If you’d like the newness of an annual with the easy regrowth of a perennial, try planting cleomes (Cleome spp.). These are annual flowers, also called spider flowers because the blossoms have long growths that look like multiple legs, that self-reseed. That means that you can plant one annual cleome that will send seeds out that easily establish themselves in the surrounding soil, giving you more cleome plants in the same spot in your garden. Note that while cleomes aren’t invasive, they can be aggressive because of that reseeding.
Cleomes are easy to care for and tend to grow fast. They can look a bit spindly as they can grow up to 6 feet, depending on the cultivar. Many newer varieties are smaller and do well in containers and compact gardens. Cleomes in general do very well in heat, with some varieties powering through Florida summers without a second thought. Frost can kill the plants, however, and you should remove dead ones as soon as you can. You may want to look for newer varieties that are odor-free as older varieties can often give off a skunky smell (it’s always something). Blossoms are usually pink, white, or a combination.
The plants usually have thorns. They are not hard to care for, but pests like aphids, spider mites, and harlequin bugs can be a problem. The plants may suffer from downy or powdery mildew, and damping-off is a real fungal problem for new plants just growing from seed. Watch watering levels and keep everything moist but not wet. The plants attract hummingbirds and butterflies, so be careful not to use pest control methods that could harm those pollinators.
1. Cleome serrulata ‘Solo’
This is a thornless variety of cleome, so if your kids and pets like to run around the flower garden, plant this. It does smell unpleasant, however. This is a hardy cleome that grows in most of North America except in the South. Flowers are pink to white.
2. Cleome ‘Señorita Rosalita’
Another thornless cleome, this hybrid actually has no odor and can grow to about 4 feet tall. Flowers are dark pink, and the plant needs full sun. It doesn’t self-seed, so if you want a cleome for an area with other flowers nearby, this is a good choice. It can spread out to 2 feet in diameter and grows in USDA plant hardiness zones 10 and 11.
3. Cleome hassleriana ‘Linde Armstrong’
A thornless variety that grows to only 1 1/2 to 2 feet tall. This cultivar is perfect for regions like Florida and tends to have fuller foliage than other varieties. This one does well in humidity and heat.
4. Cleome hassleriana ‘Helen Campbell’
This is a classic and very hardy cleome that can grow in just about any zone. Beautiful white petals top off the stalks of each blossom, and the plant does well in chalky, loamy, or sandy soil. Soil does need to be well-drained, and the cultivar needs full sun. This will attract pollinators. It’s disease-resistant. Let the flowers dry after they wilt; birds like to eat the seeds in fall. The white petals make this a candidate for moon gardens.
5. Cleome hassleriana ‘Queen’ series
This group of cultivars grows tall, from 4 to 6 feet, and the blossoms come in white, pink, purple, and even red. They can be planted to create a hedge, but keep in mind that the plants are annuals, and self-seeding doesn’t guarantee a nice, straight hedge line. You’ll have to keep an eye on that if you want a cleome hedge year after year. These do have an odor and can bloom into fall, but frost will kill them.
6. Cleome hassleriana ‘Spirit’ series
A series of five different colors that like sunlight. The sun exposure can be in the morning or afternoon. The ‘Spirit’ cultivars are tall and can do with some fertilizer in mid-summer. Make sure the soil drains well. Use these as the back row in an arrangement due to their height and the wide nature of the clusters of blossoms.
7. Cleome hassleriana ‘Sparkler’ series
This was the first hybrid cleome. It has two subvarieties, ‘Blush,’ with pink and white flowers, and ‘Lavender,’ with pale lavender flowers. Tends to self-seed easily and grows in 3-foot-by-3-foot clumps. As with other cleome hybrids, protect from frost, and allow birds to feed on the seeds once the flowers die.
8. Cleome ‘Clio Magenta’
A non-self-seeding (sterile) variety that grows in a compact shape. This cultivar can bloom any time from May to October in pink and purple. It tends to grow in a short mound shape. When you initially plant it, give it water, and water it during drought. The benefits of this variety are that it’s resistant to deer and rabbits and does not have thorns. It will attract birds and butterflies.