Not every gardener would jump at the chance to tend to a highly poisonous plant. Although, in the case of the notorious monkshood plant, they’d be missing out on something special. This dramatically drooping species is a beautiful bloomer and surprisingly low maintenance. It just happens to be a killer when ingested. It’s the reason many gardeners steer clear of monkshood, assuming its deep blue petals and tall, regal looking stalks are just not worth the risk. The truth is more mundane. Yes, this particular species is poisonous but so are many plants common to gardens. With careful handling, monkshood can be a vibrant and safe addition to your outdoor space. Let’s take a closer look at the monkshood plant and the type of care it needs to thrive.
The Obligatory Warning
Monkshood poisoning is extremely rare. But safety precautions are needed when handling this species. Wear gardening gloves when in contact with any part of the plant. Always wash hands thoroughly after contact and avoid eating, drinking and smoking until you’ve done so. Needless to say, monkshood is not a suitable choice if children or pets are known to spend time in your garden. However, if you’re confident all contact will be safe and carefully controlled, there’s no reason to avoid it. Plant and tend to it with confidence.
Providing the Right Amount of Light
The monkshood plant is capable of growing in full and partial shade conditions. The species does prefer moist ground so place your plants in partial shade if possible. If you live in a very hot and dry climate, it’s important to provide a spot that gets cooler for at least some time during the afternoons. If growing in shade, consider staking the plants.
Growing to a Grand Old Age
If you care for your plants correctly, you’ll have monkshood’s distinctive blue ‘cowls’ in your garden for a long time to come. These are very long living plants and they can grow to a maximum height of five feet. They have the potential to spread for approximately one and a half feet when mature. Although, it should be noted, this can take a long time. Monkshood is resilient and enduring, but it needs time and patience to achieve its full majesty. The bloom window for this species begins in mid to late summer and ends as winter approaches.
Advice for Gardeners Growing Monkshood Plants
Monkshood is partial to slightly acidic soil conditions. However, it is known to grow in other types of ground if they are moderately moist, with plenty of nutrients and good drainage conditions. Most gardeners choose not to seed monkshood. It can be remarkably fussy and, in some cases, ends up taking a year or more to sprout. It’s much easier to begin with a young plant. If you’re keen to germinate, sow more seeds than you think you need. The more you sow, the better your chance of getting a successful sprout. The best time to sow monkshood seeds is between autumn and the first week of spring. Unlike most plants, this species actually benefits from cold weather when young. Colder temperatures help prepare the seeds for activity after a period of dormancy. If possible, sow your seeds directly in the ground outside. Monkshood is fussy in the early stages and often reacts poorly to transplantation.
One important thing to note about this plant is its ephemeral nature. It is known to bloom, vanish and repeat, particularly during its first year of life. If your beautiful blue flowers pop up and promptly disappear, don’t worry – they’ll be back. When it comes to planting cuttings, try to do it in spring or autumn. At the very least, wait until the summer is over or you risk killing off vulnerable young plants.
Risks and Dangers to Watch Out For
Monkshood does not require manual division for growth purposes. It can survive and thrive just fine if sown and raised correctly. You can divide it to create more plants but take extra care when handling the roots. They are very fragile. And don’t forget to safeguard your own health by wearing suitable gloves. This species, once mature, is relatively low maintenance. Unsurprisingly, animals steer well clear of its toxic leaves. So, you don’t have to worry about uninvited garden visitors gnawing on your plants, even if you live in a very rural environment. Although, do be on the lookout for rust and bacterial leaf spot – monkshood can fall prey to both of these diseases.