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Cleome Care: A Guide to Flourishing Spider Flowers

Cleome is pronounced as “klee-OH-mee.” The emphasis is on the second syllable, with a long “o” sound, and the last syllable is pronounced with a short “e” sound.

Cleome, often referred to as Spider Flower, is a unique and captivating addition to any garden. Its tall, spiky appearance and vibrant blooms not only add aesthetic appeal but also attract pollinators, enhancing garden biodiversity. Caring for Cleome involves specific gardening practices to ensure they thrive. This article looks into the essentials of Cleome care, from soil preparation to pest management, providing gardeners with the knowledge to cultivate these beautiful flowers successfully.

It is well-suited to USDA hardiness zones 2 through 11, which means it can grow in almost every part of the United States. Cleome is highly adaptable and can be grown as an annual in cooler climates where it might not survive the winter, and as a perennial in warmer zones where frost is not a significant concern. This plant prefers full sun but can tolerate partial shade, and it’s known for its ability to withstand poor soil conditions and drought, making it a versatile choice for various garden settings.

Native to South America, Cleome belongs to the Cleomaceae family and encompasses several species, including Cleome hassleriana, Cleome spinosa, and Cleome serrulata. These annual or perennial plants feature tall stems adorned with clusters of intricate, spider-like flowers in shades of pink, purple, white, or yellow. Cleome’s distinctive appearance makes it a standout in any garden setting.

Preparing the Soil:

Prepare the soil before planting Cleome to provide optimal growing conditions. Amend the soil with organic matter such as compost or aged manure to enhance its fertility and texture. Aim for a slightly acidic to neutral soil pH, ideally ranging from 6.0 to 7.0, to support healthy Cleome growth.

Planting Cleome:

Cleome can be grown from seeds or seedlings, offering flexibility to gardeners. If starting from seeds, sow them directly into the garden bed after the last frost date, as Cleome is sensitive to frost. Alternatively, begin seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before the expected transplanting date. When transplanting seedlings or direct sowing seeds, space them approximately 12-18 inches apart to allow ample room for growth.

Watering and Maintenance:

Consistent watering is essential for Cleome, especially during periods of drought. Water deeply and thoroughly, ensuring the soil remains evenly moist but not waterlogged. Avoid overhead watering, as it can lead to foliar diseases. Mulching around Cleome plants helps retain moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature. Additionally, deadheading spent blooms promotes continuous flowering and prevents self-seeding, although some gardeners appreciate Cleome’s ability to self-sow for naturalizing purposes.


Fertilize Cleome plants sparingly, as excessive fertilization can result in lush foliage at the expense of flower production. Apply a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer every 4-6 weeks during the growing season, following package instructions for proper dilution and application. Alternatively, incorporate a slow-release fertilizer into the soil at planting time for long-term nutrient availability.

Pest and Disease Management:

While relatively pest-resistant, Cleome may encounter occasional pest issues such as aphids, spider mites, or caterpillars. Monitor plants regularly for signs of infestation and intervene promptly with insecticidal soap, neem oil, or natural predators such as ladybugs. Additionally, maintain good air circulation around Cleome plants to minimize the risk of fungal diseases such as powdery mildew or rust.

Supporting Tall Varieties:

Taller Cleome varieties may benefit from staking or support to prevent lodging, especially in windy conditions. Install stakes or cages around plants early in the growing season, securing stems gently to prevent damage. Alternatively, plant Cleome near other sturdy perennials or shrubs that can provide natural support as they mature.

Overwintering and Seed Saving:

In regions with mild winters, Cleome may survive as a perennial, re-emerging from the roots in spring. However, in colder climates, Cleome is typically grown as an annual and will not survive frost. To save seeds for future plantings, allow seed pods to mature and dry on the plant before collecting them. Store seeds in a cool, dry location until the following spring, ensuring proper labeling for identification.

Cleome Varieties and Their Characteristics

Numerous Cleome varieties offer a range of colors and sizes. From the classic pink and purple hues of Cleome hassleriana to the white blooms of Cleome spinosa, there’s a variety to suit every garden design.

  • How often should I water Cleome?
    Cleome plants should be watered regularly, especially during dry periods. Once established, they are quite drought-tolerant, but for optimal growth and flowering, keeping the soil evenly moist is best.
  • Can Cleome grow in partial shade?
    Yes, Cleome can grow in partial shade, though they prefer full sun. In partial shade, they may not bloom as prolifically but will still produce flowers.
  • What are the best companion plants for Cleome?
    Good companions for Cleome include other sun-loving plants such as Salvia, Marigolds, and Zinnias. These companions help create a vibrant, colorful garden bed and can also support a healthy ecosystem by attracting beneficial insects.
  • How do I deal with pests on my Cleome plants?
    Pests such as aphids and spider mites can be managed with a strong water spray from a hose, insecticidal soap, or neem oil applications. Regular monitoring and early intervention are key to controlling pest infestations.
  • Can Cleome be used in cut flower arrangements?
    Absolutely! Cleome makes an excellent choice for cut flower arrangements. Their tall, striking flowers add height and texture, lasting several days in water.
  • Are there any toxic varieties of Cleome?
    Generally, Cleome is not considered toxic to humans or pets. However, it’s always wise to research specific varieties and exercise caution, especially around children and pets, to avoid any potential irritation from handling the plant.

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