Anemone (Windflower) Plant Profile

Red and purple anemone blossoms
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The common name "anemone" is a collective label used for a number of different species in the Anemone genus of plants. Many gardeners know the plants as windflowers, so named because the delicate poppy-like flowers sway in the lightest breezes. (The Greek word "anemos" translates as "wind.") Gardeners who love the look of the exotic Himalayan blue poppy but are unsuccessful in growing it should try the much more forgiving anemone flower.

The flowers of these spring- or fall-blooming plants are a hot trend in wedding bouquets, and also make the garden come alive in vibrant red, white, pink, yellow, and purple shades. Anemone flowers have a simple, daisy-like shape and lobed foliage. Some anemone varieties feature double flowers, similar to a frilly, oversized mum. 

The Ranunculaceae family in which the anemone genus fits is a generous contributor to flower gardens. In addition to the Anemone, other members of the family include delphinium, clematis, and ranunculus.

Botanical Name Anemone spp.
Common Names Anemone, windflower, Grecian windflower, poppy windflower
Plant Type Herbaceous perennial
Mature Size 6 inches to 4 feet (depends on species and variety)
Sun Exposure Full sun to part shade
Soil Type Rich, moist soil
Soil pH 5.6 to 7.5 (slightly acidic to neutral); varies by species
Bloom Time Spring, fall
Flower Color Red, orange, yellow-green, blue, purple, red-purple, white, ivory, and pink
Hardiness Zones 5 to 10 (USDA); varies by species
Native Area Temperate zones worldwide; many species are native to North America
Close up of an anemone flower
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Anemone flowers in a vase
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How to Grow Anemones

Choose your planting time based on the blooming cycle of your chosen species. Plant spring bloomers in the fall, and fall bloomers in the spring. Different species of anemones have different types of root structures, and the planting method varies a bit from type to type. Normally, anemones are planted from bare rootstocks purchased from online or mail-order retailers.

Some species, such as A. coronaria (often known as poppy anemone) have roots that resemble bulb-like corms. The small corms are planted in groups, like tulips or daffodils. Place them in clusters spaces about 1 inch apart, 2 inches deep. Let nature dictate the spreading of the cluster. With corm-types, leave the foliage in place to replenish the corms until it turns brown

Other species, including A. blanda (sometimes known as Grecian windflower) have tuberous or rhizomatous roots that are planted like dahlia or tuberous iris roots, in small groups 3 to 6 inches deep. It helps to soak the dried tubers in water overnight to soften them before planting.

Whatever the species of Anemone, these plants generally like at least four hours of sun each day and well-drained soil that is relatively moist. Once planted, they are relatively care-free plants. Those types with rhizomatous roots will need to be lifted and divided every three years or so. When foliage turns brown in late fall, cut it away to ground level.

Light

Anemones should be placed where they can receive at least half a day of sunlight. Some varieties thrive more in partial shade.

Soil

Plant anemones in well-drained soil. Before planting, you can improve the soil by adding compost, leaf mold, or other organic matter. Anemones aren't fussy about soil pH, but will thrive best in slightly acidic soil.

Water

Water the plants regularly when it does not rain. Try to keep the soil lightly moist. Water slowly, allowing the soil to absorb as much water as possible. Some varieties have special water needs; for example, wood anemone (A. nemorosa) dies to the ground in midsummer and does not need water until it regrows in fall.

Temperature and Humidity

The recommended temperatures for growing anemones is 58 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 42 to 50 degrees at night. For some species, the optimum temperature for efficient flower initiation may be lower than 54 degrees.

Fertilizer

If desired, you can add some bone meal to the soil in the fall for spring bloomers or in the spring for fall bloomers to give the bulbs a nutrient boost.

Pruning

The fading foliage of spring bloomers is usually insignificant enough to wither away unnoticed, so you will not need to prune it for a tidy looking garden. Taller fall-blooming varieties may look shabby after the first frost, so shear off dead growth during early winter clean up. 

Propagating Anemones

Though the different species of anemones have different root structures, all can be propagated by digging up the corms/ tubers, dividing them into pieces, then replanting. A common practice is to routinely dig up and divide the roots in the fall, then store them over winter for spring replanting. Make sure to inspect the roots and discard any that are diseased or soft with rot. Lifting the roots in fall for winter storage can be a good idea if your garden experiences wet soil over the winter.

Unlike many bulbs that have a distinct shape that indicates how you should orient them in the planting hole, anemones corms/tubers are lumpy and irregular. They will grow properly no matter how you orient them in the ground. If you have stored the roots over winter, it's a good idea to soak them overnight before planting.

Be generous when you plant the petite spring anemones; these low-growing plants that range from 3 to 15 inches in height look best when planted in groups of 50 or more.

Toxicity of Anemones

All parts of Anemones—roots, leaves, flowers, and stems—are somewhat toxic to humans, but much more toxic to pets. The toxin, protoanemonin, is commonly found in many members of the buttercup family of plants. Oral ingestion by humans is somewhat rare, since the plant is quite bitter to the taste. But skin contact can cause rather severe irritation in sensitive individuals. Poisonous plant databases consider Anemones to be in the mildly toxic category for humans.

Dogs and cats are somewhat more likely to ingest the plant, and here the danger is more serious. Convulsions and even death are possible when a pet ingests a large amount of this plant.

Any amount of consumption by a human or pet warrants consulting a medical professional. Skin contact can usually be treated by simple washing with soap and water.

Varieties of Anemone

There are several good species of Anemone available, each with several named cultivars to choose from:

  • Anemone blanda adapts well outdoors and is hardy in zones 5 through 9. This plant is sometimes known as Grecian windflower.
  • Anemone coronaria, has poppy-like blooms with black centers. These are popular in floral arrangements. This species, sometimes known as poppy anemone, is reliably hardy only in zones 8 through 10.
  • Anemone hupehensis var. japonica, the Japanese anemone, blooms abundantly from mid-summer to late fall, giving gardeners a shade-loving alternative to the sun-drenched mums and asters of autumn. It is grown in zones 4 to 8.
  • Anemone sylvestris (sometimes known as snowdrop windflower) is an early spring bloomer that does not have time to attain great heights; it belongs at the front of the border. You can grow it in zones 4 to 8.

Landscape Uses

Plant several dozen spring-blooming anemones around your tulips and daffodils, or plant large drifts of anemones in wooded areas, where they can naturalize undisturbed. Place your spring-blooming anemones near the front of your borders or at the edges of paths, and do not worry about browsing deer, which generally find this flower unpalatable. Fall-blooming anemones are good for filling in gaps between mounding chrysanthemum plants.

Common Pests/ Diseases

Although there are no truly serious pest or disease problems with Anemones, they can be stricken with foliar nematodes that feed inside the leaves. These microscopic soil worms can cause distorted leaves and flowers through damage to the plant cells. Treatment is difficult, but removing plants and heating the soil through solarization sometimes gets rid of nematodes. All plant material in the afflicted area will need to be removed and disposed of. Periodically churning up the soil and allowing it to bake in the sun may rid the area of nematodes.

A variety of fungal leaf spots, down mildew, and powdery mildew may appear on Anemones, though the diseases are rarely serious.

Taller Anemones may need to be staked to prevent them from flopping, especially when grown in shady areas.