Turtlehead a great summer perennial
We all enjoy the wildflowers growing on the side of the road, like the wild lupine in the spring time, the summer-flowering white daisies and Queen Ann's lace and in the fall the wild miniature flowering asters and goldenrod. Today, I want to tell you about one wildflower that you want in your garden because it is trouble free, it will grow almost anywhere and it will flower from late August into October. This very hardy perennial is called the turtlehead and it thrives from Manitoba to Newfoundland in Canada and south to Georgia and Arkansas.
The turtlehead gets its name from the flowers it makes, because they resemble the head of a turtle. The plant makes the flowers on the top of the stems and they develop as a spike flower much like the snapdragon flower. Each individual flower will grow from 1 to 1.5 inches long; it is tubular with a puffed end like the head of a turtle that will split open resembling its lips and mouth. The flowers open from the bottom of the spike and work their way up the spike slowly lasting for 6 to 8 weeks on the plant.
The flower color will range from white to pink and even shades of red. The plant will grow 2 to 3 feet tall as a single stem that develop from the base of the plant making it a wonderful cut flower for your home. The plant spreads with underground roots creating a thick clump of foliage and flowers in the late summer. Purchase the plants in pots from spring to fall and give them room to grow, as they will spread to 3 to 4 feet wide in just 3 to 4 years.
The foliage is deep green and the leaf is oval in shape, 2 to 3 inches long with tiny teeth along its edge. The foliage is also shiny and very clean looking compared to most perennials in our garden. The plant will grow very thick once established in your garden and this foliage is rarely troubled with insect and disease problems. The stems are very stiff and strong growing and seldom fall over with stormy weather; no maintenance needed to hold plants up like so many other tall growing perennials.
If you want to propagate the plant it is best to divide the plant in the spring time. Use a garden trowel or spade and split the plant into small clumps when the plant grows to 3 to 6 inches tall during May. These clumps will still flower for you in the late summer if you care for them during the growing season.
Turtleheads will grow in full sun to full shade garden, a bit taller in the shade. They love a rich soil and the better you prepare the soil the larger the plant will grow and produce more flowers for you. Condition the soil with compost, animal manure or peat moss and be sure to work it deep into the ground to stimulate a strong root system. If your soil is on the sandy side, be sure to add Soil Moist Granules as these plants love moisture, clay type soils and will even thrive in wet soils. Soil acidity is not a concern for this plant either.
This is the perfect plant for a garden in the shade and where water is a problem, as it grows wild near streams and river banks. If you have land where skunk cabbage and ferns are the only plants that grow, this is your plant to change the look of that area, but it will also grow in the average garden. It will soak up a lot of water in the ground, helping to change the character of your yard when planted as a wild flower. The foliage and flowers will add a lot of character to a wild fern growing area on your property.
Turtleheads love water, so remember that if the summer weather gets to be hot and dry, you will have to water them regularly--especially the first year you plant them in your garden--to encourage flower production in the fall. Fertilize in the spring only to help it get started properly and the plant will take care of itself the rest of the year without much care. Once the plants are established they are almost self-sufficient.
Plant turtlehead perennials this summer in your perennial garden for late summer to fall color. The plant will look great when planted along the edge of tall trees or along a wooded area. If you live near the ocean, a lake or beside a river edge, this is a wonderful plant because it will tolerate rough weather where wind is a problem. Turtlehead will tolerate winter temperatures to minus 30 degrees below zero without any type of winter protection. You can also plant turtlehead near drainage ditches, along the side of the road or in front of cattails as a border planting for summer color in places where it is difficult to grow flowers.
In the fall collect the seed pods from the plant once they turn brown and break them open so you can scatter the seeds in a meadow to add to the wildflowers already growing there now. Seedlings will flower the second year they are planted. The pink flowering types of turtleheads will flower the longest time in your garden or in the wild.
You can also plant the turtlehead as a ground cover to prevent soil erosion or on a steep slope where mowing could become a problem. This is just a nice plant for your garden with many uses, so get out this weekend and plant some. Enjoy.!