Horticulture Magazine

Potentilla ‘Cinquefoils’ Plant Care & Growing Tips

yellow potentilla flowers up close with gravel in background

Potentilla Overview

Official Plant NamePotentilla
Common Name(s)Cinquefoils
Plant TypePerennial, Annual, Shrub
Native AreaNorthern Hemisphere
Hardiness RatingMostly H7
ToxicityNone
FoliageDeciduous
Flowers5 petalled flowers appearing over a long period
When To SowMarch, April
Flowering MonthsJune, July, August, September
When To PruneAugust, September
Sunlight

Preferred
Full Sun

Exposure
Exposed or Sheltered

Size

Height
0.1 – 0.5M

Spread
0.1 – 0.5M

Bloom Time
June – September

Soil

Preferred
Most Soil Types

Moisture
Moist but well drained

pH
Any

Some plants have so many names that it can be hard to keep track of them, and potentilla is one such candidate. You’ll see this shrub variously referred to as potentilla, cinquefoil, five fingers, silverweeds, and more.

Throwing further confusion into the mix is that many varieties are visually similar, centred on a theme of being small, green shrubs with vigorous bouquets of yellow flowers.

Potentilla erecta with bright yellow flowers and dark green foliage
Potentilla erecta, one of many stunning varieties

What is certain, however, is that potentilla makes a pretty addition to any garden. In this guide, we’re going to run through the information you need to get this shrub established in your garden. We’ll also touch briefly on some of the different varieties available, to give you a taste of the variations on the theme.

What is potentilla?

The short answer? A bit of a mystery. This genus contains an undefined number of plants – with estimates ranging from three hundred to over five hundred – and there’s contention about the characteristics which should define membership. Some potentillas have small berries which resemble strawberries – a plant to which they’re closely related – but the fruit is small and inedible. All varieties have an elegant floral bloom, yet while the majority are yellow, the overall colour palette varies wildly.

Why grow it?

For a budding British gardener, this is the more important question. We advocate growing potentilla because it is attractive, varied, and well-suited to a wide range of garden backdrops. Their low shrub profiles lend themselves nicely to borders, while their bold colouration adds visual interest to flower beds and displays.

Types of potentilla

There are potentially hundreds of different types of potentilla, as we mentioned above. To give a small taste of what’s on offer, we’ve rounded up three varieties which have been awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit: An accolade indicating particular suitability to growth in British gardens. If you’re wondering which potentilla to grow, you won’t go far wrong with one of these.

Potentilla fruticosa ‘King Cup’

What do we think of when we think of royalty? Bold, regal colours, confidence, and more than a smattering of gold. With these criteria in mind, it’s not hard to see where King Cup got its name. The rich yellow bloom that bursts forth in summer and sticks around well into autumn sets the potentilla scene perfectly.

Potentilla fruticosa 'King Cup' growing in a garden border
Bold, regal, and befitting of the monarchic name

Potentilla fruticosa ‘Medicine Wheel Mountain’

Here we have a mat-forming shrub which spills intriguingly out onto the ground, leaving a green-yellow covering. The dimensions and overall aesthetic of the mat would work well with a rock display, or to provide attractive ground cover somewhere in your garden that doesn’t require much of a vertical contribution.

Potentilla fruticosa ‘Primrose Beauty’

This variety of potentilla has white flowers with bright yellow centres, rather than fully yellow flowers. We’ve included the Primrose Beauty to give an indication of the variations available within the potentilla colour palette. Not every garden needs more yellow, but we think that any garden could do with a dash of potentilla.

Potentilla care & growing tips

If you’re sold on potentilla and want to get one growing in your garden, the next sections are for you. We’ll outline where to plant it, how often to water it, methods of propagation, and much more.

How to plant

Before planting, mix a few centimetres of compost into the soil, working it to a depth of between 15-20 cm. Then simply dig a hole slightly bigger than the root ball, plop the potentilla sapling in, and cover it over. Pat down the soil firmly enough to keep the plant secure, but not too tightly that you stifle it.

For best results, plant out your potentilla in spring or autumn, with spring being favourite for giving the roots a chance to get established in time for harsher weather.

This type of plant is rarely grown from seed as it’s hard to keep them true to type. Most garden centres will sell young plants which are ready to be transplanted into your garden.

Where to grow your plant

The answer to this question will depend on the variety you choose. Potentillas range in height from a few inches to several feet, and have a similarly broad range of widths. Take time to understand how big your variety is likely to get and choose a space in your garden accordingly.

In terms of preferred climate and prospect, potentillas are very hardy and can withstand lots of buffeting from the elements. This makes them popular choices for beachfront properties, or gardens that are very exposed.

Your potentilla will do best in soil that can drain well, with neutral or slightly acidic pH levels. A spot with full sun will help to nurture more flower growth, so bear this in mind if you’re growing potentilla especially for its floral bloom.

Watering

To encourage strong root growth keep your potentilla well watered during its first year. After that, the plant is sturdy enough to tolerate drought, but will appreciate watering in particularly dry conditions. To insure against various potential health problems (addressed in detail later), try your best to water the roots and soil only, rather than spraying the entire plant. Damp foliage and leaves can cause problems if they’re unable to dry out fully.

Pruning

You don’t need to deadhead the flowers on your potentilla, as they’re able to take care of themselves. Because of their shrubby nature, potentillas lend themselves well to pruning to keep them in shape. Don’t do this until your plant is at least three years old, however, to ensure it’s strong enough to withstand the treatment.

Prune back older plants by a third of their total growth every few years to keep them tame and healthy.

How to propagate potentilla

In the height of summer you can take cuttings from your potentilla which, when cared for properly, will flourish into new plants. Keep an eye out for new growth free of flowers with woody stems but around 15cm of soft, green growth.

Then simply plant the cutting a few centimetres into a pot filled with compost, taking care that the leaves don’t touch the compost. Cover with a plastic bag for the first few weeks, and then remove the bag once the cutting has had a chance to put out roots.

In the next growing season your potentilla will be ready to be transplanted into your garden, following the steps outlined above.

Troubleshooting common problems

While generally very hardy, there are a few problems that can affect potentilla. Here’s what to look out for –

Mildew or leafspot

If you’re too enthusiastic with watering your potentilla, it’s possible the plant will not be able to dry out properly. Damp leaves and foliage are particularly susceptible to mildew and similar types of rot. Removing affected parts of the plant before the problem spreads is your best means of control, but in this instance, prevention really is the best cure.

Root rot

In a similar vein, if the soil is unable to drain properly, your potentilla’s roots may begin to rot. If this happens, it’s very hard to reverse the course of the rot, and often the plant must be discarded.

Aphids

These pesky green critters love to feast on the sweet fluids inside the leaves and stems of pretty much any plant they can get their hands on (figuratively speaking). If you notice an unwelcome gathering of green fiends on the leaves of your potentilla, here’s what to do –

  1. Attempt to remove them by hand, staying vigilant for the next few days to see whether they return.
  2. Introduce predatory bugs like ladybirds or similar, who will keep the aphid populations in check while not eating your plants.
  3. Use a pesticide to remove existing populations and discourage further visits. We recommend going for something gentle and humane, although you have a wide range of options when choosing such a product.
magnified view of small aphids on a green leaf
Aphid and goliath

Unleash your true potentilla

The myriad plants under the potentilla banner offer an exciting and rewarding set of blooms for your garden. Whether you want something tall and flamboyant or a mat that barely stands above the ground, this family of shrubs has got you covered. Thanks to their hardiness, flexibility, and comprehensive range of shapes, sizes, and colours, there’s a member of the potentilla family well-suited to the needs of any and all gardeners.

And although there are a few things to look out for, this plant really isn’t too demanding, once you get it established in your garden. Take care to choose the right spot and nurture your plant to health, and you’ll be rewarded with a mature bloom that largely takes care of itself.

We wish you the best in helping your potentilla to reach its potential!

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