How to grow teasel
Advice on growing and caring for the wildflower teasel, in our Grow Guide.
Wild teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) is a strikingly architectural biennial wildflower that develops into an impressively statuesque tall plant within just two growing seasons, before completing its life cycle. In its first year teasel grows from seed for form a rosette of foliage, then produces flowering stems in the second year, which grow up to 2m tall. The distinctive conical prickly flower heads are covered in tiny purple blooms in midsummer, borne on the ends of tall, open, branching stems that are also clothed with prickles. Despite this prickliness, teasel is not related to thistle.
The name teasel comes from its one-time use in cloth production. A cultivated sub-species of teasel, Dipsacus sativus has bristle tips shaped like tiny hooks which were used to ‘tease’ out the nap of cloth. Teasel plant was once widely grown for this purpose before being superseded by steel machinery.
After flowering, teasel heads turn brown and dry to retain their structure through winter. They look beautiful when silvered with frost or strung with spider webs on misty mornings. Teasel plant is immensely popular with wildlife: the flowers are a magnet for bees, butterflies, and other insects, then masses of tiny seeds are beloved by seed-eating birds, especially goldfinches. The leaves and plant structure are designed to funnel and hold rainwater for up to several days and provide a useful micro-supply of water for wildlife. Teasel is popular for dried flower arrangements, including Christmas wreaths, and children’s handicrafts.
Wild teasel grows widely throughout England in a variety of sites including roadsides, waste ground, and stream sides. In North America it is considered an invasive plant, but not in the UK, where it is native. However it does self-seed readily but is easy to dig out when young. Teasel is not used as an edible plant though it has no toxic effects reported.
Another species is the small teasel (Dipsacus pilosus). As the name suggests, this is less statuesque, growing up to 1.5m high and with rounded heads. It is also excellent for wildlife, although seed is hard to find.
How to grow teasel
Grow teasel in an informal site with plenty of space for the large plants to develop. Sow seed in spring or autumn or plant when small in summer. Allow to self-seed if the site suits, then remove dead stems at the end of winter.
Where to grow teasel
Teasel is a robust-growing plant that thrives in a range of sites and soils, in sun or partial shade, including moist and heavy soils. Grow at the back of an informal border, in a wild garden, at the edge of a pond, or in a meadow as teasel is one of the few wildflowers that is robust enough to compete with tussocky grass.
How to plant teasel
Teasel is readily available to buy as seed, it germinates easily and is best sown where you want it to grow. However you can so into pots or seed trays to plant out later, just bear in mind that teasel rapidly develops deep roots, so plants must go into their final growing position when young, otherwise the roots become restricted and growth is stunted. Plant out as soon as they are large enough to handle, 45-60cm apart and keep watered until established.
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Teasel plug plants are available to buy, again, plant them soon to ensure the roots have time to develop well.
How to care for teasel
Teasel needs no care apart from watering after planting. Teasel often self-seeds freely although young plants are easy to thin out and remove.
How to prune teasel
There's no need to prune teasel, although you can reduce the overall height of the plant if you wish, by cutting stems back to a node. Teasel stems usually stand right through winter, providing food for birds and shelter for insects. At the end of winter, pull up the stems and add to a brash pile or ‘dead hedge’ to continue providing habitat, or compost.
How to propagate teasel
Sow teasel seed in spring or autumn. Seed germinates readily and the easiest way to grow teasel is to sow the seed direct where it is to grow. Alternatively, sow in modular cell trays of moist seed compost, outside where protected from extremes of weather, sowing sparingly and thinning to leave one seedling per cell. Teasel plant is biennial, so flowers won’t appear until the second year. To have flowers in consecutive years, sow teasels for two years running.
You can easily collect seed from teasel and store it to sow in autumn or just leave it to self seed.
Pests and diseases
Teasel is not troubled by pests and diseases. It does attract aphids, but these in turn attract natural predators, such as ladybirds and birds.
Advice on buying teasel
- Teasel is a fantastic wildlife plant but it is vigorous and self seeds readily – think carefully before growing it in a small garden
- Seeds of teasel are available from a number of seed suppliers
- Seed and young plants are sometimes available from nurseries specialising in native flowers and plants