How to Plant, Grow, and Care For Wood Betony

Are you looking for a showy, long-lasting flower for your perennial garden? This easy-to-grow plant adds plenty of color to your garden and attracts pollinators, too! In this article, gardening enthusiast Liessa Bowen introduces the allure of wood betony and how to grow these spectacular plants.

Wood betony flowers, featuring tall stems adorned with purple and lavender petals, contrast beautifully against a backdrop of lush green leaves.

Contents

Wood betony, also known as purple betony (Betonica officinalis), is an easy-to-grow member of the mint family. It is native to Europe, Africa, and Asia. It is hardy, versatile, and easy to incorporate into a variety of landscape settings. 

This herbaceous perennial is showy and will liven up your garden with its colorful blooms rising above leafy rosettes. Use it as a ground cover, to fill in along edges and corners, or as a complimentary perennial among others in your cottage garden, pocket prairie, or butterfly garden. 

As with many other plants in the mint family, betony doesn’t require much care and attention. All you need to get started is one plant or a few seeds, and you’ll be well on your way to a healthy colony. These plants actually thrive with minimal attention; as long as you can help get them started and provide regular weed-pulling services, they’ll generally take care of themselves.

Do you have room for wood betony in your garden? If so, keep reading to learn more about this appealing, easy-care perennial flower and how to best incorporate it into your landscape.

Overview

A close-up of a purple wood betony flower, showcasing delicate petals and intricate stamens against a softly blurred green background.
These are herbaceous perennials belonging to the Lamiaceae family.
Plant Type Herbaceous perennial
Family Lamiaceae
Genus Betonica
Species officinalis
Native Area Northern Africa, Western Asia, Europe
USDA Hardiness Zone 4 – 8
Sun Exposure Full sun to partial shade
Soil Type Average, Well-drained
Watering Requirements Medium
Maintenance Low
Suggested Uses Pollinator garden, cottage garden, perennial edge
Height 1.5 – 2 feet
Bloom Season Late spring
Flower Color Pink, Purple
Attracts Butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, pollinators
Problems Slugs
Resistant To Drought, deer
Plant Spacing 12+ inches

Natural History

Wood betony is native to Europe, western Asia, and Northern Africa. Within its native region, it is found in fields and meadows, parks and meadows, and sunny, open woodlands. It is widely adaptable and can be found in a variety of sunny habitats with temperate climates

The genus Betonica consists of many different herbaceous species, including various plants known as betony, hedge nettle, bishop’s wort, and woundwort. These various betony species are common wildflowers throughout their native range and may be considered weedy because they are so widespread.

This valuable wildlife plant has also been used by humans throughout the ages. Betony has been used for medicinal and cultural purposes and is thought to bring luck and protect from harm. Betony is still used as a modern herb to treat assorted ailments. You can also brew betony leaves to make tea. 

Characteristics

A close-up of purple wood betony flowers, set against a softly blurred backdrop of lush green foliage.
Betony flowers bloom in dense spiky clusters by late spring.

Betony forms dense patches of upright stems, spreading by both rhizomes and self-seeding. Like most mints, it has square stems and a distinctive strong scent. The heart-shaped leaves and stems are slightly hairy giving it a rough or soft feel. In warmer climates, betony leaves may stay evergreen during the winter months.

In the spring, when the leaves first emerge, individual plants appear in dense clusters of basal rosettes. As the plants mature through the spring, they develop taller, leafy, flowering stems. These leaves grow in opposite pairs and are evenly toothed along the edges.

Betony flowers bloom by late spring or early summer. The flowers form dense spiky clusters. Each individual flower is small, no more than a few millimeters long, and tubular with a distinctly speckled lower lip. Flowers are typically pinkish purple, although different species and cultivars of betony will have more varied flower colors.

Due to its popularity as a garden perennial, there are several beautiful cultivars. You will find differences in the leaf shapes and sizes, and more notably differences in the flowering times and flower colors, although the flowers are typically shades of pink and purple.

Propagation

This plant is not only easy to grow, it is also very easy to propagate. You can start new plants from seed or divide established clumps to start new colonies. If you have access to mature plants, the quickest and easiest propagation method will be division. If you are starting from scratch, the most economical means to acquire new plants will be starting from seed. 

Seed

stalks that have already flowered have set many small black seeds.
Sow the seeds directly in a prepared soil bed in fall.

Wood betony is simple to start from seed. In fact, these plants will readily self-seed in the garden, and you won’t need to do anything special to help their seeds grow. You can collect seeds from mature plants in the fall or start new plants from purchased seeds.

Direct sow the seeds in the fall where you want them to grow. Sow them in a prepared bed of soil so they aren’t directly competing with weeds or other vegetation. The seeds don’t need to be buried or planted. Just scatter and pat them into the soil to ensure they have good contact with the earth. 

Allow the seeds to overwinter, and they will germinate in the spring as the weather starts to warm. If squirrels are digging up your seeds or seedlings, protect them with an enclosed cage until they have germinated and have grown a bit larger. Ultimately, thin the seedlings to one plant per 12 inches because they will grow and spread quickly. 

Division

Deep purple blooms rise on spiky stalks on a sunny day.
Propagate plants by dividing healthy clusters into smaller clumps.

If you are working with an established cluster of betony, they are quick to propagate by division. In early spring, as the plants are starting to grow, or in the fall, as the weather begins to cool, it’s time to divide your plants. Thinning dense clusters periodically is a great idea to help keep your colonies growing vigorously, and you can divide clusters at the same time.

Use a spade to dig out a healthy cluster of plants. Using your hands or a spade, separate the cluster into several smaller clumps. Replant each clump into different locations and water them each well.

Transplanting

A spike of betony, not yet blooming, has pointed, fuzzy-looking leaves.
Prepare a hole larger than the root mass and place the plant inside.

Whether you are transplanting a betony from a pot or from a freshly divided cluster, the process is essentially the same. You’ll only need a few simple tools: a spade or trowel to dig and some comfortable garden gloves to protect your hands. The ideal time for transplanting is a cool and overcast day in the spring or fall

Prepare a location for your new plant by digging a hole slightly wider and deeper than the root mass or pot in which it’s growing. Carefully remove your plant from its pot and place it into the freshly prepared hole. Re-fill any gaps around the roots with the soil and tamp it down around the base of the plant. Finally, water your new transplant well and keep it well watered for the next week or so to help prevent transplant shock. 

How to Grow

This vigorous plant is easy to grow in the home garden. All you need is a temperate climate with a sunny plot and moist soil. Within a short period of time, you’ll be enjoying your showy betony flowers!

Sunlight

Several vibrant purple wood betony flowers with delicate petals and green stems, illuminated by warm sunlight.
They thrive in full sun with optimal flowering and compact growth.

Provide a spot in full sun with at least six hours of bright sunlight each day. Luckily, if you don’t have full sun, it also performs well in light shade. Plants grown in full sun will generally have the best flowering and most compact growth.

Water

Close up of magenta and pale lavender flower.
Plants in containers or raised beds require more frequent watering.

Moist soil leads to optimal growth. Once your plant is well established, however, it will become more drought tolerant.

During extended drought, your plants will probably appreciate an occasional deep watering. If you are growing betony in a container or raised bed, you’ll need to offer it more regular watering because containers have a tendency to dry quickly.

Soil

An index finger points towards a mound of fertile, rich brown soil, bathed in the gentle warmth of sunlight.
Amend sandy or clay soils for improved quality and better flower growth.

Most soil types are fine, including sandy, loamy, and clay-based soils. This flower prefers organically rich, well-drained soil with a neutral to acidic pH. Soils that are primarily sand or clay will need amendments to improve their overall quality, or create a well-balanced soil mix and grow your flowers in raised beds

Climate and Temperature

A close-up of wood betony flowers with lavender petals, bathed in sunlight, encircled by delicate slender leaves.
Choose a temperate climate with mild to moderate winters.

USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 4 through 8 can grow this perennial. It thrives in temperate climates with cold to moderate winters. It may not be the best choice for hot, arid climates unless you have a partially shaded location that maintains a bit of summer humidity. 

Fertilizing

Hands gently hold a small mound of rich brown compost soil, ready for gardening.
Supplement yearly with organic compost or nutrient-rich soil additives.

Wood betony should do fine with average or organically rich soil without needing any extra fertilizer. If, however, you are growing betony in nutrient-poor soil, add some organic compost or other nutrient-rich soil additive around your plants each spring. This will give them a gentle nutrient boost each year.

Maintenance

Clusters of vibrant purple flowers held aloft by sturdy green stems, encircled by lush leaves.
Regular maintenance includes thinning to prevent overcrowding and pruning dead stems.

This is a low-maintenance garden plant. There are a few things you’ll want to manage in order to help your plants look their best.

Since betony plants tend to form dense colonies over time, thin your plants regularly to prevent overcrowding. Prune back any dead or diseased stems and remove them from your garden to prevent re-infection of pests or diseases. 

Garden Design

Purple wood betony flowers bloom among rich green foliage in a garden setting.
They form dense clusters with basal leaves that make excellent ground cover.

Wood betony is so versatile it’s hard to find a place where it won’t be appreciated. It’s beautiful and easy to grow so it would be at home in any perennial garden. You could even grow it as an annual if you prefer annual flower gardening. 

Betonies are pollinator magnets. Grow one in your butterfly garden, attract bees, and support your local pollinators. Any sunny location with a few native pollinator plants will bring plenty of activity and help support beneficial insect populations. Try to grow a variety of different pollinator plants near your betony to attract these beneficial insects during the entire growing season. Include plants that flower in the spring, summer, and fall, as well as some butterfly caterpillar host plants.

The flowers grow in dense clusters, and the basal leaves clump together to form an excellent ground cover. These plants are also fairly compact and low-growing, so they make great borders and edges around your flower garden. You can grow them singly, but you’ll find that a larger cluster of betony is quite spectacular. Betony looks great surrounded by other mid-sized perennials as well as ornamental grasses

If you don’t have an ideal yard for growing flowers, you can always grow betony and other flowers in pots, containers, and raised beds. Raised bed gardening is an excellent way to create a thriving mini garden almost anywhere! Mix your betony plants with any other colorful perennials, incorporate plants that bloom in spring, summer, and fall, and you will have a colorful and very appealing three-season garden!

Varieties

‘Hummelo’

Purple 'Hummelo' wood betony flowers rising gracefully over lush green leaves in a garden.
The ‘Hummelo’ cultivar features prolific, showy dark pink flowers.

This cultivar, called ‘Hummelo’ has extremely prolific and showy flowers. These plants bloom in mid to late summer and can continue blooming into fall, especially if they are deadheaded to encourage further blooms. The bold, dark pink flowers of ‘Hummelo’ are sure to increase your garden’s curb appeal!

‘Pink Cotton Candy’

 A cluster of 'Pink Cotton Candy' wood betony flowers, illuminated by sunlight, with additional blooms softly blurred in the background.
These flowers bloom in mid-summer with sweet, cotton candy pink clusters.

As the name implies, ‘Pink Cotton Candy’ has rounded clusters of cotton candy pink flowers that bloom in mid-summer and look very sweet! The perky pink flowers attract plenty of pollinators and have a long bloom time right through the hottest summer months, providing plenty of nectar to attract pollinators to your yard.

‘Summer Romance’

Vivid clusters of purple 'Summer Romance' wood betony flowers in full bloom; their delicate petals catching the sunlight.
Its tall flowering stalks attract pollinators due to their small tubular flowers.

‘Summer Romance’ is a cultivar that’s hard to miss. The large, oblong clusters of dark pink flowers boom in mid-summer and put on a dazzling display. The flowering stalks can rise two feet tall and stand out above the rest of the basal foliage. Pollinators love these plants, and hummingbirds will also visit the small tubular flowers.

‘Alba’

A close-up of white 'Alba' wood betony flowers, showcasing delicate petals against a backdrop of blurred lush green foliage.
Consider this as a subtle addition that enhances neighboring perennials in your garden.

‘Alba’ is a white flowering wood betony cultivar. Compared to some of the bright pinks and purples of other betony cultivars, ‘Alba’ is quite subdued and would be a lovely complement to any other perennials in your garden

‘Superba’

 Bunches of purple 'Superba' flowers stand tall amidst a backdrop of dense green leaves.
The ‘Superba’ variety features striking deep fuchsia-pink flowers in loose clusters.

‘Superba’ is a cultivar of big betony, named for its larger trumpet-shaped flowers. ‘Superba’ has loose clusters of whorled fuchsia-pink flowers that literally stand out above the crowd. This is truly a superb choice for a perennial garden display. Within a few years, you’ll need to thin the dense patches to prevent overcrowding from their exuberant growth.

Canadian Lousewort, Pedicularis canadensis

A close-up of a Canadian Lousewort plant with small green leaves and delicate white flowers, illuminated by sunlight, against a blurred background revealing lush foliage.
This features fern-like frilly leaves and small clusters of hooded yellow flowers.

Canadian lousewort is also sometimes known as wood betony. This plant is in a different genus and even a different family than the other wood betony varieties in the genus Betonica. Canadian lousewort has fern-like frilly leaves and clusters of small, hooded yellow flowers. The Canadian lousewort is native to eastern North America.

Wildlife Value

a bee on a spike of small purple flowers
Wood betony attracts a variety of pollinators like butterflies and bees.

Wood betony is a wonderful plant for pollinators. Butterflies, bees, and other beneficial insects relish these plants and their flowers will be buzzing with activity. Hummingbirds will also visit the flowers, sipping nectar from within the small tubes. If you’re looking for plants to enhance your pollinator garden, wood betony would be a good choice.

Common Problems

Wood betony is hardy and generally trouble-free. You may occasionally have slugs and snails as visitors but you will rarely encounter major issues with pests and diseases.

Slugs and Snails

A close-up of a brown slug slowly crawling on a slender green stem surrounded by lush foliage, under natural daylight.
Manage slugs and snails by eliminating their hiding spots.

Slugs and snails are common garden pests that typically come out at night to feed on soft plant materials and decaying leaves. You may never see the slugs and snails themselves, but you will probably see their evidence. Both leave slimy trails on and around your plants. If they cause damage to your plants, you’ll see rounded holes eaten around the edges and throughout the central portions of the leaves. 

Slugs and snails are difficult to control, but if they cause significant damage, try first removing their hiding places. They spend the day under logs, rocks, sheets of plastic, or any other flat, protected hiding places. You can also try installing beer traps to attract and kill slugs. 

Final Thoughts

Wood betony is a perennial that’s easy to like. It’s easy to grow, not picky about growing conditions, hardy, prolific, attracts pollinators, and, best of all, it’s beautiful! All you need to get started are a few seeds or a single plant.

It is quick to start from seed and plant divisions and quick to spread into an attractive cluster. Give it plenty of sunlight and moist soil, and you’ll soon have your own showy patch of pink, purple, or white betony flowers buzzing with activity and plenty of summery allure. 

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