Friday, September 1, 2017

The Case for and against Japanese Anemones

Though they are known as "Japanese" Anemones, this common name is actually a bit of a misnomer.

Sometime in the distant past, anemones were brought from their native China to Japan, where they naturalized in the wild. There the fall-blooming plants were discovered by European plant collectors and were mistakenly identified as a Japanese native.

Japanese Anemones in a private garden.

Windflower is another common name for Japanese Anemones and speaks to the delicate flowers that float and dance in the breeze on tall, slender stems. The flowers are two to three inches in size and come in single, semi-double and double forms. Colors range from pure white to pink, lavender and purple.

The plants themselves are long-lived and relatively low maintenance. Division is rarely needed.

They range in height from 2'-4' (60 cm -120 cm).

Anemone x hybrida 'Whirlwind'

Anemone x hybrida 'Whirlwind' at the Toronto Botanical Garden.

One of the great assets of these plants is their bloom time. They begin to flower in mid-to-late August and continue to do so until the first frosts. As you can see in the picture above, the leaves on the trees have all turned color and the Japanese Anemones are still going strong.

Japanese Anemones at the Toronto Botanical Garden.

The downside is that Japanese Anemones are perennials that have a spreading habit. Many would even deem them to be invasive. It may take a year or two for a Japanese Anemone to get established. Given favourable conditions, it will then begin to spread via creeping rhizomes. Eventually, it will naturalize to form a large colony. How fast they spread is somewhat determined by the soil. In heavier, drier soil they will spread more slowly.

The roots of a Japanese Anemone are fairly shallow and fibrous, so it is possible to remove them. Root segments can re-sprout, so it is important to get as much of the roots as possible.

Where you plant them is key to perennials like this. Don't plant them in amongst other less vigorous plants and expect them to be good neighbours.  I'd also be cautious about planting them in an open area where it would be difficult to contain them.

Last weekend I visited a garden where she had her anemones planted in a raised island bed. It struck me as a perfect spot for them. There was only so far they could go.

Anemone x hybrida 'Whirlwind'

How to Grow Japanese Anemones

It is very tempting to buy Japanese Anemones now when you can see the flower in bloom, but it is much better to plant them in the spring when they have more time to get established before winter (particularly in more northern zones).

Plant tags will often describe light requirements for fall-blooming anemones as "full sun" or "part shade". This shorthand really doesn't provide enough information. Light to medium shade that includes a bit of early morning sun is best. If the soil is moist however, Japanese Anemones will tolerate more sun (the exception would be in warmer zones, where protection from the hot afternoon sun is essential). Too much shade will result in leggy plants that flop.  

Japanese Anemones like humus-rich soil that is evenly moist, but well-drained (These aren't bog plants. They prefer regular water that drains away).

Mulch a Japanese Anemone in that first year.  It will help keep the soil moist.

In zones 5 and lower, anemones are best planted in a sheltered location near a building or against a fence. It is also recommended to mulch a Japanese Anemone each fall in more northern area to protect the plant through the winter.

I have read differing views on staking these tall plants. Part of their charm is those tall swaying flower stems. You can reduce the plant's height by cutting it back in the first part of June. Flopping stems can also be a sign of too little light.

Fertilize them in spring. Division is also best done in the spring.


Japanese beetles and black blister beetles can defoliate an entire plant. The plant may bounce back, but it will be unlikely to flower that season.

Japanese Anemones are deer and rabbit resistant.

Japanese Anemone, Anemone x hybrid 'Party Dress' 

A Few of the Cultivars Available

Anemone tomentosa is native to northern China is the hardiest and most vigorous (i.e. it spreads aggressively) of the fall flowering anemones.

Most modern cultivars are attributed to Anemone hupehensis and Anemone x hybrida.

Anemone hupehensis is native to central and southwestern China where it can be found on grassy slopes and on stream banks. Modern cultivars related to species forms of Anemone hupehensis offer semi-double flowers.

Anemone x hybrida are generally referred to as Japanese hybrids and are a cross between a Himalayan species (A. vitifolia) and Anemone hupehensis.

Anemone tomentosa 'Robustissima' has large, pink flowers on tall branching stems that become fluffy seed heads in the late fall. This is one of the hardiest and most vigorous cultivars. It has an aggressive, spreading habit that many would deem invasive. Like all anemones, it likes moist, rich soil. Part shade. Height: 90-120 cm (35-47 inches), Spread: 60-90 cm (23-35 inches). USDA zones: 3-9.

Anemone hupehensis 'Pretty Lady Emily' has large double flowers that are light pink on a shorter plant.  Like all anemones, it likes moist, rich soil. Part shade. Height: 30-40 cm (12-16 inches), Spread: 50-60 cm (20-23 inches). USDA zones: 5-9.

Anemone hupehensis japonica 'Pamina' has semi-double flowers that are dark pink. Like all anemones, it likes moist, rich soil. Part shade. Height: 80-85 cm (31-33 inches), Spread: 60-90 cm (23-35 inches). USDA zones: 5-9.

Anemone x hybrida 'Party Dress' has a green eye at the centre of large semi-double flowers that are pink. Like all anemones, it likes moist, rich soil. Part shade. Height: 80-90 cm (31-35 inches), Spread: 60-90 cm (23-35 inches). USDA zones: 5-9.

Anemone x hybrida 'Queen Charlotte' has semi-double flowers that are pink. Like all anemones, it likes moist, rich soil. Part shade. Height: 80-90 cm (31-35 inches), Spread: 60-90 cm (23-35 inches). USDA zones: 5-9.

Anemone x hybrida 'Honorine Jobert' is an heirloom variety that plant breeder M. Jobert named for his daughter in France in1858. It has a single white flower with a flush of pink on the outside.  Like all anemones, it likes moist, rich soil. Part shade. Height: 90-120 cm (35-47 inches), Spread: 60-90 cm (23-35 inches). USDA zones: 5-9.

Anemone x hybrida 'Whirwind' is another heirloom cultivar. It has semi-double white flowers on tall stems. Like all anemones, it likes moist, rich soil. Part shade. Height: 90-120 cm (35-47 inches), Spread: 60-90 cm (23-35 inches). USDA zones: 5-9.

Just when summer-flowering plants are finishing, Japanese Anemones step in to fill the void. They usher in the change of seasons with a beautiful profusion of flowers. If you can find a good place for them, they have lots to offer.

Update: Proven Winner's has introduced a new cultivar that is purported to be less aggressive. 

Fall in Love™ Sweetly Japanese Anemone hybrid has semi-double, rose-pink flowers. For most of the summer, the foliage is a large mound of dark green leaves. In late summer/fall, flowering stems make the plant's growth more upright. Unlike most Japanese Anemones, this new introduction spreads slowly through rhizomes. Average, moist soil will keep this plant happy. Mulch heavily in the fall for the first two seasons to prevent frost heaving. Part-sun to full sun. Resists deer and rabbits. Height: 24 - 30 inches (60 -76 cm), Spread: 20 - 22 inches (50-55 cm). USDA zones: 4-8.


  1. I have 'Robustissima' and it is just that on a north facing aspect and another, shady site. Yes, it spreads and that is what I want it to do.

    1. That something spreads can be an advantage in the right spot. Sounds like you found the perfect spot for 'Robustissima'.

  2. I love these flowers, and just started growing them this year. I did not know that they could be invasive, but I planted them in a spot where a bit of invasiveness would be a good thing! :-)
    Have a wonderful holiday weekend, Jennifer!

    1. Sounds like it was a bit of good luck that you picked a good spot for your anemones by chance. They are certainly pretty flowers. Hope you have a nice long weekend too Lisa!

  3. Thank you Jennifer! I have these plants in different locations, and they behave there as you described. I let them spread in some areas, since it's easy to remove them.
    Thanks again for the great pics and good information!

    1. I have never tried to remove these plants myself, so I am glad to hear that it is easy to do so. I have two anemones (one white, one pink). They are growing in an areas that are a bit dry. So far they haven't spread at all, but they're just a couple of years old. Good to know that I can control them, if I need too.

  4. Another great idea for by garden! Such lovely picture.

  5. I've always loved the anemones, though I'm one of those who has grown up knowing them as windflowers, even though I learned the more correct anemone many years ago. I remember the lovely single white ones I grew up with and hadn't seen them again until moving to the island 6 years ago. I promptly went out and bought a couple varieties for my seaside garden (the place we just moved from). The next door neighbour also had some, short little white ones, but I'd have to call hers 'invasive'. She had them planted in a large open bed beside the fence and they always came through to my side. Every second year I'd pull them out and try to get all the tiny rhizomes. The following year they'd be back albeit in smaller numbers. I'd love to know what the new people will do with the wandering windflowers. Thank you for that delightful story about the neighbour's fire on my post about our downsizing. ... that Whirlwind anemone sure is tempting!

    1. I am thinking that the shorter ones are spring blooming? I did a post on spring blooming anemones as well, and you are right, they are invasive and probably more so than the fall blooming ones. It's rather a shame that a flower that is so temptingly pretty comes with a growth habit that is so problematic.

  6. Does anyone know where I can get a root cutting of the variety "lorelei"? It's a white edged pink but the only places online do not ship to California though Anemones do well here on the central CA coast.

  7. My yard had many Japanese Anenomes when we bought our house. Over the last twelve years they are virtually everywhere and grow stubbornly in cracks between bricks and rocks. It’s really a weed, albeit a beautiful one. I would caution people to plant this is a very contained area or not at all. It’s really terribly invasive. I’m considering Round Up or contrasted vinegar herbicide.

    1. Hi Bruce, I feel your pain. I have a similar problem with lily-of-the-valley. It's everywhere and is pretty unstoppable. The flower is lovely and fragrant, but it is a real thug!! While I can understand your frustration in controlling the anemones, it would take a lot of Roundup to make a dent in the problem. I wonder if something more natural herbicide like Burnout (citric acid and clove oil are the main ingredients) might work?

  8. Plants don't always read the description. My most vigorous Japanese Anemone is growing in practically hard packed soil next to my driveway, lots of sun, a bit of watering with Miracle Gro throughout the summer. It flowers its fool head off, lots of blooms, and the flowers are erect. The ones growing in the garden with less sun and nicer soil all have their heads down, very lackluster.

    1. Very true. Plants can take more sun if the other growing conditions are favourable. The hard packed soil must offer them some positives for them to be flourishing.

  9. I have a large area that has been taken over by Japanese Anemone which is also part of hte fenced area where my new puppy lives. To try to control the spread we mow off part of where the anemones are growing, although the plants keep coming. In the mowed area they are more like a short, chopped off ground cover. I have read that these plants are poisonous to dogs. Do you have any knowledge of this? My puppy does walk and run around over the mowed area. Thanks for any info...

  10. My problem is that the leafy part is so huge and taking over not at all like in the pictures where the leaves are closer to the ground and the flowers stick up. I have more huge leaves than flowers and they are running into other parts of the garden.

  11. Generally speaking Japanese Anemones are low, bushy perennials until they send up flower stalks. What you describe sounds like you have less than ideal conditions for flowering, but perfect conditions for growth.
    By way of example, I have the common orange daylily in my garden that you often see growing at the side of the road (it was planted by the previous owner). This plant's preference is full sun. Where it grows in shade, it sends up new growth every spring that spreads underground. Despite all the green growth, the shade conditions stop it from flowering ideally. In other words, the flowers are sparse. You might be experiencing something similar.
    I think you have to do what I have done with my problem daylily. I have had to dig it all out. This is no easy task either! Sometimes I have to go back to the same area a couple of times. I wish I had an easier solution.
    I can sympathize. I still have a few areas where I need to curtail a plant that spreads. I sometimes wish plants could be sold with warning labels!

  12. Do you have any experience growing the Fall in Love Sweetly variety? I have grown an anemone in the past that was too vigorous and have a little PTSD from getting it out but this nee from from Proven Winners looks and sounds lovely....

    1. I like anemones so I have been watching for this one at local nurseries. Unfortunately, I haven't seen any 'Fall in Love Sweetly'. As I said in my post it supposedly spreads "slowly". If you are able to find it and are nervous about it, give it a bit of room and keep an eye on it. Year three is a good time to gauge how quickly it spreads for yourself.


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