By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Growing Pasque flowers as part of a meadow wildflower display, in containers or as part of a border, allows for an advance glimpse of springtime’s promise and a reminder of the tenacity of wild flora. Learn about Pasque flowers and cultivate these gems in your own landscape.
Pasque flower (Pulsatilla patens syn. Anemone patens) is the state flower of South Dakota and found across much of the northern United States. It is a prairie flower with an early appearance in spring, often peeking out of the snow. Pasque flowers appear in March and stay through April. The flowers are the first players on the stage, to be followed later by their foliage. Pasque flowers are perennial herbs also known as prairie smoke, goslinweed and prairie crocus. They are also linked to Easter, as the blooms are generally found at their peak during this holy time.
Pasque flowers in the garden are ideal for rockeries, beds and containers. The flowers are usually blue to periwinkle, but sometimes take on tones closer to purple. There are also some white blooming plants. Flowers start out as upright, bell-shaped blooms and then become nodding flowers as they mature. The late arriving foliage has fine white hairs sprinkled across the surface of each leaf, giving the impression of silvery tinges.
The native forms are found dancing across rocky landscapes and rough terrain in prairies. They are drought tolerant and grow in clumps in full sun. Truly terrible soils to rich, juicy loam are the best locations for Pasque flower cultivation. In other words, the plants are not fussy and perform well as long as the soil is well draining.
You can find starts at native garden centers or extension plant sales. You can also order the seeds and sow them inside six weeks before the date of the last frost. Seed heads are showy and should be harvested when ripe and stored in a dry location until time to sow.
Stem cuttings are a quicker way to achieve mature plants. Winter is the best time to take cuttings when foliage has died back and the plant is not actively growing. Situate the plants in a sunny location with little competition from other species.
As a wildflower, Pasque flowers are hardy and self-sufficient. Their only complaint is sodden soil and water logging. The plants will self-seed and eventually produce a field of the lovely blooms if allowed to self perpetuate. Provide water only in cases of extended drought for Pasque flowers in the garden. Pasque flower care in containers will require supplemental water, but allow the surface of the soil to dry out in between irrigations.
Pasque flowers are not heavy feeders but container plants do benefit from an early season liquid plant food. The plants need a winter dormancy period to bloom successfully in spring. For this reason, growing Pasque flowers in USDA plant hardiness zones 9 and above is not recommended.
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Not only the blossoms, but also the seed heads of the Pasque flower are a real feast for the eyes in the bed. This is how you plant and care for the delicate perennial.
I picked and planted seeds in a pot from a pasque flower (Pulsatilla vulgaris) this summer. They are growing and are about 3 inches tall now. How do I keep them alive over the winter. Do I plant them in the garden or keep them in the pot in the house?
Michigan is well into fall now and winter is right around the corner. That means your pasque flower seedlings won’t have enough time to establish themselves in the garden soil before a hard freeze. It would be best to maintain this as a houseplant through the winter. In his book Herbaceous Perennial Plants, Allan Armitage recommends that propagation by fresh seed is the best. Pasque flower seeds go dormant soon after maturity. This means the seed you picked could have been directly planted in the garden, giving it time to establish a viable root system to carry it through the winter. Pasque flower, in general, does not transplant well. Established plants can be carefully divided, but there are no guarantees.
So enjoy your pasque flower this winter as a houseplant. You can gather seed and continue the chain of propagation with new seedlings that can mature and produce seed in time for next spring when you can directly sow them in frost-free soil. They love full sun and good drainage. They are excellent rock garden candidates, and thrive in moderate summer temperatures and low humidity.
Pasque flower blooms for 4 to 6 weeks in spring with fuzzy flower buds that open to 1.5-inch-wide purple flowers that dance in the breeze. Fuzzy, feathery seedheads take up the dance when the blooms end. By then, the felted leaves have pushed up to produce a lacy gray-green backdrop.
Noteworthy CharacteristicsLong blooming period in spring. Beautiful flowers and interesting seedheads. Self-sowing yields smaller plants that can be moved mature plants have long taproots and resent transplanting.
CarePrefers full sun and well-drained, neutral or alkaline soil.
PropagationSow seed as soon as ripe in containers in an open frame. Take root cuttings in winter.
ProblemsSlugs and snails may eat new growth.
Drought-tolerant suitable for xeriscaping
USDA Zone 2a: to -45.5 °C (-50 °F)
USDA Zone 2b: to -42.7 °C (-45 °F)
USDA Zone 3a: to -39.9 °C (-40 °F)
USDA Zone 3b: to -37.2 °C (-35 °F)
USDA Zone 4a: to -34.4 °C (-30 °F)
USDA Zone 4b: to -31.6 °C (-25 °F)
USDA Zone 5a: to -28.8 °C (-20 °F)
USDA Zone 5b: to -26.1 °C (-15 °F)
USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 °C (-10 °F)
USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 °C (-5 °F)
This plant is attractive to bees, butterflies and/or birds
This plant is said to grow outdoors in the following regions:
Spokane, Washington(2 reports)
On Jun 30, 2010, Beachelle from Long Beach, NY (Zone 7b) wrote:
I really like this plant. I see it's been grown in West Hempstead, NY, which is practically 'next door'. However, Pasque Flower has never survived a winter here in Long Beach, NY - at least for me.
On Jun 8, 2010, kmm44 from Dayton, OH wrote:
I bought this plant at a plant sale in April. I had just joined a garden club based in Englewood OH a N. suburb of Dayton . On the day of my first meeting we took a tour of the Smith Gardens in Oakwood, just S. of Dayton. There had been a plant sale the weekend before and the guide let us look at the left-overs--and made a fortune from our buys! I got the Pasque flower, baptisia (which I had been seeking for 2 yrs.), knautia macedonica, and a lovely star gazer lily.
I planted the pasque and pruned off the deadheads, not expecting more blooms till next year. Imagine my surprise when 3 weeks later a pretty red bloom appeared before I had seen new growth from the roots. I am looking forward to next year's flowers.
On Jun 7, 2010, valleyrimgirl from Brandon, MB (Zone 2b) wrote:
This little pasque flower is nicely growing in my Canadian zone 2b garden (equivalent to your US zone 3). I think the zone ratings are a way out on this one as you have it listed as a zone 5 on your site.
On Mar 21, 2010, bonehead from Cedarhome, WA (Zone 8b) wrote:
I deadhead about half of this plant after bloom, which makes for a nice seedhead show. The foliage seems to really thicken up in the fall, for a nice green texture. Some of mine are red, others are purple.
On Mar 22, 2007, berrygirl from Braselton, GA (Zone 8a) wrote:
PULSATILLA vulgaris Pasque Flower - z5-8. Short 8" - Plant 12" apart. PAPAGENO - A mixture of creamy white, bright pink, dark red, violet and blue flowers that are fringed and semi-double. As in all the Pasque Flowers, the feathery silver haired seed clusters are very decorative.
First to bloom in the spring with deep lavender flowers. Leaves and stems are textured with long silvery hairs. (previously Anemone pulsatilla.)
On Jun 23, 2004, jhyshark from Scottville, MI (Zone 4b) wrote:
Pasqueflowers are great for late spring color and interest. This one is supposed to have more than one bloom color on the same plant. As you can see, mine liked purple only this year. I'll see what the future brings! The seed heads open to a fluffy dandelion-like ball adding interest for another 10 days or so.