Where should you plant Echinops plants? What should you look out for when pruning and caring for them? Below you can find our expert tips on how to cultivate Echinops, as well as the best white and blue globe thistle varieties.
Your eyes can’t help but be drawn to globe thistles, with their stunning white, blue and purple spherical flowers. Here is a comprehensive introduction to this ornamental thistle, what it needs to thrive and some of its best varieties.
- Echinops: origin, characteristics and flowering time
- Different Echinops varieties
- How to plant Echinops
- Echinops care
- How to propagate Echinops
- Are Echinops plants poisonous?
Echinops: origin, characteristics and flowering time
All globe thistle varieties (Echinops sp.) belong to the daisy family (Asteraceae). As the name suggests, globe thistles are related to the other thistles, such as the medicinal milk thistle (Silybum marianum) or the prickly creeping thistle (Cirsium arvense). From this diverse species, four are commonly found in gardens. The southern globe thistle (Echinops ritro) is native to southern and eastern Europe. The Echinops bannaticus, also known as the blue globe thistle or the Hungarian globe thistle, is native to southeastern Europe. The glandular globe thistle (Echinops sphaerocephalus) is a Eurasian variety that grows in southern Europe, across the Caucasus mountains and into the Chinese province of Xinjiang.
Globe thistles are perennial plants and entirely winter hardy in our climate. As is common for thistle plants, they have spiky, dark green leaves that are deeply notched and serrated. In spring, these leaves initially form a rosette close to the ground. In summer, long, slightly fuzzy, silvery-white to reddish flower stalks stretch up towards the sky, adorned with a few small leaves. The many small individual flowers cluster together at the tip of the flower stalk as a round head. The petals are star-shaped and bloom in white, purple, or blue. The flowering time of the globe thistle begins in July and lasts until August or September, depending on the variety. Echinops plants are hardy perennials, and after they have withered, will grow back again the following spring. Bees, especially bumblebees, love to visit Echinops flowers, where they collect nectar and pollen. For more information on plants that attract bees, discover our list of bee-friendly perennials.
Different Echinops varieties
The globe thistle comes in different types and varieties; they differ mainly in flower colour and growth height.
Blue Echinops plants
- ‘Taplow Blue’: This blue globe thistle (Echinops bannaticus) forms lots of flower stems and blooms in an intense blue. It grows up to 1.2 metres high and is also easy to propagate.
- ‘Blue Glow’: Also belongs to the blue globe thistle species (Echinops bannaticus) and reaches a height of about one metre.
- ‘Veitch’s Blue’: This Ruthenian globe thistle grows to a height of about 50 to 80 centimetres high and has a radiant blue hue with a slight purple tinge. Additionally, this globe thistle’s leaves and flower stems have silvery-green hairs.
- ‘Platinum Blue’: Another Ruthenian globe thistle that delights with its bright sky-blue flower colour. Compared to other thistle varieties, this globe thistle only grows around 50 to 60 centimetres high.
White globe thistles
- ‘Arctic Glow’: This glandular globe thistle forms large, white-flowered spheres that contrast beautifully with its reddish stem and silvery-green leaves. They reach a height of up to one metre.
- ‘Star Frost’: This is a pure white Echinops bannaticus that bears its flower heads on light green stems at a height of about 80 centimetres.
How to plant Echinops
Globe thistles are low-maintenance and undemanding plants. They are, in short, perfect for any garden and perennial lover. Find out below which locations these unique thistles prefer and when it is best to plant them.
The right location for planting globe thistles
Echinops plants are very hardy. They are drought-tolerant and can tolerate summer heat, even in full sun locations. Echinops grow very well upright and sturdy in loose, relatively humus rich and dry soil. In locations that are too moist or rich in nutrients, the globe thistle tends to fall over. In prairie and alpine gardens, Echinops plants are a real eye-catcher that can be combined well with other drought-tolerant plants such as yarrow (Achillea millefolium), Gypsophila or various grasses. Globe thistles are often not the food of choice for pests, so there is no risk of them being eaten by slugs.
How to plant Echinops in pots and flowerbeds
Globe thistles, like most perennials, are best planted in autumn so that they can develop sufficient roots before winter and do not start their energy-sapping sprouting until the following year. Potted Echinops plants should not be overwintered outdoors because the risk of the planting container freezing completely and destroying the roots is very high. In garden beds, on the other hand, there is no danger of this, as the entire soil never fully freezes. In garden beds, keep a plant spacing of about 60 to 70cm between plants, or about two Echinops plants per square metre. Smaller and more compact Echinops varieties, such as the ‘Platinum Blue’, can be planted closer to 40 centimetres apart. In the weeks after planting, lightly water your globe thistle plants regularly.
Globe thistles are extremely easy to care for and are hardly ever affected by pests or diseases if planted in the right location. Aphids may occasionally appear on the plants, but these only rarely become a nuisance. Root rot can occur if the soil is too moist.
Pruning Echinops plants
The globe thistle is tolerant to pruning, so you can be safe in the knowledge that your shears will not to the plant any harm. Pruning may also be necessary, for example, if flower heads snap off after a storm. After pruning, Echinops flowers can be dried and used for decoration before the flowers open. Also, to prevent the uncontrolled spread of the globe thistle, cut off the wilted flower heads early, before the seeds are scattered. However, you may wish to leaves the seeds, which are rich in fat and protein, as birds like to eat them to build up reserves for winter. When pruning, always cut the flower stems at the very base of plants. As with most perennials, cut back the globe thistles completely close to the ground in autumn. The roots overwinter in the soil and sprout fresh the next spring.
Fertilising globe thistles
When it comes to soil, Echinops plants have low nutrient requirements. In very nutrient poor soils or in rock gardens, however, the globe thistle can also suffer from nutrient deficiencies which often manifest in leaf discolouration, low growth and reduced flowering. Applying fertiliser can help struggling Echinops plants immensely. Spring is the best time to fertilise perennials such as globe thistle. We recommend using a natural, slow-release fertiliser, such as our Plantura All Purpose Plant Food. Soil organisms break down the nutrients contained in these granules slowly and gently over the course of the season.
How to propagate Echinops
The easiest way to propagate the globe thistle is by division. In spring, simply cut off part of the plant at the base with a sharp spade and bury it in another spot. With this method, the plant grows easily because there is already a lot of root mass. Alternatively, in late winter when the plant is still dormant, you can use root cuttings to propagate the globe thistle. Cut the plant’s thick roots into 5 to 10cm long sections and place in moist, sandy, soil. A new plant should then begin to sprout from adventitious buds.
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It is only worthwhile to collect seeds from purely pollinated flowers that have not been cross-pollinated with other globe thistle plants standing nearby. To harvest Echinops seeds, first simply let their flowers bloom. In October, the achenes (the seeds of the globe thistle) will mature as the flower begins to dry. Now cut off the seeds, along with the flowerheads, and dry indoors.
Are Echinops plants poisonous?
Globe thistles are not poisonous, but an extraordinary ornament for every perennial garden. Insects love to visit the flowers and birds eat the rich thistle seeds in autumn.
The globe thistle is just one of the many insect-friendly plants that thrive in our gardens. Native wild bees and other important pollinators depend on varied and species-rich planting.
If you care about supporting bees and other insects in your garden, read this article to discover more insect-friendly perennials.