Wood anemone – characteristics, cultivation and use

Wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa)
Wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa)

The wood anemone is an undemanding forest plant, not necessarily huge, but very decorative in many locations in the garden. Wood anemones overlay the areas of the garden with a carpet of flowers covering the ground, which otherwise look rather dreary: the bare soil under trees and tall bushes, the areas where otherwise hardly anything grows. This carpet of flowers becomes denser over time and completely fills the bare spots under the trees.

Profile of wood anemone:

Scientific name: Anemone nemorosa

Plant family: buttercup family (Ranunculaceae)

Other names: thimbleweed, windflower, smell fox

Sowing time: late autumn

Planting time: Spring or Autumn

Flowering period: February to May

Location: semi-shady to shady

Soil quality: sandy to loamy, moderately nutrient rich, humus rich

These information are for temperate climate!

Use in: ground cover, underplanting, overgrowth, natural garden, forest garden

Winter hardiness: hardy, USDA Plant Hardiness Zones: 5

Bee and insect friendly: Yes

Plant characteristics and classification of wood anemone

Plant order, origin and occurrence of wood anemone

The wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa) is a member of the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae) and every spring it delights the eye with thick white carpets of flowers. Especially in deciduous and coniferous forests you can often find the early bloomers native to Europe and Asia. Like the early flowering bulb plants, this species of anemone is a geophyte – that is, it sprouts quickly in spring, but has already ended its growth cycle in early summer and is withdrawing back into the ground. With this clever strategy, the hardy perennial makes optimal use of the period in which the tree tops still let pass a lot of light. The name windflower probably comes from the fact that the petals are very easily carried away by the wind.

Characteristics of wood anemone


The wood anemone is 10 and 25 centimeters (4 and 10 in) high and forms creeping, slender rhizome roots from which new shoots sprout.


The dark green leaves of the wood anemone are cut deep and pull in after flowering. The perennial is poisonous in all parts of the plant.


The wood anemone blooms mostly pure white in nature, but occasionally also shows slightly pink petals. The flowering period extends from March to May, but in mild regions or warm early spring the wood anemone opens its flowers already in February. The bright white flowers with the yellow stamens are 1.5 to 4 centimeters (0.6 to 1.6 in) in size. They consist of six to eight petals, very rarely of twelve petals. At night and when it rains, the flowers close and hang down.

Wood anemone – cultivation and care


Wood anemones have spread mainly in western and Central Europe and parts of Asia, they are used to the Atlantic to subcontinental climate. The Atlantic or maritime climate of the coastal areas is characterized by low temperature differences, high humidity and a lot of precipitation, the continental climate shows larger temperature fluctuations, hot summers and cold winters and, especially in summer, less precipitation.

Wood anemones colonize the forests of these areas from flat to mountainous areas with forest growth; apart from coastal marshes and forest-free landscapes. They are so-called spring geophytes, which means they grow on the herb layer in the forest close to the ground and bloom before the trees develop their leaves in spring. The wood anemones do this because they have quite high lighting requirements, they have to get through their entire life cycle before thick leaves darken the forest ground.

Accordingly, wood anemones are comfortable everywhere in the garden, where they can spread undisturbed and shaded under a larger plant. You can think of the wood anemone all the locations in the garden that you only enter once for a pruning and where wood anemones are happy to cover larger areas with a white carpet of flowers. These can be areas far back in the garden, for an eye-catching flower bed the wood anemone is not only too small, but also too shortly visible: with its flowering, it is one of the first harbingers of spring from March and then continues until late spring new flowers, but then retreats completely into the soil until next spring.


Wood anemone in nature overgrow the forest soil, that is very good soil, with up to 20% humus (for comparison: farmland has 2% humus). In addition, a well-moistened floor that never swelter and never dries out in the sun. The more naturally your garden has been cultivated so far, the more similar the soil under wood will be to such a forest soil.

If you first plant the wood anemone, you can quickly do nothing more than loosen the top layer of the soil, not digging, the soil structure will be destroyed even more, but digging in the digging fork and moving it back and forth a few times. The loosened soil should be moisturized well and some compost should be applied too. The wood anemone then takes over the root penetration, it should also be able to cope with neglected soils, since it is generally considered to be very moderately demanding.

Planting wood anemone

Wood anemones can be bought as young plants in garden centers, the best time to plant is autumn. Here’s how to do it:

  • Water the rootstock before planting
  • The wood anemones are put about 5 cm (2 in) deep in the ground
  • Plant groups, depending on the size, between 12 and 25 pieces per square meter
  • When the wood anemones are in the ground, they are watered again


The propagation of the wood anemone is very simple and is easiest to do by dividing the plants. To do this, you simply cut off sections of the plant carpet and re-plant them elsewhere. The best time for this is in spring right after flowering. You can also multiply the early bloomer in autumn by root cuttings. For this purpose, some of the rhizomes are dug out and cut into several parts, making sure that there are also buds on each part. These sections are then not inserted, but planted horizontally according to their natural growth behavior. It is best, however, to leave the plant to itself, with its long rhizomes, it multiplies on its own over time.

You can also use seeds of wood anemone, but sowing is not be for beginners. The seeds must be sown under controlled conditions in the late autumn in the cold frame and on sterile sowing soil, the seeds must never dry out and never become too moist. They must overwinter under the influence of frost until they germinate in the spring, and then also pricked out when the first two leaves have developed after the cotyledons.


The soil is always best to be evenly moist. Under no circumstances should it dry out completely, so in case of doubt you need additional irrigation. You have to pay close attention to the moisture from the appearance of the first shoots and flowers in February or March, but only until they pull in. When the wood anemones have faded, they survive in the soil with the moisture that the trees growing above them get. If it is very hot and dry, you should water the area a little more generously.


Wood anemones need a nutrient rich soil, which should be enriched with a humus dose over the course of the year. In the fall, a layer of mulch put on the wood anemone helps with humus formation, and compost can be applied before budding in spring. It is best mixed with chopped deciduous foliage and sand, which also increases the humus content and maintains the water permeability in the ground.


Since the wood anemone pulls in immediately after flowering, it does not need to be cut back. The aerial parts of the plants die completely in summer. They are then covered by the other plants and decomposed into valuable humus. But in spring you can cut a bouquet for the vase at any time.

Diseases and pests

The wood anemone is on the menu of snails and the rhizomes are often attacked by the anemone cup. This mushroom uses the early flowering plant as a host plant, but does not damage it much. The leaves are also somewhat susceptible to rust fungi.


The wood anemone does not need any help during the winter, it winters well protected in the ground until spring is there and it is time for new shoots.


While the wood anemone is an important source of food for insects, they are poisonous for other animals such as dogs, cats, horses and rodents, as well as for humans when fresh, namely all parts of the plant. However, this poison converts to non-toxic substances during drying and is therefore non-toxic when dried.

Use in the garden

Since the wood anemone can quickly form dense stands, it is ideal if you want to plant a larger area under trees. It is best to combine it with late-flowering shade perennials such as hosta or astilbe, because if the spring bloomer wither after flowering, these can cover up the yellowed leaves. Combination plantings with other early blooming flowers as wild garlic, winter aconite and squill are also very decorative.

Good planting neighbors

Wood anemones will already disappear in early summer, if something should bloom on the areas occupied with them later in the season, you would have to take precautions. Plants that do not disturb the wood anemone’s underground growth can be placed between, next to or in front of the wood anemone, for example:

  • Foxglove (Digitalis), native species, do not use in the garden used by children, highly toxic in all parts of the plant
  • Bluebell (Campanula)
  • Cranesbill (Geranium), for the rather moist soil that the wood anemone loves, e.g. B. meadow cranesbill (Geranium pratense) or wood cranesbill (Geranium sylvaticum)
  • Turk’s-cap lily (Lilium martagon), many-branched flowers on the stem
  • Wildflower mix for shady locations with e.g. columbine, wild garlic, bluebell, true oxlip, cuckoo flower…

Varieties of wood anemone

Everyone knows it as a native wildflower, but only a few know that there are also some very interesting garden varieties.

  • One of the most striking is undoubtedly ‘Blue eyes’: it is densely filled and has an almost ink-blue flower center.
  • Vestal‘ also bears white, double flowers. In contrast to ‘Blue Eyes’, the petals created from the stamens, like some peonies, are significantly shorter, so that a small pompom is created in the middle.
  • The variety ‘Alba Plena‘ with white double, cup-shaped flowers that appear between March and May. The outer flower-wreath of these double flowers is star-shaped.
  • Finally, ‘Robinsoniana’ is a large-flowered purple-blue color variant. It was discovered 130 years ago in the Oxford Botanical Gardens and was already widely used in the gardens of England around 1900.

The right location is important, because the most intense coloring shows the flowers in the shade. Strong UV light decomposes the dye and makes it fade.

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