Potentilla is a compact and reliably showy shrub that needs very little attention from the gardener. It is a very cold hardy plant with a long flowering period that adds cheer to your garden.
Read on to learn how to grow and care for this versatile plant.
What Is A Potentilla?
Potentilla is a deciduous broadleaf shrub from the Rosaceae family. The most popular potentilla species for the gardener is a plant that was known scientifically as Potentilla fruticosa but is now correctly called Dasiphora fruticosa.
This species goes by a few different common names, including potentilla, bush cinquefoil, shrubby cinquefoil, fivefingers, yellow rose, widdy, and golden hardhack.
Potentilla is a rounded shrub that reaches about 4 feet (1.2 m) high and slightly wider in its natural form, although a great variety of cultivars have been developed, with some dwarf types reaching just 18 inches (0.45 m) or so in height.
Bush cinquefoil has a huge distribution and is native to the northern USA, Canada, Europe, and across Asia to China. They tend to occur in swamps and rocky areas in Mountainous terrain.
Although generally a deciduous shrub, this species may grow as an evergreen in the warmer southern areas. This shrub can be identified by its compound leaves that usually have 5 to 7 leaflets, although 3 to 9 leaflets can occur.
The leaves are arranged alternately on the branchlets and provide no real fall color. They have a greyish dark green color due to the presence of fine hairs on the leaflets, which have entire margins. The bark of this shrub may peel off in strips on mature specimens.
There is a huge number of different potentilla cultivars available. A few of the better-known examples are:
- ‘Abbottswood’ is a form with white flowers that reaches about 3 feet (0.9 m) tall and has blue-green foliage.
- ‘Coronation Triumph’ is one of the larger cultivars, reaching about 4 feet (1.2 m) tall and wide. These plants are popular for their abundant yellow flowers.
- ‘Daydawn’ is a lovely cultivar with pinkish flowers and a fairly compact growth form.
- ‘Goldfinger’ – goldfinger potentilla is another yellow-flowered form with large flowers and darker foliage.
- ‘Pink Beauty’ is a very compact cultivar that reaches just 2 feet (0.6 m) or so in height and produces pink blossoms.
- ‘Red Ace’ is a 2 to 3 feet (0.6 to 0.9 m) tall cultivar that produces masses of orange to red flowers.
The flowers of the potentilla shrub are certainly its most celebrated feature. Not only are the flowers beautiful and produced in great numbers, but the plants also have a long flowering period.
Blooming usually begins in mid-summer, lasting right into the beginning of fall. Each individual flower has 5 petals, is produced on the ends of the stems, and measures a little over an inch across.
The flowers are usually yellow in wild forms but can also be anything from white, to pink, to red depending on the cultivar. The fruits are small, brown, and pretty unremarkable.
How To Grow A Potentilla Shrub
Potentilla plants can be grown from seed and will generally begin flowering in their second year. The problem with growing them from seed is that they will not necessarily produce plants with the same characteristics as the parent plant.
If you wish to propagate new plants that are true to type, your best option is to grow from cuttings. 2 to 3 inch (5 to 7.5 cm) long greenwood and semi-ripe cuttings root easily if kept moist. The gardener should remove the growing tips on the cuttings and can expect roots to develop within a month (1).
These plants are very adaptable and can be grown in a wide variety of soils, including clay. As with most flowering shrubs, however, they definitely prefer a reasonably fertile, well-drained medium. Neutral to mildly acidic, or mildly alkaline soils are preferred.
These are not particularly drought-tolerant shrubs and they prefer slightly moist soil. After planting, keep your plants well-watered until they are established in the garden.
As a precaution against disease, it is recommended to provide water to the root zone of these shrubs, rather than wet the foliage.
Grow your potentilla in full sun or partial sun and be sure to provide afternoon shade in warmer, more southerly locations as these plants are not very tolerant of high heat and humidity. Plants that are grown in the partial sun will tend to be leggier and produce fewer flowers than those grown in the full sun.
Potentilla is a wonderful plant for gardeners in colder, more northerly areas and they can be grown reliably in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 to 6. Some gardeners have also had good success with this shrub as low as zone 2 and as high as zone 7.
Care and Maintenance
Potentilla is a hardy, low-maintenance plant that looks great when left to grow in its natural form. Pruning can be helpful in removing old shoots and can be done in late winter to late spring. You may also wish to neaten up your plants by trimming them lightly after flowering. Potentillas usually don’t respond very well to being trimmed back hard so light trimming and selective pruning is all you want to do for them (2).
These shrubs are not particularly heavy feeders and usually don’t require additional fertilizing in decent soil. To give your plants a good start, mixing some organic compost into your backfill soil is a good idea.
One of the great qualities of this shrub is its naturally high resistance to pests and diseases. They are not completely immune, however, so space your plants out to allow for some airflow and water the root zone rather than the foliage to prevent possible leafspot fungus and mildew infections. Mites have also been reported on occasion and can be treated with an appropriate insecticide if necessary (3).
Potentilla is a highly versatile, multi-purpose shrub for temperate areas. They make a great informal hedge plant and work well in other mass plantings in borders, foundations, and beds. These plants are showy enough to make fine specimen plants and are even said to make wonderful bonsai plants.
The plants are said to have some medicinal value when used as an astringent. These plants have been known to become troublesome weeds in some agricultural areas of the United States.
Potentilla is known to be deer resistant, but it attracts welcome pollinators like bees and butterflies.
Potentilla is a highly adaptable and useful shrub for colder areas. These plants are of a very manageable size and need little care and maintenance to perform wonderfully in your garden year after year.
If you live in zones 3 to 6 and are looking for a showy shrub with a long flowering period, this could be the perfect plant for you.
- Toogood, A. Plant Propagation: The Fully Illustrated Plant-By-Plant Manual of Practical Techniques
- Brickell, C. & Joyce, D. Pruning And Training: What, When, And How To Prune
- North Carolina State Extension.Dasiphora Fruticosa
*image by MartinaUnbehauen/depositphotos