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How to Grow Pink Turtlehead — Chelone

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Chelone, commonly called pink turtlehead, is a bushy perennial with rose pink inflated, tubular flowers that resemble the head of a turtle with jaws open. Chelone is a genus of about six species; all are native to moist woodland, prairies, and mountains.

Turtleheads have a stiff, upright habit. Flowers are borne in dense, terminal racemes from lae summer to mid-autumn.

Combine pink turtlehead with other perennials for late summer color.

Red turtlehead flowers, Chelone obliqua
Red turtlehead flowers, Chelone obliqua

Get to know Chelone

  • Plant type: Perennial
  • Growing Zones and range: Zones 3-8
  • Hardiness: Hardy to -30°F (-34°C); intolerant of excessive heat
  • Height and width: 12 to 36 inches (30-90cm) tall, 12 to 24 inches wide (30-60cm)
  • Form: Bushy perennial to 3 feet tall; 4 to 7-inch leaves are broadly ovate with toothed margins
  • Flowers: Tubular flowers that resemble the head of a turtle with jaws open
  • Flower color: Pink and white
  • Bloom time: Late summer
  • Uses: Beds and borders
  • Garden companions: combine with asters, phlox, and goldenrods
  • Common name: Pink turtlehead
  • Botanical name: Chelone species
  • Family: Scrophulariaceae
  • Origin: North America

Chelone uses and companions

  • Plant Chelone in borders for late summer blooms.
  • Naturalize Chelone in a bog garden or along a stream or pond.
  • Good garden companions for Chelone include Aconitum, Anemone hybrida, Astilbe, Cimicifuga, Geranium, Hemerocallis.

Where to plant Chelone

  • Plant pink turtlehead in full sun in wet regions. Plant in partial shade in drier conditions.
  • Pink turtlehead prefers rich, slightly acid soil.

When to plant Chelone

  • Set pink Chelone seedlings in the garden in spring.
  • Start seed indoors two to three weeks before the last frost.
Red turtlehead (Chelone obliqua)
Red turtlehead (Chelone obliqua)

Planting and spacing Chelone

  • Space pink turtlehead 12 to 24 inches (30-61cm) apart.
  • Sow seed 1/8 inch deep in light potting mix or outdoors in evenly prepared planting beds.

How to water and feed Chelone

  • Pink turtlehead prefers wet soil, even boggy conditions. Never let the soil dry out.
  • Fertilize pink turtlehead with an all-purpose fertilizer in spring and every 4 to 6 weeks for best flowering.

Chelone care

  • Stake plant growing in shade or if plants become rangy.
  • Pink turtlehead is commonly pest and disease-free.

Chelone pests and diseases

  • Chelone is susceptible to powdery mildew, rust, fungal leaf spots, and damage from slugs and snails.

Chelone propagation

  • Divide crowns to reduce large clumps in older plants. Divide in spring or after flowering.
  • Take stem cuttings in early summer.
  • Sow seeds outdoors in fall or indoors in late winter.
  • Chelone seeds germinate in 3 to 5 weeks at 65°F (18°C).
Chelone obliqua
Chelone obliqua

Chelone varieties to grow

  • Chelone glabra has pinkish-white flowers and grows to 4 feet (1.2m); it is hardy in Zones 5-9
  • Chelone lyonii has purple-pink flowers; grows to 4 feet tall; hardy in Zones 3-9.
  • Chelone obliqua has deep pink or white flowers; it grows to 3 feet (.9m) tall and is hardy in Zones 3-9.

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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