Globe Thistle Care: How To Grow Globe Thistle Plants
By Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Thistles thrive almost everywhere and carry a nasty sting when they contact skin. However, they have an exciting shape and come in hues that are irresistible additions to the perennial garden. Learn how to grow globe thistle perennials in this article.
Prickly subject: Alan Titchmarsh's tips on growing Eryngium
ERYNGIUM is a late-summer star that’s easy to grow – simply scatter seeds on to well-drained soil.
Eryngiums will enrich your borders
When you subscribe we will use the information you provide to send you these newsletters. Sometimes they'll include recommendations for other related newsletters or services we offer. Our Privacy Notice explains more about how we use your data, and your rights. You can unsubscribe at any time.
The first half of the 20th century was a particularly rich time for lady gardeners. It was then that the great colour schemer Gertrude Jekyll came to the fore, working with the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens.
Vita Sackville-West rose to prominence at Sissinghurst in the 1950s, but there was one indomitable female, in particular, who made sure she would never be forgotten – Ellen Willmott.
She gardened at Warley Place in Essex and her ghost still roams our gardens.
I’m not being fanciful because Willmott had a passion for eryngiums – relatives of our native sea holly, Eryngium maritimum. Her particular fancy was for Eryngium giganteum and wherever she went, she made sure she had a handful of seeds in the pocket of her voluminous skirts of black bombazine.
Surreptitiously she would scatter a handful in every garden she visited, knowing that a year or so later – the plant is a biennial, growing one year and flowering the next – the eryngiums would flower their socks off and the garden’s owner would wonder where they had come from.
Alas, Willmott is no longer with us, but you can have her ghost in your garden if you get hold of your own handful of eryngium seeds, scatter them on to any patch of well-drained soil and rake them in.
Although Eryngium giganteum is a biennial and dies after flowering, you will have plenty of progeny thanks to the generosity of its seeding. But there are other eryngiums that are great for the late-summer garden and which are reliably perennial. And many of them can be propagated by root cutting.
Of the many varieties on offer, it is worth seeking out Eryngium alpinum, with its fluffy thistle heads, the variety ‘Graham Stuart Thomas’, which is a wonderful shade of electric blue, and Eryngium x oliverianum, a starry, spiny beauty.
They will enrich your borders when many other early-summer flowers are past their best and they will remind you of a ghostly lady whose floral legacy lives on thanks to a handful of seeds.
Echinops Growing and Care Guide
Common Names: Globe Thistle: Great Pale Russian.
Life Cycle: Hardy perennial.
Height: 20 to 60 inches (50 to 150 cm).
Native: Europe, west and central Asia, Northern Africa.
Growing Region: Zones 3 to 9.
Flowers: Species dependent: Summer and/or autumn.
Flower Details: White, purple, blue-grey. Globes.
Foliage: Herbaceous. Spiny. Lobed. Sharp.
Sow Outside: Cover seed. Following the last frost. Spacing 24 to 36 inches (60 to 90 cm).
Sow Inside: Germination time: two weeks to two months. Temperature: 65 to 75°F (18 to 24°C). Three weeks before expected last frost. Transplant outdoors following the last frost.
Requirements and care: Full sunlight or partial shade. Good drainage. Soil pH 5.5 to 7.0/ Any type of soil. Regular watering during dry periods. Provide support for taller varieties. Cut back to the ground in autumn. Plants last for about three years before losing vigour. Propagate Echinops: in spring by taking root cuttings or by dividing in autumn in warmer areas.
Miscellaneous: Invasive weed in many parts of Northern America.
The Problem with Non-Native Thistles
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) infestation in Clackamas County
On the other hand, non-native thistles can overrun an area and displace native plants, reduce agricultural yield, and create problems for grazing animals when they infest a field or pasture. They also cost a lot of money and time to control. One of the struggles with controlling thistles is that it can be difficult to distinguish between them. We are here to help!
Bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) is a common roadside thistle with dark bluish-green, deeply lobed prickly leaves and pinkish-purple blossoms. Like other true thistles, it's a biennial, blooming in its second year. Where it become invasive it can often be controlled by repeated mowing before the plant forms blossoms or seeds.
- Canadian thistle (Circium arvense) is an invasive weed that spreads rapidly and can infest pastures and gardens.
- Where it become invasive it can often be controlled by repeated mowing before the plant forms blossoms or seeds.
How to grow echinops
Find out all you need to know about growing echinops (globe thistle), in this detailed Grow Guide.
Do not Plant in September
Plant does not flower in January
Plant does not flower in February
Plant does not flower in March
Plant does not flower in April
Plant does not flower in May
Plant does not flower in June
Plant does flower in July
Plant does flower in August
Plant does not flower in September
Plant does not flower in October
Plant does not flower in November
Plant does not flower in December
Do not Divide in February
Do not Divide in December
Echinops or globe thistle, has spiky leaves and bristly, round flowerheads.
The spiny, cobwebbed leaves provide interest from spring until the striking spherical blooms appear in late summer. Echinops is best at the back of a border and looks good combined with other late summer-flowering plants such as cardoon and echinacea or tall miscanthus grasses. It’s also well suited to growing in gravel gardens and wildlife areas as it’s a magnet for bees and other pollinating insects.
Take a look at our start-to-finish guide to growing echinops, below.
Where to grow echinops
Echinops originate from the Mediterranean region, so for best results grow in free-draining soil in full sun.
You can sow echinops seed in spring, either in situ or in modules, or if you buy as small plant, dig a generous hole, larger than the pot and add a handful of grit to boost drainage. Follow our step by step guide to planting perennials.
Echinops will self-seed freely and you can collect seed in autumn. Alternatively you can divide plants in autumn or spring, or take root cuttings when dormant. Follow our step-by-step guide to taking root cuttings. Some echinops can be propagated by division in spring and autumn. Watch Sarah Raven demonstrate how to divide herbaceous perennials.
Echinops: problem solving
Echinops can be prone to attracting aphids, but have no known diseases.
Caring for echinops
Echinops don’t need any special treatment other than cutting back after flowering. Sometimes, this can encourage a second flush of blooms. You may need to stake taller varieties, but only if your garden is a little more exposed and windy. If clumps become congested, lift and divide them in autumn or spring.