How To Grow And Care For Leonotis Leonurus (Wild Dagga)

If you want a prolific show of flowers on a striking shrub year after year, Leonotis leonurus may be the plant for you, if you live in a warm zone, that is.

But that doesn’t mean that you can’t grow this plant at all if you live somewhere cooler, you’ll just need to treat it a little differently.

Not sure if this plant is for you? Let’s take a look at everything you need to know about Leonotis leonurus. 

At A Glance: What You Should Know About Leonotis Leonurus

Leonotis leonurus is a beautiful shrub that grows quickly, producing seas of orange blooms atop flower spikes that attract plenty of pollinators.

The reason why this plant is so prolific is that it comes from the mint plant family, Lamiaceae. It hails from South Africa, and is grown as an ornamental plant in many tropical and subtropical parts of the world. 

It attracts plenty of pollinators thanks to its wealth of nectar contained in the flowers, and can withstand some level of drought.

You may also know this plant as wild dagga or lion’s tail.

If you don’t live in a warm climate, that doesn’t mean that you can’t grow this plant. You can use it as a summer annual to provide lots of color, and simply put it into a conservatory or heated greenhouse during the winter, or let it die down completely.

In climates that mimic its native habitat, it will reach between 3 and 6 feet tall, spreading to nearly 4 feet wide. 

You can recognize this plant by its deep green leaves, growing opposite each other on the stems, with serrated margins, and a distinctive fragrance when crushed. 

In late spring or early summer, this plant produces whorls of orange flowers above the foliage, and if the weather is warm enough, this plant can flower well into winter. 

In colder areas, expect the lion’s tail to flower in the middle of summer, and into fall as the weather allows, as long as you start the plant off indoors in the early spring.

Each flower is capable of reaching 5cm long, and from a distance, the whorls are very eye-catching, almost looking as though the plant is on fire. 

Even when the flowers have finished, this shrub still puts on an interesting display. The seed pods that follow the flowers look a little like miniature wasp nests. 

How To Grow Leonotis

In warm climates, the lion’s tail shrub is evergreen. If you live somewhere colder, freezing temperatures will cause the plant to defoliate, and die if the weather is cold enough.

You can grow this plant as an annual, if you start off seeds or cuttings indoors during the very early spring, moving them outside once the risk of frost is over.

The good news is that this shrub grows extremely well and fills any space quickly, able to reach 6 feet tall in one year. 

Growing Leonotis From Cuttings

Before the plant dies back, take green stem cuttings that are about 12cm long, and place them in a plastic bag to lock in the moisture. 

When you’re at your potting bench, take off the lower leaves, and use some rooting hormone if you like, before putting them into a damp, well-draining soil mix, in a bright but indirect position. 

You should see new growth within two months, in which case the cuttings have formed roots.

Growing Leonotis From Seed

Leonotis seeds don’t need any special treatment. You can take them from the seed pods, and store them until the following spring in a paper bag, in a cool, dark place.

Once it turns spring, you can sow the seeds in a fine potting compost, in moist soil, in a warm and indirect place.

They will need to be kept indoors until seedlings have grown their true leaves, and have reached 15cm high or more.

How To Care For A Lion’s Tail Plant

Sunlight And Position

Lion’s tail plants love full sunlight, in a sheltered position. This will give them enough energy to produce as many flowers as possible, but you can also put these plants in partial sunlight in zones 8 to 11 if that’s what you have.

Leonotis plants aren’t very picky when it comes to the soil, but above all it needs to drain well. They will absolutely thrive in rich and loamy soil, but they will survive in other types, too.

Watering And Fertilizing

It’s best to let the lion’s tail plant dry out at least partially before watering them again, but give them enough of a drink each time to sustain the heavy growth.

You don’t need to feed the lion’s tail plant as long as the soil has plenty of nutrients. If you do want to add some extra goodness, use a slow-release organic fertilizer during spring, and apply a thin organic mulch around the base of the plant.

How To Use Leonotis Leonurus In The Garden

Leonotis leonurus looks perfect as a border shrub in warmer climates, or even as a privacy screen. 

In colder areas, you could even plant it in a big pot and bring it indoors during the winter. 

This is a great plant to use in gardens that could do with more life, as it attracts plenty of wildlife in the form of pollinators, such as hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies. 

It also helps that this plant is resistant to deer.

Other Things Worth Knowing About The Lion’s Tail Plant

A Note On Toxicity

While this plant has some medicinal applications, it’s worth mentioning that it should not be ingested, as it’s not classed as edible. 

Studies conducted on animals have suggested that high doses of this plant can damage organs and red blood cells, as well as wreaking havoc on other parts of the body.

How And When To Prune The Lion’s Tail Plant

This particular plant needs a good trim once a year after the plant has finished flowering, and this will keep a neat growth habit. 

If you do live somewhere that gets mild frosts in the winter, cut the plant back to about 20cm above the ground, and mulch around the crown of the plant to protect it from freezing temperatures.

Can You Treat Leonotis As A Perennial Plant?

If you live somewhere that is balmy no matter the season, Leonotis is a perennial plant. It’s classed as semi-evergreen, so it won’t die back in these areas. 

In zones other than 8-11, Leonotis leonurus should be considered an annual plant. To make sure that a form of the plant survives winter, you can take cuttings during summer and propagate new plants for the following year.

Final Thoughts

Leonotis leonurus is a beautiful shrub that will make a stunning addition to any garden, but you will have to adapt its care to your growing zone. 

It grows quickly, and attracts many pollinators, so even as an annual plant, it is worth growing at least once. 

To get the most out of this shrub, plant it near a seating area or a path where you can make the most of its fragrance, and enjoy the wealth of wildlife it will attract into your garden.

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