How to Grow Prairie Smoke

Prairie smoke plant with wispy, feather-like achenes on thin stem

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

In This Article

Prairie smoke (Geum triflorum) may not be a show-stopping plant. But it will add plenty of interest to a garden bed from early spring right through to fall. This perennial wildflower is native to North American prairies. It gets its name from the long, wispy, feather-like achenes (seed heads) that develop during the summer. With their pinkish shades, they create an impression of puffs of smoke. And they remain on the plant for several weeks. The small, pink, bud-like flowers may not be as impressive as the achenes, but they still add a splash of color to the garden starting in the spring. And during the fall, the foliage takes on purplish, reddish, and orange hues and then turns to a burgundy shade come winter. 

Prairie smoke has a moderate growth rate, and clumps of it will slowly spread via rhizomes (underground stems). It can be planted in the spring or fall. 

Botanical Name Geum triflorum
Common Names Prairie smoke, old man’s whiskers, three-flowered avens, purple avens, lion’s beard, grandfather’s beard
Plant Type Herbaceous, perennial
Mature Size 6–18 in. tall, 6–12 in. wide
Sun Exposure Full
Soil Type Loamy, sandy, clay, well-drained
Soil pH Neutral
Bloom Time Spring, summer
Flower Color Reddish pink, maroon, purple
Hardiness Zones 3–7 (USDA)
Native Area North America
Prairie smoke wildflower with wispy, feather-like achenes on pink stem closeup

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

Prairie smoke wildflower plants and buds on pink stems and feather-like achenes

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

Prairie smoke wildflower with wispy, feather-like achenes closeup

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

Prairie Smoke Care

Prairie smoke is a versatile, low-maintenance perennial. It can tolerate various soil types, provided that it has good drainage. It doesn't require deadheading (removing spent blooms) or need much in the way of watering. And it is even fairly tolerant of drought during the summer. In addition, prairie smoke doesn't usually have any serious issues with pests or diseases, and deer in particular tend to leave it alone. But it is known to attract butterflies to the garden.

Because it can cope with gravelly, dry conditions, prairie smoke can work well in a rock garden. It's also ideal for a native plant garden. However, because it isn't the largest of plants, take care not to position it where it will get overshadowed. It isn't tolerant of competition from more vigorous and larger species.

Light

Prairie smoke appreciates a growing site with full sun, meaning at least six hours of direct sunlight on most days. It will tolerate a bit of shade, but too much shade can significantly reduce flowering. However, some shade from the strong afternoon sun at the height of summer can be beneficial for overall plant health.

Soil

Prairie smoke isn't overly fussy about the soil type in which it grows. In this wildflower's native habitat, it is commonly found in sandy and gravelly soils. It also can grow in loamy and clay soils, as long as there is sharp drainage. It prefers a fairly neutral soil pH.

Water

Young prairie smoke plants need considerably more moisture than well-established specimens. They like evenly moist but not soggy conditions in the spring, and they should be watered at least weekly during hot summer weather.

Mature prairie smoke plants still like moist conditions while they experience their new spring growth. But they prefer drier conditions once summer arrives. You likely won't have to provide supplemental water unless you have unseasonably hot weather and/or a long stretch without rainfall. It's important that prairie smoke plants are never waterlogged, including over the winter. This can result in root rot.

Temperature and Humidity

This species tends to thrive in mild climates. It can still survive in hot, dry locations, but you might find that the leaves don't look as healthy during the summer months. However, the plant typically will perk up again as the summer heat becomes less intense. Moreover, prairie smoke isn't a fan of high humidity. In humid climates, it's extra important to ensure that the soil is well-drained.

Fertilizer

Prairie smoke can grow just fine in lean soils. But it won't grow as large as it does in soils that are enriched with organic matter. If you have lean soil, it can be helpful to mix some compost into the soil at the time of planting. You can continue to add a light layer of compost each spring. Not only will this feed the plants, but it also will help to improve soil drainage.

Propagating Prairie Smoke

Prairie smoke often self-seeds and spreads underground. So it might do all the propagating work for you. But if you'd like to plant it in another location, you can propagate by division. Divide mature prairie smoke clumps every few years. Simply dig up a clump, and gently pull apart its roots, leaving as many intact as possible. Then, replant the divided prairie smoke whenever you desire. Division is best in the early spring or fall. Besides providing you with new plants, division also can help to renew a mature plant's vigor.

How to Grow Prairie Smoke From Seed

Prairie smoke can be started from seed both outdoors and inside. Plant seeds outdoors in the fall. Or start seeds indoors in the late winter, beginning with a four- to six-week stratification period (a period of chilling and warming). Then, plant them in a seed-starting mix, and keep the growing medium lightly moist as seedlings develop. Once seedlings are a few inches high with an established root system, start bringing them outdoors for progressively longer stretches. After that, they will be ready to plant in the garden.