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POTENTILLAS FOR THE UK GARDENER


Potentillas are deciduous (lose their leaves over winter) shrubs which grow well in our climate. There are several species but almost all those sold in the UK are known as Potentilla fruticosa and these are covered by this article. In some older articles these shrubs are called Cinquefoil but this name is rarely used nowadays.

The following feature list should help you decide if a Potentilla is suited to you and your garden conditions:

HOW TO CARE FOR A POTENTILLA


Potentillas are one of the lowest maintenance shrubs and when established require no attention other than pruning to keep them to the size you want. No special techniques are required, a simple "haircut" will do them fine. If they get out of hand the best treatment is to cut them back hard and wait for them to reappear the next year.

Potentilla can in fact be pruned down very close to the ground and they will soon reappear. They may not flower as well in the first year but after that they will do fine. They can be pruned at any time of the year but September is good time if you want them to flower well the next year.

Potentillas grow best on slightly poor soil and in slightly drier than normal conditions. So don't be tempted to feed them and only water in drought conditions.

The best time to plant a newly bought potentilla is in late September in the UK. The ground will be warm and at the same time natural rainfall will supply enough water in most areas. However, they can be planted at any time when the ground is not frozen or waterlogged but in spring and summer you will need to keep them watered for the first three months until the plant is established.

Potentilla fruticosa Day Dawn

GROWING POTENTILLAS IN CONTAINERS


Potentillas can be grown in containers but they do best in the open ground. The shorter varieties make ideal rockery plants

POTENTILLA PESTS AND DISEASES


This section is almost not needed for potentillas because they very rarely suffer from any problems at all. If they are grown in water-logged conditions the roots can rot. The solution is not grow them in these conditions. If they get less than four hours of sunshine a day the flowering display will decline. If they are left totally unpruned for many years they may also fail to flower. In this case prune them back hard to a third of their size to rejuvenate them.

HOW TO PROPAGATE POTENTILLAS BY CUTTINGS


Potentillas grow most reliably from semi-ripe cuttings. The best time to do this is from July to August. Look for stems which have grown this year where the base of the stem is slightly woody but the top 10cm to 15cm (4in to 6in) is soft and green. The best stems will be at the top of the plant and fully exposed to the sun. Avoid taking cuttings from stems which have flowers on them. 

Use a sharp knife to cut off a 10cm / 4in stem just below a leaf node. Trim off lower leaves so that only four or so remain at the top. You can dip the base of the cutting in hormone rooting powder but this is entirely optional. Fill an 8cm /3in pot with multi-purpose compost and insert the cutting into it so that at least 3cm of the stem is in the compost. It can be inserted further but you don't want the leaves to touch the compost.

Water the pot from the base, insert a marker with the variety name and date the cutting was taken. Cover the pot with a plastic bag which is kept off the leaves. Keep the cuttings in a light place but not in direct sunlight. The bag should be removed after four weeks at which stage the cuttings will have begun to root. Keep the cutting in the same pot over winter in a light, frost free position such as a greenhouse or against a heated house wall.

In spring the next year, pot the plant up into a larger pot (15cm / 6in) and let it grow on. Keep well watered. In early September the potentilla can then be planted in its final position outside or into a larger pot.

GROWING POTENTILLA FROM SEED


Almost all the Potentilla fruticosa for sale nowadays are crosses between varieties. The seeds will not come true to type and this is one of the reasons that they are not normally sold. 

Another complication is that the flowers are dioecious. This means that each flower is either female or male and that any individual plant will only produce all female or all male flowers. To produce viable seed you will need two plants, one producing female flowers and one producing male flowers.

Combining the two features above explains why producing new potentillas from seed is best left to the experts. The best method of producing new potentilla plants is from cuttings as described in the previous section.

DIFFERENT VARIETIES OF POTENTILLA


When choosing a variety of potentilla the two key difference to look for are size at maturity and the colour of the flowers. The list below shows some of the most popular varieties In alphabetic order:

ABBOTSWOOD - has an RHS Award of Garden Merit. Height and spread 75cm / 2ft 6in. White flowers over a longer than normal period of time.

Potentilla Abbotswood
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Potentilla Abbotwood

DAYDAWN - our favourite potentilla because of the delicate shades of pink and yellow of the flowers. Height and spread 75cm / 2ft 6in.

GOLDFINGER - Golden yellow flowers which retain their bright colour even in full sun. This is a tall variety at 1.2m / 4ft and a spread of 75cm / 2ft 6in.

Potentilla flower closeup
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HOPLEY'S ORANGE - has an RHS Award of Garden Merit. Height and spread 75cm / 2ft 6in. Attractive yellow and orange flowers. A bushy variety.

PINK BEAUTY - one of the prettiest flowers, pink with white edges. Height and spread 75cm / 2ft 6in.

RED ACE - probably the the reddest of all the potentilla flowers with a yellow-gold centre. Height and spread of 60cm / 2ft. The flowers can fade to orange if in full sun.

MEDICINE WHEEL MOUNTAIN - has an RHS Award of Garden Merit. Height 30cm / 1ft spread 1m / 3ft. Deep yellow flowers, ideal as a rockery plant.

RED ROBIN - sometimes called Marian Red Robin, has an RHS Award of Garden Merit. Maximum height and spread of 1m / 3ft. Flowers start off as red but fade to orange if in full sun. A good variety for partial shade.

Potentilla Red Robin

The GardenFocused approved online supplier of Potentilla Red Robin is Crocus. Click here to view their informative page about this variety.

WILLIAM ROLLINSON - has an RHS Award of Garden Merit. Height 60cm / 2ft, spread 45cm / 18 in. Semi-double red flowers.

POTENTILLA SUMMARY


Below we list the key strengths and weaknesses of Potentillas.
 
HARDY 4 star hardiness rating(to -12°C)
   
CLAY SOIL Yes
SANDY SOIL Yes 
   
DRY SOIL Yes
   
SHADE No, partial, full sun
   
EVERGREEN No
   
EASY CARE 5 easy care rating
SMALL GARDENS Yes
   
POT / CONTAINER Yes
   
FLOWERING 4 star flowering rating
   
FLOWER TIME June to September

Other shrubs in this series include Camellias, Choisya, Hebe, Skimmia, Mock Orange, Lilacs, Magnolia, Mahonia, Potentilla and Rose of Sharon (hibiscus syriacus) all with pictures, full care and pruning instructions.


Sometimes our readers ask specific questions which are not covered in the main article above. Our new
Potentilla comment / question and answer page
lists their comments, questions and answers. At the end of that page there is also a form for you to submit any new question or comment you have.