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What Is A Rocky Mountain Bee Plant – Learn About Rocky Mountain Cleome Care

What Is A Rocky Mountain Bee Plant – Learn About Rocky Mountain Cleome Care


By: Mary Ellen Ellis

While this native plant is considered weedy, many people see it more as a wildflower and some choose to cultivate it for its pretty flowers and to attract pollinators. With some Rocky Mountain bee plant info, you can determine if this annual will grow well in your garden and improve the health of your local bees.

What is a Rocky Mountain Bee Plant?

Rocky Mountain bee plant (Cleome serrulata) is native to the north and central states and the Rocky Mountain region of the U.S. It is considered a weedy annual, but it is also a useful plant that some people are interested in cultivating. Probably the most important reason to grow it today is to attract bees or provide a source of nectar for beekeepers. But, in the past, Native Americans cultivated this plant for the edible seeds and young leaves, as a medicine, and as a dye plant.

The erect and branched Rocky Mountain bee plant grows to a height of about three feet (one meter). It produces clusters of pinkish purple to white flowers all the way from late spring through early fall depending on the location. They have striking, long stamens that protrude well beyond the petals. The flowers make it one of the showier wildflowers in its native region.

How to Grow Rocky Mountain Bee Plants

Growing Rocky Mountain bee plants is easiest if your garden is in its native range, but it is possible to cultivate it outside this area. It prefers light and sandy soil that drains well, but the pH of the soil is not important. If you have heavy soil, lighten it up first with sand or loam. It grows in full sun or light shade.

Rocky Mountain cleome care is not difficult if you have the right conditions for it. Make sure you water it regularly after getting the plant in the ground and let it develop a good root system. Once it has, you shouldn’t need to water it unless you have a dry period.

You can propagate these cleome plants by seed, or remove the dead flowers to keep it from self-sowing.

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Ready to see beneficial birds, butterflies, moths, and bees flocking to your yard? Replacing your grass with drought-tolerant plants is definitely the best place to start ! Once you’ve made the choice to make your yard home to a whole host of pollinators, you’ll need to make sure you have a water source for all of the pollinators who will be visiting as well as a protected, sunny area in which your pollinator-friendly plants will live. Once you’ve checked those boxes, it’s all about choosing the right plants!

When it comes to making pollinators happy , there are a few flowers that truly shine. We narrowed down our favorite plants for pollinators so you can watch as your yard becomes a pollinator’s paradise.

  1. White Coneflower Echinacea purpurea

Attracts: Birds and butterflies. A must-have for the backyard butterfly garden, White Coneflower is native to the prairies and meadows of central and southeastern United States, but is so low-maintenance that it is a favorite of many Colorado gardeners. This adaptable wildflower tolerates drought, heat and low-fertility soil. If you’d like to see more birds and butterflies in your garden, you should definitely consider planting White Coneflower.

You’ll find White Coneflower in the Xeric Greatest Hits and Bees ‘n’ Blooms gardens.

  1. Garden Sage Salvia officinalis

Attracts: Bees and butterflies. Want to make a whole lot of pollinators happy and have a delicious fresh herb on hand all summer long? Plant some Garden Sage (a.k.a. common sage and culinary sage). Garden Sage is a delicious culinary herb with a strong aroma and beautiful lavender flowers. Sage is a drought-tolerant plant that is super easy to grow in Colorado. Plus, it’s irresistible to bees and chefs alike.

Find a variety of sages (Salvia spp.) in many of our gardens .

  1. Native Bee Balm Monarda fistulosa

Attracts: Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Bee Balm is well known to gardeners for its ability to attract bees – hence the common name. But when you garden in Colorado, you need to be careful about the type of Bee Balm that you choose, because most varieties need more moisture than they can get in a xeric garden. Native Bee Balm, however, is perfect for a low-maintenance, drought-tolerant, full-sun garden in the dry heat of Colorado. It’s quite xeric once established, and the showy lavender flowers attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds in droves.

You’ll find Native Bee Balm in the Alpine Glow and Native Meadows gardens.

  1. Rocky Mountain Penstemon Penstemon strictus

Attracts: Bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and birds. When you have a Rocky Mountain Penstemon (or Beardtongue) in your garden, you’ll often see the rear end of a bee sticking out of one of the bright purple flowers. Rocky Mountain Penstemon is an easy-to-grow, drought-tolerant favorite in many Garden in a Box gardens because it’s a native to the foothills and mountains of Colorado. Choosing a native Colorado flower like Rocky Mountain Penstemon is always wise when planning a xeric garden, and even better when choosing plants that pollinators will love.

You’ll find Rocky Mountain Penstemon in the Summer Dreams garden and Alpine Glow garden .

  1. Sunset Hyssop Agastache rupestris

Attracts: Butterflies and hummingbirds. If you love hummingbirds, then you’ll love the Sunset Hyssop (aka licorice hummingbird mint). The orange, tubular flowers have evolved to make hummingbirds happy, and boy do they make gardeners happy, too! Sunset Hyssop blooms in the hot, dry days of late summer, offering a much-needed nectar source when other perennials have stopped blooming. Native to the mountains of Arizona and New Mexico, this hummingbird mint needs very little water to thrive.

Sunset Hyssop can be found in the Bees ‘n’ Blooms garden .

Even a small pollinator garden can help bees, butterflies, and birds thrive in your area, so start planting! To make a truly beneficial pollinator garden, you need a water source, a sunny area with windbreaks, and a garden that offers year-round blooms for pollinators to visit. Native Colorado flowers are great for native bees, and non-native flowers like sage will be smothered in bees come midsummer, as well. All Garden in a Box pre-planned gardens are pollinator friendly , so check them out today.


How to Grow Cleomes

Averaging 3 to 4 feet in height, cleomes provide a welcome tall focal point in the annual garden, where compact bedding plants tend to rule. The pink, purple, white, and lavender flowers complement many garden designs while pleasing visiting pollinators as well. Spider flowers do not emit a noticeable fragrance, yet hummingbirds and butterflies are drawn to these flowers all summer long. An additional unusual but welcome visitor to these flower clusters is the hummingbird moth, which looks so much like a hummingbird as it darts about at twilight you will do a double-take.​

Cleome flowers are easy to start in the garden from seed. Perhaps too easy, as the plants can self-seed to the point of being a nuisance. The seeds need light to germinate, so you can just sprinkle them in the garden after the danger of frost is past, and look for seedlings after 10 days. Alternatively, sow them in the autumn, and they will germinate when conditions are just right in your the following growing season.

If you do allow the plants to self-seed, thin the newly emerging seedlings to allow at least 18 inches between plants. This improves the vigor of individual plants, encouraging the most blossoms from each plant. If you want to limit cleome’s self-seeding habit, spend time each week plucking the long seed pods that form under the flowers throughout the season.

Once started, the plant seems to take care of itself. What is more, the upright stalks need no staking. This plant shrugs off pests and diseases.


When I think about growing plants from seed, I usually think about my vegetable garden. I direct-sow many types of these seeds, such as beans, carrots, and squash. I follow the planting directions on the packet (which may occasionally include soaking seeds in water for a few hours), and, voila, an edible garden appears shortly thereafter.

While that technique will work for some other types of plants, propagating native plants from seed isn’t always quite that easy.

These Scott’s clematis (Clematis scottii, Zones 4–7) seeds have been collected in fall and need to be cleaned before planting. Photo: Michelle Provaznik

Seed sources

Many of our local nurseries and garden centers sell native seeds, sometimes in wildflower packets or in single species packets. Be sure to check the wildflower packets to make sure you are only getting Mountain West natives sometimes these packets contain other varieties. For many of these packets, you will be able to directly sow the seeds into your garden following the directions provided.

You may also choose to collect your own seed. To do this, start by making sure the seed is ripe (typically, flowers have died back by this time). Cut the dried flowers or seed heads, and store them in paper bags until you are ready to clean them, making sure to mark each bag clearly with the type of flower that’s in it. Store these bags in a cool, dry place until you’re ready to clean or prepare the seeds for planting.

Breaking dormancy

Native plants in the Mountain West have adapted to our climate with its cold, snowy winters, and many have built-in seed dormancies to keep them from sprouting at the incorrect time, which is easy to do in our variable climate. This is especially true for perennials and woody plants. Fortunately, there are a couple of techniques that can be used at home to “wake up” our native plant seeds.

Scarification. This method is for use on seeds with very hard coats that prevent moisture from entering. It requires physically abrading the seed, either with sandpaper or by nicking it with a knife (this is better for larger seeds). Lupines (Lupinus spp. and cvs., Zones 3–9) and purple poppy mallow (Callirhoe involucrata, Zones 4–8) are two common plants that require this method. Other scarification methods include soaking the seed overnight in water or even soaking it in very warm water.

These seeds have been placed in flats filled with growing medium and are ready to move outside for stratification. Photo: Michelle Provaznik

Stratification. This technique mimics the effect of our winters and requires both cold and moisture. There are a couple of different ways to do this. The first is to put some potting mix or sand in a plastic bag and add a little water and medium, just until the mixture is moist. Add the seeds and mix again. Refrigerate for four to eight weeks (each variety is different, but this will work for most).

Another way to implement stratification is to directly sow seeds into containers (a flat works well for multiple plants) and water. Place the containers outside on the north side of the house or fence so that they stay shaded and colder. Hopefully, they will be covered with snow for most of the season. This will allow nature to do the work of chilling the seeds, and the plants should germinate as the weather warms.

Coneflowers (Echinacea spp. and cvs., Zones 3–9), fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium syn. Epilobium angusitfolium, Zones 2–7), and Rocky Mountain bee plant (Cleome serrulata var. angusta, annual) all need to be stratified for successful germination.

Prepare the pots you need for planting before you sow your seeds. Photo: Michelle Provaznik

Planting

How and when to plant seeds is dependent upon the variety, the space you want to plant them in, and the time of year you want to plant them.

Direct-sowing into the soil can occur in spring or fall. Annuals do well planted in springtime. You may want to sow longer-lived perennials in autumn, as most need cold and moisture to germinate. Direct-sowing is most efficient for large planting areas.

Sowing into containers gives you more control over the number of plants and is effective with larger plants. It also helps you transport seedlings to plant in the garden.

Make sure to time your seed starting based on when you’d like to transplant the seedlings. Photo: Karen Beaty

Learn more

There are some excellent resources for starting Mountain West native plants from seed. Visit your state’s native plant society website, or Western Native Seed.

If you’d like to learn more about how nurseries grow native plants, check out Raising Native Plants in Nurseries: Basic Concepts by the USDA’s Rocky Mountain Research Station.

For some great Mountain West native plant candidates to start from seed, read on here:

And for even more information on growing all sorts of different plants from seed, see our All About Starting Seeds collection.

—Michelle Provaznik is executive director of the Gardens on Spring Creek in Fort Collins, Colorado.

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