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How to Care for a Potentilla Plant

Beautiful bright yellow potentilla flowers blooming in the garden

Genus Potentilla

Once you learn all about the genus potentilla, you’ll wonder how your garden ever survived without these superbly resilient, versatile, hardy, and carefree plants. Gardeners love them because they can be used in nearly any garden application.

The genus potentilla is comprised of around 300 species of various annuals, biennials, and perennials. They are all part of the rose botanical family (rosaceae) and have many varying growth habits, depending on the species.

Though they’re formally known as potentilla, they are more commonly referred to as shrubby cinquefoil, bush cinquefoil, five fingers, silverweed, tormentils, or barren strawberries. They get that last nickname due to their fruit that resemble strawberries, but are actually tiny, inedible nuts!

Potentillas are superbly popular landscaping plants, and they can be used in many different applications. They’re amazing as a hedge plant, they’ll thrive as a border plant or mass planting bedding plant, and they can even be used in rock gardens and as facer plants.

Another great thing about them is their tolerance. They are tolerant to all sorts of harsh conditions that other plants hate, like salty air, drought, and pollution. This makes them ideal for planting in urban environments or beachfront properties.

What do Potentilla Plants Look Like?

Lovely light pink potentilla flowers growing in a shrubby habit

Growth Habit

Part of the reason why gardeners love potentilla plants so much comes from the fact that each species has such a different growth habit, and they can be used in so many different applications.

Potentillas can grow as super low growing, ground cover style plants of only a few inches tall, all the way up to a large shrub of 4 feet in height. Species will usually have woody and branching stems.

These plants also grow from very sturdy root systems. This is something that makes them amazing for foundation planting in areas that may have eroded soil. Their sturdy and wide spreading roots are fantastic to prevent soil erosion from occurring.

Leaves

The overall leaf shape of a potentilla plant will vary according to species. There are some that have a palmate leaf shape, whereas others will be comprised of 3 or more leaflets.

Their refined foliage is another feature that likens them to strawberry plants, especially the low growing variety. One thing that they all usually have in common is have a very serrated edge, giving them a fine texture.

Foliage can vary slightly in color as well, with some being a brighter glossy green, whereas others will have dark green foliage. Many species are evergreen, meaning they have leaves that will remain green and persist all year long.

Flowers

Gardeners also love potentilla plants because of their very long lasting blooms. They are said to start their bloom season in the very early spring/late spring and last all the way through autumn until the first frost of the season.

Potentilla flowers are quite petite and are usually only comprised of 5, small, rounded flower petals. They are saucer shaped and sometimes they will grow double flowers. A potentilla flower is usually yellow, but there are some that are yellow, pink, red, and sometime white flowers.

What are some Potentilla Species?

Bright saucer shaped potentilla flowers of white blooming in the garden

Shrubby Cinquefoil (Potentilla Fruticosa/Dasiphora Fruticosa)

Also known as the golden hardhack, shrubby fivefinger, or bush cinquefoil, potentilla fruticosa is a deciduous flowering shrub that is native to the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere.

When found growing wild, they will commonly be found growing at higher altitudes in a breezy mountain meadow or at a forest edge. They prefer dry, rocky soil.

Dasiphora fruticosa can be identified by its buttercup shaped yellow flowers and pinnately arranged, serrated leaves. They grow to be anywhere from 3 to 40 inches tall.

Common Silverweed (Potentilla Anserina)

The common silverweed goes by a couple of other names, including silver cinquefoil, and just silverweed. Potentilla anserina is a perennial flowering plant that is native throughout the northern hemisphere.

When growing wild, it is often found inhabiting more moist, grassy habitats like along roadsides, in meadows and open fields.

Potentilla anserina can be identified by is low growing growth habit. It is a herbaceous plant with creeping stolons, saw toothed foliage, and bright yellow flowers that bloom in the early summer.

Common Tormentil (Potentilla Erecta)

Also known as septfoil or erect cinquefoil, the common tormentil is a herbaceous perennial plant that is native to Europe and the western parts of Asia.

P erecta can be growing wild in the dry mountains, around sand dunes in sandy soil, and on other dry sites.

P erecta can be identified by its obovate shaped dark green foliage with serrated edges. They also bear bright yellow flowers that last all spring, summer, and fall.

Where is Potentilla a Native Plant?

Gorgeous bright yellow potentilla flowers growing wild in the alpine

One of the most helpful things that I discovered as a gardener is that by learning where a species is a native plant, it would allow me to better understand how to keep them happy outside of their natural growing range.

This process is pretty easy when it comes to potentilla plants, because they grow all throughout the northern hemisphere in temperate climates. The main thing to remember is that they avoid the south because they dislike summers that are exceptionally hot and humid.

Potentilla plants can grow outdoors all year long in USDA zones 2 through 8, but should be brought indoors in the off seasons in all other zones. They are super happy when growing in North America, throughout Canada (especially in British Columbia) and the more northern states.

What are the Ideal Growing Conditions of Potentilla Plants?

Now that we know all of the basic information about potentilla plants, it’s time for your to learn just how easy potentilla care really is! Caring for a potentilla can super easily be incorporated into your regular gardening routine. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Lovely potentilla bush growing in the sun with red blooms

Soil Type

Since potentilla plants seem to grow in all sorts of different habitats in the wild, it is safe to assume that they can tolerate a bunch of different soil types. However, there are some characteristics that will keep the plant super happy.

It is best that the soil is moderately fertile, slightly alkaline, and superbly well draining. Luckily there is something very easy that you can do to amend your soil and accomplish all of these things.

Compost! Incorporating some compost at the beginning of the growing season to your soil will achieve the right level of acidity, it will increase the nutrient content, and improve the drainage of your soil as well!

Water Level

Something that potentilla plants really enjoy is being moist. Maintaining moist soil is best done by checking if the soil 2 inches under the surface is moist by dipping your finger. You always want to avoid waterlogged or wet soil.

Watering should occur if the soil is still dry 2 inches below the soil. Though they are drought tolerant plants, they will bloom very enthusiastically when kept properly moist. Ensure that they are receiving about an inch of water a week, either from natural precipitation or supplemental watering.

Sun Exposure

Though they are fairly adaptable, potentilla plants are sun loving. This means that they will do their absolute best when they are growing in a location that receives a minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight per day.

There are some species that are able to tolerate partial shade, but this can sometimes result in a less enthusiastic blooming season, or in a leggy growth habit because plants tend to grow in the direction of the sun!

That being said, if you happen to live in a region that experiences super hot and humid summers, it’s actually essential that they are graced with a period of partial shade in the heat of the afternoon sun — so try and orient your plant in an area that receives afternoon shade!

A very young potentilla plant growing from rock with white flowers

Temperature

Something superb about potentilla plants (especially to North American gardeners) is their cold hardiness. They are very tolerant to winter temperatures and to frost.

However, for as wonderful as their cold hardiness is, they are not very tolerant to excessive heat or humidity. This is why they don’t grow wild in the deep south of the United States or below.

Fertilizer

Considering their enthusiastic growth, potentilla plants are surprisingly light feeders and don’t really need fertilizer in order to thrive.

You can provide your potentilla plant with an all purpose fertilizer in the early spring, or you can simply give it some compost, or layer the soil with mulch or wood chips. These will decay and provide nutrients, and will also help maintain soil moisture!

Pruning

The moist maintenance that your potentilla plant will require from you is pruning. They can easily be trained into any shape that you want if you start maintaining their shape rather early on.

It is best to prune your plant in the late winter or early spring before the new growth of the season is due. They also do not need to be deadheaded as they are self cleaning plants.

How do you Propagate a Potentilla Plant?

Low growing potentilla plant with strawberry plant-like foliage

Now that you are well equipped with all of the necessary information to keep a potentilla plant happy in your garden, on your balcony, or in a container, it is time for you to learn how to propagate one of your very own! Here are a few simple steps to get you going:

1. Potentilla plants are most successfully propagated through transplanting an established young plant. This is best done in the cooler months of the early, in the early fall/late fall or early spring.

2. Pick a spot on your property that receives plenty of sunlight and make sure the soil is amended with compost.

3. Dig a hole that is about 6-8 inches deep and around twice as large as the root ball of the plant. Each hole should be about 3-6 feet apart from one another, depending on the species and how large it grows.

4. Tease out the roots of the root ball and place it in the hole. The top of the root ball should just be level or slightly above the surface of the soil.

5. Fill the hole, tamp in down, and make sure to water it thoroughly. Soil moisture needs to be maintained as the plant is first getting established.

Potentillas are some of the best landscape plants around. Soon enough you’ll have the sprouting all over your rock garden, garden bed, as a border plant, and don’t forget their ability for mass planting as well! Happy planting!

Amazing refined foliage of the potentilla plant

FAQs

Are potentilla plants deer resistant?

Something super great about potentilla plants is the fact that they are entirely resistant to grazing from larger pests like deer, rabbits, and squirrels.

What are the damaging agents to potentilla plants?

The most damage that a potentilla plant will face comes from being planted in soil that is packed or clay soil, or wet soil. This can result in root rot and other fungal issues.

Are potentillas annual plants or perennial plants?

With over 300 different species in the genus potentilla, they are bound to have varying growth habits. There are some that are grown as annuals (that will perish after a single flowering season), there are some that are biennials (that perish after 2 flowering seasons), and others that are perennials (that will continue to bloom year after year).

Are potentillas evergreen?

There are some potentilla species that bear evergreen flowers. This means that their refined foliage will persist and remain green all year long.

Do potentilla plants have edible flowers?

No! Potentilla plants do not have edible flowers. They also bear small fruits that resemble strawberries, but these are actually small, inedible nuts.

What is the conservation status of the potentilla shrub?

Though the conservation status of the potentilla plant is not yet endangered, there are certain species that have a show in population decline.

What is the best time of year to prune a potentilla shrub?

The best time of year to prune a potentilla plant is when the temperatures are still cold, before the spring growth of the plant is due. This is best done in the early fall/late fall, or early spring/late spring.

Can potentilla be grown in pots?

A potentilla plant can absolutely be grown in a pot or container as long as that vessel has plenty of drainage holes, and it is placed in an area that receives an adequate amount of sunlight.

Can potentilla be divided?

As long as you have a potentilla plant that is herbaceous and not woody, it can easily be divided every couple of years in the spring by dividing the root ball of the plant and transplanting it.

Where can I find potentilla seeds?

Potentilla seeds can easily be found online. A particularly great source is NETPS plant finder that not only sells seeds, but also gives planting instructions for plants as well.

Can a potentilla plant be tolerant shade?

Though they are fairly adaptable, potentilla plants are sun loving. This means that they will do their absolute best when they are growing in a location that receives a minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight per day.

There are some species that are able to tolerate partial shade, but this can sometimes result in a less enthusiastic blooming season, or in a leggy growth habit because plants tend to grow in the direction of the sun!

That being said, if you happen to live in a region that experiences super hot and humid summers, it’s actually essential that they are graced with a period of partial shade in the heat of the afternoon sun — so try and orient your plant in an area that receives afternoon shade!

How tall do potentilla shrubs get?

Part of the reason why gardeners love potentilla plants so much comes from the fact that each species has such a different growth habit, and they can be used in so many different applications.

Potentillas can grow as super low growing, ground cover style plants of only a few inches tall, all the way up to a large shrub of 4 feet in height. Species will usually have woody and branching stems.

These plants also grow from very sturdy root systems. This is something that makes them amazing for foundation planting in areas that may have eroded soil. Their sturdy and wide spreading roots are fantastic to prevent soil erosion from occurring.

When do potentilla flowers bloom?

Gardeners love potentilla plants because of their very long lasting blooms. They are said to start their bloom season in the very early spring/late spring and last all the way through autumn until the first frost of the season.

Potentilla flowers are quite petite and are usually only comprised of 5, small, rounded flower petals. They are saucer shaped and sometimes they will grow double flowers. A potentilla flower is usually yellow, but there are some that are yellow, pink, red, and sometime white flowers.

Are potentilla plants drought tolerant?

Something that potentilla plants really enjoy is being moist. Maintaining moist soil is best done by checking if the soil 2 inches under the surface is moist by dipping your finger. You always want to avoid waterlogged or wet soil.

Watering should occur if the soil is still dry 2 inches below the soil. Though they are drought tolerant plants, they will bloom very enthusiastically when kept properly moist. Ensure that they are receiving about an inch of water a week, either from natural precipitation or supplemental watering.

What USDA zones do potentilla plants grow in?

Potentilla plants can grow outdoors all year long in USDA zones 2 through 8, but should be brought indoors in the off seasons in all other zones. They are super happy when growing in North America, throughout Canada (especially in British Columbia) and the more northern states.

What is the ideal soil type for potentilla plants?

Since potentilla plants seem to grow in all sorts of different habitats in the wild, it is safe to assume that they can tolerate a bunch of different soil types. However, there are some characteristics that will keep the plant super happy.

It is best that the soil is moderately fertile, slightly alkaline, and superbly well draining. Luckily there is something very easy that you can do to amend your soil and accomplish all of these things.

Compost! Incorporating some compost at the beginning of the growing season to your soil will achieve the right level of acidity, it will increase the nutrient content, and improve the drainage of your soil as well!

Why are my potentilla leaves turning yellow?

If the leaves of your potentilla plant are turning yellow, that usually means that there is not enough iron in the soil that they are planted in.

Do potentilla plants need to be fertilized?

Considering their enthusiastic growth, potentilla plants are surprisingly light feeders and don’t really need fertilizer in order to thrive.

You can provide your potentilla plant with an all purpose fertilizer in the early spring, or you can simply give it some compost, or layer the soil with mulch or wood chips. These will decay and provide nutrients, and will also help maintain soil moisture!