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What is Cleome?

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  • Written By: Anna Harrison
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  • Last Modified Date: 23 September 2016
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Cleomes, or spider flowers, are tall, striking herbaceous plants with large clusters of spider-like flowers atop single, prickly stems. This member of the Cleomaceae family grows up to 5 feet tall (1.5 m) and reseeds itself each year to form large clusters of plants. Flowers bloom from midsummer until frost in shades of pink, rose, purple and white, then turn into long fingers of seeds that burst open when dry and brown. It is native to the southern United States and South America.

Although cleomes are annuals, these flowering plants are at home in the perennial garden, especially as a back border. They can be mistaken for perennials, because their reseeding habit means they frequently return every year. Small volunteer seedlings appear in spring and quickly grow into tall flowering plants.

These annuals will grow in just about any soil and withstand drought conditions well. They prefer full sun but will grow in partial shade, though they may not bloom as profusely as in areas where they receive a full day of sunshine. Their height makes them unsuitable as potted plants. They do, however, make long-lasting cut flowers.

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Cleome hassleriana is the most widely available variety and is frequently sold as a mix of seeds with flowers in all of the cleome colors. Though the most commonly seen cleomes are the tall varieties, a few smaller species have been developed. One of these is Senorita Rosalita cleome, which grows to just 2 feet or 3 feet (0.6 m to 0.9 m) and, unlike its larger relatives, is thornless. Another advantage of the Senorita Rosalita for some gardeners is that this variety is sterile and produces no seeds.

Cleomes are fairly easy to grow, but they can be unpredictable when starting from seed. They do best when refrigerated for a few days before being planted. Their germination rate is staggered, with seedlings appearing gradually over the course of a few weeks, though the first may appear after about a week. They prefer to be directly seeded outdoors in spring, after the soil has warmed. Cleome seeds should be barely covered with soil and kept well-watered until they sprout.

The scent of the cleome plant is very strong, with various opinions regarding what it resembles. While some say it has a minty aroma, others compare it to the scent of a skunk. Still others say it smells like cat urine. The smell is strong enough to discourage many gardeners from growing cleome at all.

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Perdido
Post 4

Cleomes really creep me out. I hate spiders and anything that reminds me of them. I walked by the section of my neighbor’s garden where the cleomes grow, and my skin crawled when I saw them.

In addition to their creepy appearance, their smell is disgusting. I get a whiff of skunk when I walk past them, and I’m not even leaning over to sniff the flowers!

Since my neighbor grows these along her side of the fence, I decided to plant my own sweet-smelling flowers along my side to block them out. I bought a section of chicken wire long enough to stake up in front of the cleomes, and I covered it with honeysuckle vine. Now, all I can smell is its sweetness, and all I can see are its dark green masses of leaves and little white and yellow flowers.

shell4life
Post 3

I always plant cleomes as a back border for my shorter flowers in the same color family. I like to plant them against a fence for added support, because they get very tall. They provide a very attractive backdrop to flowering bushes and shrubs.

I plant a row of white chrysanthemums in the front of my garden. These short bushes flower all summer long and into the fall, just like the cleomes.

In between the chrysanthemums and the pink and white cleomes, I plant white shasta daisies and pink coneflowers. These are both easy to grow and maintain, and they grow pretty tall, but they still are a couple of feet shy of the height of the cleomes.

cloudel
Post 2

I plant pink and white cleomes from seed every spring. I always wait until after April 15, because in our USDA zone, that is the date past which the local nurseries guarantee that plants should be safe from death by frost.

I press the cleome seeds into the soil’s surface, making sure that they fully touch the soil yet still receive sunlight, because they need the exposure to germinate. I plant the seed about 6 inches apart to give them room to grow.

I water the soil around the seeds, but I don’t directly water the actual seeds. This way, the moist soil can dampen them without driving them further underneath the dirt.

StarJo
Post 1

I like to plant pink cleomes in masses clustered close together. When they grow like this, they look like hedges, but with beautiful bright blooms.

My cleomes start blooming in late May and continue to flower until October. They outlast other summer plants, and I like having something around that blooms into the fall.

They are resistant to pests like deer and rabbits that chew on other plants. This is probably due to their powerful odor. However, hummingbirds love them. I don’t like their aroma, so I don’t plant them near the house.

Though they are tall, they don’t require staking. They won’t fall over unless a powerful storm comes through the area, but because I planted them so close together, they support each other.

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