How to grow alchemilla
Alchemilla mollis and its relatives form compact mounds or mats of attractive leaves, topped with frothy lime-green flowers in summer. They’re popular, easy-to-grow, slug-resistant border plants, ideal as edging or ground cover in sun or partial shade. Cut them back after flowering for a burst of fresh-looking foliage.
- Easy to grow, hardy and low maintenance
- Attractive scalloped or lobed leaves
- Long-lasting frothy flowers in summer
- Plant in sun or partial shade
- Low growing, so ideal as ground cover or edging
- Downy leaves are resistant to slugs and snails
- Make new plants by dividing clumps or sowing seeds
- Self-seed freely if not deadheaded
All you need to know
What is alchemilla?
Also known as lady’s mantle, these popular clump-forming perennials have a gentle, under-stated charm, with attractive leaves and frothy summer flowers. The velvety leaves are water-resistant and after rain are left bejewelled with round droplets.
Alchemilla mollis is the most widely grown, but a few other species are available – all fairly similar in appearance, with variations in the leaves or plant size. They form low mounds or mats of foliage from spring to late autumn, dying back over winter, but sprouting afresh in spring.
Easy-going and adaptable, alchemillas thrive in sun or light shade. They are ideal as low, leafy border edgings or ground cover under plants such as roses, in cottage-style borders and in both formal and informal plantings. The smaller alpine species are work well in rock gardens. The frothy, lime-green flowers are popular in cut-flower displays, the ideal foil for more showy blooms.
Alchemillas are low maintenance – just trim them back after flowering if they start to look tatty or to prevent self-seeding. They also have the advantage of being untroubled by pests, including slugs and snails, due to their downy leaves.
Choosing alchemillas for your garden
Alchemillas have a subtle, under-stated elegance. They work well in gardens of all sizes and styles, forming soft green ground cover and border edgings. The mat-forming species are also perfect for alpine displays.
Undemanding and adaptable, they are happy in sun or partial shade, in most soil types apart from waterlogged or very dry conditions. They are generally resilient, healthy plants, untroubled by pests and diseases – and a particularly good choice if slugs and snails thrive in your garden. Even rabbits and deer generally avoid them.
There are several species to choose from, although the most popular by far, and the most readily available, is Alchemilla mollis – the go-to choice and a staple of cottage gardens. It’s a classic partner in rose gardens and a versatile and on-trend cut flower.
Other alchemillas you may come across include:
A. epipsila is similar to A. mollis but less dense, with softly hairy, rounded leaves and loose clusters of flowers
A. erythropoda has small, rounded, hairy leaves with toothed edges, and blooms from late spring
A. alpina, another similar-looking alpine species, has leaves that are deeply divided into seven lobes and edged in silvery hairs. It forms a low, gently spreading mat with small flowering sprigs
How and what to buy
These have been lifted from the ground while dormant, with little or no soil around their roots. Various plants may be available bare root, including fruit trees, hedging plants and some perennials. They are generally cheaper than plants in containers, but are only available in winter/early spring, while dormant
Packeted seeds of Alchemilla mollis are readily available – and occasionally other species too – as they are easy to grow from seed.
Where to plant
Avoid planting in waterlogged or very dry sites
They are happy both in the ground and in containers
When to plant
Alchemillas can be planted at any time of year, but ideally in autumn (especially in drier regions) or spring, when the soil is damp and warm, which helps them settle in readily
If you plant in summer, be prepared to water regularly, especially in hot dry spells, to keep the soil around the roots moist until they are well established in their new home
Bare-root plants are sold by mail order in winter, and should be planted immediately on arrival
How to plant
Like most perennials, alchemillas are easy to plant, ideally about 30cm (1ft) apart – see our guide below
They are also quick and easy to plant in containers, usually as part of a mixed display
With bare-root plants, see our guide to buying by mail order for care tips
Newly planted alchemillas need watering regularly for their first summer
Once established, plants in borders should only need watering in dry spells or if growing in a particularly dry site
Plants in containers need regular watering throughout the growing season, as the limited amount of compost dries out quickly, especially in hot weather
Reduce your use of mains water by installing water butts on all your down-pipes – not just on your house but on sheds, garages and greenhouses too
There is usually no need to feed alchemillas.
Spread a thick mulch of organic matter, such as home-made garden compost, around plants in spring, to help hold moisture in the soil over summer. Worms will gradually work it into the soil, improving its structure and fertility.
Why use mulch?
An organic mulch, such as home-made compost, is a great way to add nutrients and valuable micro-organisms to your soil. It also holds in moisture and deters weed germination.
Caring for older plants
To keep plants healthy and vigorous, especially A. mollis, divide every few years in spring or autumn – see our step-by-step guide below. This will give you more plants for free, to add to your borders or share with friends.Alchemillas often self-seed readily. If you want more plants, this is a bonus, but if not, simply deadhead them, removing the faded flowers before they set seed.
If you want to prevent self-seeding, snip off the faded flowers before they set seed.
By late July, alchemillas have finished flowering and the leaves may be past their best. So simply cut the whole plant down to the base, then water well, and fresh new velvety leaves will soon grow.
Although re-growth is quick, cutting back the foliage will leave a temporary gap, so it’s best not to grow alchemilla alongside other plants that need similar treatment, such as nepeta and hardy geraniums.
Alchemillas naturally die back in autumn and resprout afresh in spring. To keep your border tidy, you can cut off the faded foliage in autumn, although leaving it in place will provide valuable shelter for insects and other small creatures over winter. Just remember to remove any remaining leaves before new ones appear in spring.
Supporting drooping flower stems
While alchemillas don’t need staking, heavy summer rainfall can sometimes cause the flowerheads to droop. If they’re falling onto a path, simply prop them up with twiggy sticks or low hoops.
It’s easy to make new plants for free by dividing established clumps or collecting and sowing the seeds.
This is quick and easy, and best done in early spring or autumn – see our guide below
Splitting clumps with a sharp spade is usually the easiest method
Discard any old and woody central sections, choosing younger pieces at the edges of the clump, approximately 15cm (6in) across
Growing from seed
Alchemillas grow readily from seed, and you’ll often find young seedlings popping up near established plants if you leave the seedheads in place after flowering. You can simply dig up these seedlings in spring and move them to whenever you want them to grow.
You can also collect ripe seeds from your plants and sow them in pots in late summer or the following spring. They should germinate readily and can be kept outside in a sheltered spot, or in a greenhouse or coldframe, until large enough to plant into borders.
However, in favourable sites they may self-seed more than is polite. To prevent this, simply deadhead them, remove the faded flowers before seeds form. Or share the offspring with friends.
If you're a member of the RHS, you can use our online Gardening Advice Service, via MyRHS, for any gardening problems or queries
The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.