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How to Care for a Valerian Plant!

Gorgeous pink valerian flowers beaming in the sun

Valerian Plant

Welcome to the world of valerian plants! Valerian plants are different species who come from different botanical families but who all look very similarly in appearance. These perennial flowering plants provide all sorts of benefits to your garden.

Valerian plants get their name from the latin term, valere, which translates to “to be strong and healthy”. This comes from the plant’s long history as an herbal remedy that has been used since ancient Rome and Greece! This medicinal plant is also commonly known as garden heliotrope, all heal, or setwall plants.

Whether the dried valerian root is taken in tea form or as valerian extract, it can be used as a sleep medicine to help with a sleep disorder like insomnia. Valerenic acid is an alternative medicine also known to treat anxiety, it’s known to have a calming effect, and can alleviate menstrual symptoms as well.

Growing valerian is also amazing if you’re looking for excellent companion plants. Companion plants are plants you group together to increase soil health, attract certain insects and repel certain insects. They’re great for planting alongside lemon balm, dill, and echinacea.

Not only does this plant have a long history as an herbal remedy, but it is also gorgeous and will bring all sorts of ornamental interest to your garden. Read on to learn all there is to know about planting valerian plants!

What do Valerian Plants Look Like?

Lovely clusters of bright pink valerian flowers in the garden

Growth Habit

Starting underneath the earth, valerian plants grow from huge tuberous roots that are very sturdy and grow deep in the earth. Valerian root is commercially sold worldwide as a medicinal herb to be used in herbal medicine.

From these roots will grow super tall, branching, and spindly stems that can grow to be over 6 feet in height. Numerous stems will grow from a single root system and creates quite a dramatic above ground spread as well.

Valerians are a herbaceous perennial plant type, meaning that they will continue to produce flower blossoms as long as their ideal growing conditions are met and maintained.

Leaves

Valerian foliage is known for having quite a nice fragrance that cats seem to love! Each leaf is compound with several ovular leaflets with pointed tips. A leaf will be soft on the upper side and covered in hairs on the under side. Leaves are commonly a mid green color.

Valerian leaves are deciduous, meaning that they will eventually change color and fall away from the plant when cold weather approaches, but foliage will always sprout back up again once spring comes around.

Flowers

Gardeners love valerian flowers for their sweet smelling flowers that are said to smell similar to a combination of vanilla and clove. Flowers will usually bloom in the late spring or early summer and last for many weeks.

Flowers are borne in impressive rounded clusters at the ends of stems, and each individual flower is comprised of 5 tiny flower petals. The plant will produce either white flowers or pale pink flowers.

Valerian flowers are a very important member of the local wildlife ecology. Their sweet smelling nectar attracts all sorts of pollinators and beneficial insects, and their foliage is eaten by the larvae of butterfly and moth species.

What are some Notable Valerian Types?

Clusters of purple valerian flowers among blue foliage

Garden Heliotrope (Valeriana Officinalis)

The garden heliotrope (or common valerian) is part of the caprifoliaceae plant family and grows to be anywhere from 3-5 feet in height. It produce pale pink or white flowers along tall stems and fragrant leaves.

Valeriana officinalis is also known as being an invasive species or a noxious weed in certain areas because of its ability to self seed very readily. Make sure to check if you can plant them in your area before doing so!

Red Valerian (Centranthus Ruber)

The red valerian also goes by the name of Spanish valerian and this is a very popular ornamental garden plant. They’re commonly plants along borders, in containers, and along walls.

Centranthus ruber is a very well branching plant with a long blooming season. It is a herbaceous perennial that produces star shaped flowers that are either crimson pink or bright pink. They bloom atop blue/green foliage.

Marsh Valerian (Valeriana Dioica)

The marsh valerian gets its name because when growing wild it will commonly be found growing in super moist habits like fens, bogs, and marshes.

Valeriana dioica can grow to be over 4 feet in height and produces many clusters of pink flowers. Flowers will often bloom in the early spring and last into the early summer.

Where are Valerians a Native Species?

Amazing tall stems with pink flowers of the valerian plant in the sunset

When it comes to gardening the more amount of research you do about a plant before trying to incorporate it into your garden, the better. Learning where a species is a native plant will better enable you to successfully mimic those conditions in other parts of the world.

Valerian plants are native species all over Europe and Asia and they have become naturalized all over the world, especially in North America. They are actually considered as an invasive species in certain areas, so check their status before planting.

Valerian plants can grow happily outdoors all year long in USDA growing zones 3 through 9. They’re known for being super cold hardy and can handle extreme winter temperatures and have no issue with frost.

What are the Ideal Growing Conditions of Valerian Plants?

Now that we’ve gone through all of the preliminary information, it’s time to learn about what it takes to grow a valerian plant of your very own. These are wonderfully easy to care for and their maintenance can easily be incorporated into your gardening routine.

Lovely tall valerian plants growing against rock wall in ornamental garden

Soil Type

Valerians really aren’t too picky when it comes to the soil type that they are planted in, but they seem to perform best in average and well draining soil. Sandy loam is ideal.

If you’re worried about the drainage of your potting soil simply incorporate some sand and compost to the mix. Since they don’t particularly like super high nutrient soil, only use half compost and half sand.

Sun Exposure

When they’re growing in more mild areas valerian plants love to receive direct sun exposure for the majority of the day, around 6-8 hours of direct sun is ideal.

If these plants are growing in an area that experiences some pretty intense summer heat, they will be grateful to receive a bit of partial shade in the heat of the afternoon sun.

Water Level

Since they’re used to growing in more moist areas when in the wild, valerian plants prefer to receive consistent light moisture to stay as happy as possible.

Usually natural precipitation will be enough, but if there is an extended period without rain, make sure they’re receiving about 1 inch of water per week in supplemental watering.

White flowers of harvested valerian plant sitting on wood table

Temperature

One of the main reasons why gardeners (especially in North America) love valerian plants is because of their ability to survive some pretty harsh winter temperatures. They’re tolerant to both frost and freezing, they will simply go dormant and sprout back up the following spring.

Fertilizer

Nothing needs to be done in way of fertilizing a valerian plant. They actually prefer to live in either average or poor soil and only need a little bit of compost incorporated into the soil mix to achieve the right fertility.

Pruning

Pruning your valerian plant is especially important if you are intent on controlling the population. These plants will self seed very readily and can very quickly take over an area.

In order to prevent this from happening, all you have to do is snip away the flower heads before they are able to go to seed, this way only the existing plants will emerge the following spring.

How do you Propagate a Valerian Plant?

Young valerian plants growing in the garden with white blooming flowers

The final step on your valerian plant learning journey is how to propagate a specimen of your very own! This can easily be done by dividing and transplanting an existing plant, but here are some simple steps on how to sow seed:

1. You can start your seeds indoors 2-4 weeks before the last expected frost of the year and then transplant the seedlings outdoors, or you can start seeds outdoors right after the last expected frost.

2. Pick a spot on your property that receives either full sun or partial shade and is relatively protected from strong winds (as their long spindly stems can sometimes snap).

3. Dig holes that are about a foot apart from one another. To plant a seed simply push it into the shallow soil and lightly cover as it will need sunlight to germinate.

4. Water deeply and maintain soil moisture as the plants are first getting established. Germination should occur in a short 3 weeks, and seedlings should grow quite quickly from there.

How do you Harvest Valerian Roots?

Tincture of valerian root with dried valerian root on table

A lot of the reason why gardeners like growing valerian is because of the benefits that their wonderful roots can bring. It is important how to properly harvest these roots to ensure they’re the best they can be!

– The best time of year to harvest valerian roots is in the spring or fall. This is when the beneficial compounds that are present in the roots are at their peak.

– Wash the pulled up roots, pat them down with a towel, and spread them out in an area where the are able to dry out (without too much sun).

*The roots of the valerian plant are known to have a pretty intense aroma when they are drying, so be aware that the smell is normal!

– Once they are dried out (they will be all wrinkled and shrunk) store them in a sealed container in an area where the are not exposed to sunlight. Keeping them in the fridge will cause moisture, which we don’t want.

– From here you can decide whether you want to make that dried valerian root into a tea, balm, into valerian extract, or whatever other substance you can imagine!

Lovely bottle of valerian extract next to pink flowers

FAQs

Are valerian plants deer resistant?

Another reason why people love growing valerian is because these plants are resistant to grazing from larger pests like deer, rabbits, and squirrels.

How are valerian plants used?

Valerian plants get their name from the latin term, valere, which translates to “to be strong and healthy”. This comes from the plant’s long history as an herbal remedy that has been used since ancient Rome and Greece! They’re also commonly known as garden heliotrope, all heal, or setwall plants.

Whether the dried valerian root is taken in tea form or as valerian extract, it can be used as a sleep medicine to help with a sleep disorder like insomnia. Valerenic acid is an alternative medicine also known to treat anxiety (as it has a calming effect) and menstrual symptoms as well.

Just remember, it is very important to seek out medical advice from legitimate national institutes before taking them as herbal medicine.

Can valerian plants survive winter temperatures?

One of the main reasons why gardeners (especially in North America) love valerian plants is because of their ability to survive some pretty harsh winter temperatures. They’re tolerant to both frost and freezing, they will simply go dormant and sprout back up the following spring.

Are valerian plants evergreen or deciduous?

Valerian plants bear deciduous leaves, meaning that they will eventually change color and fall away once the cold weather approaches.

Can a valerian plant be grown indoors?

Though a valerian plant could technically be grown indoors, their height can be a deterrent to growing them inside. They are a much better outdoor plant.

Can a valerian plant be grown in a container?

Valerian plants make for a great container plant and they will grow happily in large containers as long as those containers have drainage holes and the proper potting soil. This is also an excellent way to control the spread of these plants since they are considered as an invasive species in certain areas.

Are valerian plants perennials?

The valerian plant is a herbaceous perennial plant type, meaning that it will continue to produce flower blossoms each spring as long as its ideal growing conditions are met and maintained.

Is valerian an invasive species?

The valerian plant is considered as being a noxious weed or as an invasive species in regions that it is not a native species. This is because of its super tough roots and the very many tiny seeds it will produce each season.

What USDA growing zone can valerian plants grow in?

Valerian plants can grow happily outdoors all year round in USDA growing zones 3 through 9.

How often should a valerian plant be watered?

Since they’re used to growing in more moist areas when in the wild, valerian plants prefer to receive consistent light moisture to stay as happy as possible.

Usually natural precipitation will be enough, but if there is an extended period without rain, make sure they’re receiving about 1 inch of water per week in supplemental watering.

What are some other common names for valerian plants?

Valerian plants are also known as the common valerian, valerian officinalis, garden heliotrope, or all heal plant.

Should a valerian plant be pruned?

Pruning your valerian plant is especially important if you are intent on controlling the population. These plants will self seed very readily and can very quickly take over an area.

In order to prevent this from happening, all you have to do is snip away the flower heads before they are able to go to seed, this way only the existing plants will emerge the following spring.

Do valerian plants prefer full sun or partial shade?

When they’re growing in more mild areas valerian plants love to receive direct sun exposure for the majority of the day, around 6-8 hours of direct sun is ideal.

If these plants are growing in an area that experiences some pretty intense summer heat, they will be grateful to receive a bit of partial shade in the heat of the afternoon sun.

Where can I buy valerian plant seeds?

A great online resource for gardeners is the NETPS plant finder. Here you can find all sorts of seeds and bulbs and all the planting information you could imagine.

What is the ideal soil type for a valerian plant?

Valerians really aren’t too picky when it comes to the soil type that they are planted in, but they seem to perform best in average and well draining soil. Sandy loam is ideal.

If you’re worried about the drainage of your potting soil simply incorporate some sand and compost to the mix. Since they don’t particularly like super high nutrient soil, only use half compost half sand.

What is the easiest way to propagate a valerian plant?

Propagating valerian plants is very easily done whether you’re starting seeds indoors and sowing directly into the garden. Germination only takes about 3 weeks.

How tall do valerian plants get?

Starting underneath the earth, valerian plants grow from huge tuberous roots that are very sturdy and grow deep in the earth. Valerian root is commercially sold worldwide as a medicinal herb to be used in herbal medicine.

From these roots will grow super tall, branching, and spindly stems that can grow to be over 6 feet in height. Numerous stems will grow from a single root system and creates quite a dramatic above ground spread as well.

Valerians are a herbaceous perennial plant type, meaning that they will continue to produce flower blossoms as long as their ideal growing conditions are met and maintained.

What time of year do valerian flowers bloom?

Gardeners love valerian flowers for their sweet smelling flowers that are said to smell similar to a combination of vanilla and clove. Flowers will usually bloom in the late spring or early summer and last for many weeks.

 

Flowers are borne in impressive rounded clusters at the ends of stems, and each individual flower is comprised of 5 tiny flower petals. The plant will produce either white flowers or pale pink flowers.