How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Meadow Rue
Are you interested in growing meadow rue in your garden? This underused perennial offers ornamental flowers and foliage and thrives in challenging conditions. In this article, gardening expert Jill Drago covers everything you need to know to plant, grow, and care for meadow rue.
Meadow rue is a large genus of perennials that scientifically goes by the name Thalictrum. Within this genus, there are many different species with greatly varying heights. These perennials have small, fluffy flowers that bloom in clusters on top of tall stems. Many people confuse it for columbine because their leaves appear similar.
This airy, whimsical perennial is tough as nails. Its height adds a great accent to the middle or back of a perennial bed.
This easy-to-grow perennial is underused in landscapes, and it has a place in any garden with the correct growing conditions. In this article, I will cover all you need to know regarding planting, growing, and caring for meadow rue. I hope this will inspire you to add this perennial to your gardens.
Plant Type Perennial
Species Multiple species
Native Area Northern Hemisphere
Exposure Full sun to partial shade
Height 4-6 feet
Watering Requirements Average
Pests & Diseases Slugs, Snails, Powdery Mildew
Soil Type Loam, Sand, Fertile
Hardiness Zone 3-8
What Is Meadow Rue?
This extremely popular perennial genus has lovely foliage and is primarily grown as a wildflower. Meadow rue pairs well with hostas, hellebore, heath, heather, or other plants that thrive in partial shade. The flowers are airy and delicate in appearance but are quite tough.
Adding meadow rue to wildflower gardens, pollinator gardens, or naturalized spaces in your yard is a surefire way to enjoy the beauty of this genus of herbaceous perennials. It also makes a lovely addition to the edge of a wooded area where it will get some sunlight.
No matter which species of this herbaceous perennial you decide to grow, the flowers will be small and clustered together to create a foamy appearance.
These flowers could be white, yellow, or a few different shades of purple. The foliage is light green and quite attractive. The leaves are deeply cut and resemble those of columbine.
This is a lovely plant that many gardeners will grow strictly for its foliage. However, the flowers provide height and add a gentle splash of color to your garden.
This plant is native to many areas of the Northern Hemisphere. Between 130-150 species are found in the northern United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia.
Plant your nursery-grown seedlings in the spring. This will give the perennial plenty of time to establish itself and grow in your garden.
It is possible to grow these perennials in containers. Select a large container with plenty of drainage holes, and use standard potting soil. You can overwinter potted plants by protecting them from cold temperatures, but this is only necessary if the variety isn’t hardy in your area (pick a type hardy to climates two zones below yours to be safe). For these types, bring your containers into your garage or shed or sink the pots into holes in the ground to keep the roots warm.
The spacing your plant needs will depend on the species you have decided to plant. It could range from 1 to 6 feet. However, if you are growing a taller type, provide stakes to help support the longer stalks in windy conditions. Ensure there’s good airflow around plants to prevent plant diseases like powdery mildew from spreading.
There aren’t many rules when it comes to transplanting a purchased seedling. However, this list provides basic guidelines to follow that should help you have good success during transplanting:
- Select a spot in full to partial sun with moist and well-draining soil.
- Dig a hole a bit deeper and wider than the root ball of your plant. If desired, amend the soil to loosen up clay-type soils.
- Gently place the plant in the hole, ensuring that the crown is at soil level.
- Backfill the hole with your garden soil, and pack gently.
- Give your new plants a drink and continue to water as needed once the plant has become established in its location. Do not let the soil dry out.
- You may need to stake your meadow rue if you have planted a tall variety.
Growing from Seed
The seeds should be planted in the fall. Broadcast them, or plant them in your garden soil and cover them lightly with soil. Keep the seeds moist.
Patience is key when you are growing from seed. These seeds are slow to germinate. Most of them need cold stratification and will germinate in the spring.
How to Grow
This genus of plants is very easy to grow. Be prepared to stake your plants once they reach a few feet tall to provide support during wind or rainy conditions.
Meadow rue grows best in full to partial sun. These perennials are intolerant of heat and will survive the summers more easily if grown in dappled shade. The further south you live, the more shade this plant will require.
Like most perennials, meadow rue requires about one inch of water per week. The goal is to keep the soil moist but not too wet. If it grows in standing water for too long, it may develop issues with root rot or other fungal diseases.
Plant in moist but well-draining soil. The soil should be rich and fertile to ensure the best plant performance possible. These plants grow naturally in moist woodlands and will be happiest if you grow them in similar conditions.
Temperature and Humidity
Most varieties are hardy in zones 4-7. However, some can tolerate cooler climates, while others can tolerate warmer climates.
Check the hardiness zones of the species you desire before purchasing and planting! It is not a fan of high heat or humidity and does best in temperate conditions.
If your soil is rich and fertile, fertilization is generally unnecessary. However, if your plants could use some help or your soil is not ideal, try applying a balanced fertilizer in the spring and fall.
While there’s not a ton of maintenance for meadow rue species, some tasks should be done each year. Let’s review what you must do to keep it at its best!
Pruning and Deadheading
When the flowers have faded, you can snip the stems back within the foliage to tidy up the overall look of your plant. You might get a second bloom out of your flowers, but it will not be prolific.
Cut your plants back to the ground at the end of the season when the foliage begins to yellow and die back. As your plants shift toward winter dormancy, this yellowing is expected, and cutting it back enables it to go fully dormant.
Adding mulch to your gardens can help to keep the roots warm in cooler climates while helping with water retention in warmer climates. Mulch also helps keep weeds away, which helps to guarantee your plants are getting all of the water and nutrients they need.
Species of Meadow Rue
There are an estimated 130+ species of meadow rue (with some saying 150+ or more), and each differs slightly from the others. At least 22 species are native to North America! The list below will help to break down the different types so you can choose the right variety for your garden.
Early Meadow Rue
The earliest species to bloom, the flowers of Thalictrum dioicum appear in white and green. This type will grow up to 3 feet tall and is hardy in zones 4-7. This species is native to the United States, primarily growing from the forested portions of Colorado eastward. It does not tolerate high heat conditions well and may need afternoon shade in summer heatwaves.
Chinese Meadow Rue
Also known as Yunnan meadow rue, Thalictrum delavayi is native to China. This variety has purple stems that support beautiful purple flowers. It grows up to 5 feet tall and is best grown in USDA zones 4-7. Unlike many other forms of meadow rue, this one has very distinctive petals that stand out
Thread-Like Meadow Rue
Thalictrum filamentosum is perfect if you are looking for something in a smaller size. Growing from 1-2 feet tall, the thread-like meadow rue produces white flowers that are fluffy and bloom on red stems. This type grows best in zones 7-9.
Yellow Meadow Rue
Thalictrum flavum is native to Europe and the Mediterranean. As you would expect, the flowers of this variety are yellow! It can reach heights of up to 5 feet and is hardy in zones 3-10.
This plant does not have too many issues as long as it is planted in the right spot in your garden. It will attract pollinators into your garden but remains deer and critter-resistant.
This tough plant does not have too much difficulty with pests as long as it is planted in the right spot. While tolerant of shade, if it grows in too moist of an area, you will run into issues with snails or slugs.
- If you notice holes in the leaves, it is time to investigate and look for slugs and snails.
- Slugs and snails are easy to find due to their large size, so just take a look around and flip leaves over.
- The telltale sign of slugs and snails is a mucus trail where they have traveled.
This species does not have too much difficulty with diseases. The most common disease is powdery mildew.
You will notice your leaves are developing a white, powdery-looking material. While this fungus is airborne as spores, it can be prevented by providing good airflow between plants and not watering from above; wet plants enable the fungal spores to stick better, and tightly-packed plants can catch spores floating on the breeze. If you find yourself dealing with powdery mildew, try not to worry. This disease does not typically cause long-term damage to your plant but impacts the beauty of the plant.
Treat powdery mildew with neem oil for light outbreaks. For heavy ones, remove heavily impacted foliage and dispose of it, and consider using either a sulfur or copper-based fungicide for severe outbreaks, but not within two weeks of any other garden product.
Frequently Asked Questions
What plants go well with meadow rue?
Meadow rue is versatile and should be planted with other plants that love the same conditions. Plants that pair nicely are Russian sage, heaths, heathers, and bee balm.
Is it safe for pets?
Some sources indicate that the root may be toxic to dogs, and other sources warn that certain species of meadow rue are a skin and eye irritant to both humans and animals. However, the ASPCA does not list meadow rue on its list of plants that are toxic to animals.
Out of an abundance of caution, plant meadow rue in an area where your pets and small children cannot easily access. As with any plant, if you have concerns about safety, check with your family doctor or family veterinarian before planting.
Is it invasive?
This plant will self-sow into your garden. This is no need for concern, though. While it may spread, it generally will not spread to the point of becoming invasive. Clear your conscience and plant away!
How do I overwinter it?
In the late fall, cut the entire plant down to just above ground level. Add a layer of mulch over the cut-down plants to protect them from blooming too early and then freezing again in a late cold snap.
Meadow rue may not be the first plant you think of when planning your garden, but why not? It is low maintenance and beautiful. With so many species available, you can find the right plant for your garden. These long-lived perennials should be allowed to thrive in your flower beds!