Cleome Plant Care: How To Grow The Spider Flower

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

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

cleome plant caring foe the spider flowerPin
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Cleome “Spider Flower” Facts

  • Origin: South America
  • Family: Capparidaceae [Kap-par-id-day-see-ee]
  • Botanical Name: Cleome [Klee-oh-mee]
  • 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: tolerant or drought conditions
  • 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 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.

Spider Flower 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 sunlight. 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 never needs 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 in early 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!

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