Ask A Master Gardener – Japanese Anemones

Authored by: Carol Shirk

Photo credit: C. Jacobs

Looking for a plant that will put on a show when the summer blooms have faded and the fall bloomers haven’t started? Japanese anemones might be the right fit.  Graceful, delightful, elegant, charming, and spectacular show are all words that have been used when describing these plants.

Japanese anemones, also known as fall-blooming anemones or windflowers, have been around since the 17th century, if not before. Originally thought to be from Japan, where European plant explorers discovered them, it was later determined the Japanese anemones were native to China.

According to Chicago botanical gardens in 1947 Bowles and Stearn published The History of Anemone japonica    in the Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society, which to this day represents the most comprehensive commentary on the origin and naming of fall-blooming anemones.

Japanese anemones are in the buttercup family. The common name windflower comes from their flowers are held on wiry stems that sway in the breeze. They have a clumping habit but will spread by rhizomes once established to form large colonies.  The plant can be aggressive but are not considered invasive in the Upper Midwest. The shallow roots allow for the easy removal of unwanted sprouts

These plants are hardy in zones 4-7. They prefer soils that are moist but well-drained and do not tolerate drought or being waterlogged.  Root rot can occur in waterlogged conditions. Plant in full to part sun- they thrive in light to medium shade. Too much shade can result in leggy plants that flop over more readily.

There are numerous varieties of Japanese anemones. Most are less than 3 feet tall but some cultivars can reach 5 feet when in bloom. Blooms are typically 2-3 inches and range in color from creamy to pure white, purple, and a range of pinks. Flower forms vary from single, semi-double, and double. All blooms have a dense ring of yellow stamens.  After petals drop,  globe shaped seed heads form adding further interest to the garden and provide nesting material for hummingbirds and small songbirds.   Deadheading is not needed to prolong blooming.  To enjoy in the home, Japanese anemones are long lasting cut flowers that keep their color.

Photo credit: C. Jacobs

Branching stems have multiple buds and provide a long flowering period.  They can flower as early as July and continue into November. It’s not uncommon for plants to bloom continuously for more than two months.

Japanese anemones are a bit late to come up in the spring, which make them a good cover for dying foliage of spring bulbs. When needed plants should be divided in the spring. After a hard frost the plants can be cut back to the ground. Good drainage and a winter mulch will help with the plant overwintering successfully.

Japanese anemones are not bothered by too many pests.  Slugs and snails may like to munch on new growth and Japanese beetles can defoliate the plant.

Carol Shirk

Master Gardener Volunteer


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