Cleomes (Cleome hassleriana) are commonly known as spiderflowers, spiderplants, spiderweeds, or beeplants. The cleome gets its “spider” names from the spidery-looking flowers with long stamen and dangling seedpods. They are annuals and when planted in a group they can look like blooming shrubs with eight inch blossoms because they grow in racemes (clusters of flowers). Under the right conditions, they can reach six feet in height and a foot wide. Their stems are usually very strong and they seldom require staking, but take precautions with strong winds. The blooms come in white, shades of pink, red, lavender, and violet. They tend to remain nice looking well into the summer. Hummingbirds love them and they are not typically victims of insects nor disease. They also make excellent cut flowers, but beware - some varieties have spines and sharp edges. Some people find their scent unpleasant and musky and there are new odor-less cultivars.
Cleomes are grown from seeds and thrive in all USDA zones. They do fine in average, but well-draining, soil with full or nearly full sun. You can start them indoors four weeks before the last frost or you can plant them outdoors, but you have to be sure there are no more frosts in store for your area. Plant the seeds about a foot apart. It usually takes around ten days for the seeds to germinate and later they will reseed themselves. They tend to reseed quickly and may need to be thinned. Due to their scent, you may not want to plant them near windows or doors. They tolerate heat and dry weather very well, but their lower leaves fall at the end of summer. They will look best if watered well. You can use companion plants to cover their bare stems at that time.
Most people use cleomes as back-up border plants or put them in the center of island beds. They are very dramatic and will stand out. They have been a longtime favorite of southern cottage gardens, but they actually originated in South America. Cleomes grew from Brazil to southern Argentina and their adaptability has resulted in them becoming naturalized in the United States.