transplant to anywhere – about your grounds where you would like a splash of color all summer.

Or, if you prefer, gather the ripe seed in fall and, just before the ground freezes hard, plant the seeds in the desired location. They will come up in the spring, and give earlier bloom.

Dispose of Old Cleome Plants

As soon as frost kills back the leaves, dispose of the plants. You will need an axe to chop them down. Either burn or take them to the city dump at once. Don’t let them winter over in the garden, or you will be pulling out cleome plants forever.

Cleome spider flowers have been around for a long time. But, they’ve always seemed to get a bad wrap… thorns, sticky cleome leaves and stems, nauseating fragrance.

To the rescue, newer cultivars like Senorita Rosalita® Cleome. Check out the video to see what has changed in the world of Cleome!

By Julie Christensen

When you think of annuals, you probably think of compact, neatly behaved bedding plants like petunias and impatiens that require consistent babying in the form of frequent watering and fertilizing. Cleome flowers (Cleome hassleriana) will challenge everything you know about annuals.

Cleomes, often known as spider flowers, hail from South America, but can be grown as annuals in USDA plant hardiness zones 2 through 11. The plants have fragrant, sticky leaves that are bright green and palmate-shaped. The leaves have thorns at their base. The flowers are spectacular – spider-like, fragrant blooms in pink, white, purple or bicolor. Over the course of one summer, cleomes can grow 3 to 6 feet tall with a spread of 2 feet.

Planting Cleomes

As a frost-tender annual, cleomes should be planted outdoors in late spring, after the last expected frost. You can start them from seed indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost or buy nursery transplants. You can also sow them directly in the ground in the fall if you prefer. Plant the seeds ½ inch deep and cover them with moist soil. They’ll tolerate most soil types, including acidic, alkaline, clay and sand, so long as it drains well.

Grow cleomes at the back of a bed, spaced 2 feet apart. They tend to have sparse foliage at the bottom, so plant other plants in front of them to hide their bare knees. These interesting plants attract hummingbirds and butterflies and are deer- and rabbit-resistant.

After planting cleomes, water them frequently so the soil stays moist 1 inch beneath the surface. Once cleomes are established, they can tolerate some drought, although they’ll bloom better with slightly moist soil. Cleomes bloom from June until the first killing frost. The blooms start at the base of the plant and move upward. Older varieties sometimes have an unpleasant skunk-like smell. New hybrids have eliminated this problem.

Although you don’t really have to fertilize them, they’ll perform better if you fertilize them every six weeks during the growing season. Dilute 1 tablespoon granular fertilizer in water and soak the plants thoroughly.

Cleomes produce showy, brown seedpods after the flowers fade. You can pick these seedpods and save them for the next year, although hybrids might not grow true. If you prefer not to save the seeds, you should pick and discard the pods. If the seedpods are left in place, cleomes will self-sow aggressively, especially in warm, mild climates. You might end up with more cleomes than you ever wanted.

Pests and Problems

Cleomes, like many annual flowers, are fairly low maintenance when it comes to disease and pests. Leaf-sucking insects, including whiteflies, thrips and aphids, may bother them, although serious damage is rare. You won’t see holes in the leaves, but rather, limp, wilting leaves. You might also notice honeydew, a sticky substance secreted by the insects, on the leaves and ground. Try washing these pests off with a steady stream of water. In severe infestations, you can treat them with an insecticidal oil or soap. Apply the pesticide on a cool, cloudy day and make sure to coat the bottoms of the leaves, as well as the tops. Make a second application 7 days later, if necessary.

Mildew and rust sometimes affect cleomes. These diseases are more common in hot, humid weather. To combat these diseases, plant cleomes so air circulates freely between them. Use drip irrigation, rather than overhead sprinklers so the leaves stay dry and remove any infected leaves. You can spray the plants with a fungicide labeled for treating mildew or rust if the problem becomes severe.

Varieties of Cleome Flowers

If you like cleomes, but don’t have room for a standard variety, try ‘Linde Armstrong,’ a dwarf hybrid that grows only 2 feet tall. This hybrid has a fuller form than some cleomes and lacks the spines and unpleasant fragrance.

‘Senorita Rosalita’ is a sterile hybrid that won’t produce seed, so there’s no need to deadhead the plant. It also lacks thorns and has a pleasant scent.

Want to learn more about growing Cleome flowers?

For more information, visit the following links:

Cleome from Cornell University
Growing Cleome from Seed from the University of Wisconsin

Proven Winners talks about their variety of Cleome on YouTube.

Julie Christensen learned about gardening on her grandfather’s farm and mother’s vegetable garden in southern Idaho. Today, she lives and gardens on the high plains of Colorado. When she’s not digging in the dirt, Julie writes about food, education, parenting and gardening.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *