Chelone (Turtlehead)–Late Summer Plant Fix

It's obvious why the common name for Chelone is turtlehead

I’ve had Chelone in my garden for as long as I’ve lived here.  In fact, it is one of the first perennials I planted almost 18 years ago.  I have a second clump divided from the first and pieces have gone home with friends over the years.  One thing that definitely describes it: well-behaved.  “Oh, ho hum”, you might say; but in this garden world of self-seeding, wide-spreading, disease-prone and floppy plants, that’s a compliment indeed. 

My first clump is in dry soil and morning sun and has the job of shading the roots of Clematis rubra ‘Album’–no stranger to root competition.  The second clump thrives in saturated, clay soil next to my pond with roots still in standing water after an unusually long and wet spring.  The nearly 4’, stiffly upright plants are flowering now; the flower shape looks exactly like a turtle’s head.  Dark and blemish-free, the foliage is a nice foil to the lighter perennials surrounding it, though the clump in dry soil does have a few crispy leaf tips on close inspection. 

Until recently I was unaware that Chelone species hail from the southeastern United States.  Strange, it doesn’t seem to mind our cool summers.  The species of my Chelone is undetermined—it resembles both C. lyonii and C. obliqua and so it may be a hybrid of the two. 

I love this plant even though the flowers are mauve—my least favorite color on earth.  Its blooming companions are white gladiolas, Echinops (globe thistle) and Eryngium (sea holly).  Whites and blues are good compatriots as it doesn’t quiet “go” with pinks or lavenders.  Easy, reliable and uncommon in this part of the country for some silly reason, it also makes a heavenly cut flower.  Chelone is a first class perennial.

© Colleen Miko, 2011

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About Colleen Miko

Colleen Miko is a certified professional horticulturist with 20 years experience in landscape design who has designed award winning gardens for the NW Flower & Garden Show as well as HGTV’s “Landscaper’s Challenge”. Colleen is freelance garden writer and speaker.
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2 Responses to Chelone (Turtlehead)–Late Summer Plant Fix

  1. Roula Idriss says:

    Hi. I live up north, way up north in Montreal, Canada. I recently saw the turtlehead and loved the fact that it puts out such pretty flowers in the fall. I planted three of them in my flower bed underneath a tree that allows for partial shade along with other plants. I wanted to know if there are any winterizing instructions for this plant as it seems too dainty to withstand the heavy snow that will be covering it over the winter (anywhere from 18″ to 34″). Does it need to be cut back? Any tips would be greatly appreciated. Thank you

    • Colleen Miko says:

      I am not sure what climate zone you live in there in Montreal, but I do know that Chelone is hardy to USDA xone 5 and is native to the southeastern US. I do cut mine back every year, sometimes in fall, but in colder climates than our mild western washington, it might be a good idea to let the dead foliage and stems remain over the winter to protect the crown from cold. Snow would cause the dead stems to collapse, but might provide a sheltering “tent” over the crown. SInce I am unfamiliar with your climate, I suggest you go to a local independent nursery center and ask them about your turtlehead. Good luck!

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