Globe thistles (Echinops) belong to the sunflower family and are native to the Balkans and southern Europe. They are represented in 12 types across Europe. They are upright, sturdy, persistent plants that impress with their striking appearance. The round, intense blue or silver-white flower heads are a real feast for the eyes. During its flowering period – from July to September – this plant provides unmistakable accents in the garden. Globe thistles are popular cut flowers and very suitable for drying.
Table of Contents
Globe thistles ideally have a location where they are in the sun for at least four hours a day. Since it buckles easily, this plant can only reach a good height if it grows sheltered from the wind. The average height is 60 to 100 centimeters, although older thistles can be well above this height. In general, the whole genre is considered to be quite undemanding and persistent. It can thrive even on stony, poor soil. Thanks to its long roots that reach deep into the ground, prolonged drought does not affect this plant very much. It blooms from July to September, the cups of the flower head bloom from top to bottom. Propagation can take place, among other things, by self-sowing. The generic name “Echinops” means “hedgehog face” and is derived from the similarity of the spherical heads with a curled up hedgehog. Ball thistles are popular with insects and are known as bee pastures. For this plant to thrive, the garden soil should be well drained. In the garden, the blue, spherical flowers stand out clearly in combination with daisies, roses and annual summer flowers.
- Good forage for bees and butterflies
- Fits very well in natural gardens
- Good cut or dried flower
- The faded balls can serve as bird food until spring
- Is native of southern Europe on rocky surfaces
Globe thistles like the sun and are best placed on the south side of the garden. As far as the soil conditions are concerned, this plant is quite undemanding. Normal to dry soil and even poor soils made of rubble are sufficient for her. It must be noted that the spherical thistle is deep-rooted and therefore unsuitable for flat soils. These plants don’t like too much moisture or shade. Given their frugality, the location for the spherical thistles in the garden can be chosen quite flexibly. They also develop quite well in partial shade. Nevertheless, the more intensely they are exposed to the sun, they form significantly more flowers. Tall cultivars work well as the background of a perennial bed, while low cultivars are planted in groups and look best in the foreground.
These plants prefer a nutrient-poor, sandy, moist to dry soil. It is important that the soil is permeable, a heavy soil should definitely be improved. Trying to cultivate spherical thistles in soil that is too moist and rich in nutrients can make the plant susceptible to diseases or parasites.
Watering and fertilizing
After planting, the plant should be watered daily for about a month. As a rule, the rain is sufficient to supply water later. The plant only needs to be watered occasionally if it has been dry for a long time.
Basic fertilization can be carried out with the budding in spring. A complete fertilizer can be used for this, which contains everything this plant needs to grow, bloom and thrive. Fertilizing with guano is also recommended.
Planting / propagation
Ball thistles can be propagated by sowing, dividing the stems or root cuttings. The stems and the root cuttings are planted in autumn or winter at a distance of about 30 to 40 centimeters. They need to be adequately watered.
The young plants or globular thistle seeds are commercially available. You can get them at cheap prices in garden centers, hardware stores or online shops. A good alternative to getting spherical thistles is to ask neighbors or friends who already have spherical thistles in their gardens to share them.
Basically, when propagating spherical thistles, it should be borne in mind that this plant can spread quickly underground by self-sowing. A root barrier can inhibit and control growth. If the thistle has already reproduced unintentionally, the new plants and their roots must be exterminated in order to prevent further uncontrollable reproduction.
The ball thistle is sown in spring from March to April, with mild temperatures. They are placed in seed boxes in a protected place, whereby the seeds must be easily hooked in. Germination takes about 20 days. Globe thistles are cold and warm germs.
Globe thistles hardly need any care. Because of the prickly leaves, it is advisable to wear gardening gloves when removing the dead leaves. Should the seeds not ripen, the stalks of the withered inflorescences should be cut off regularly. This promotes further flower formation considerably. Although spherical thistles can tolerate drought well, they thrive significantly better if they are occasionally watered thoroughly during long periods of drought. Globe thistles are considered hardy up to around -10 degrees Celsius. In colder regions, they should be protected with some brushwood to be on the safe side in winter. As a rule, no pruning is necessary for spherical thistles. If the plant has spread in the garden in an undesired uncontrolled manner, the new plants must be thoroughly removed, including their roots.
Banat ball thistle (Echinops bannaticus)
This perennial popular perennial loves drought and can reach a height of up to 120 centimeters. The Banat ball thistle occurs in the Balkans, Romania, Bulgaria and the Crimea. This species can be integrated very well in natural gardens. The spherical flower heads are gray-blue and very popular cut flowers that are well suited for drying. The Banat ball thistle was naturalized in Central Europe. It is rarely used as an ornamental plant.
Glandular spherical thistle (Echinops exaltatus)
Like all species of this genus, the glandular spherical thistle is a very perennial plant. It reaches a height of up to 150, in exceptional cases also 200 centimeters. The stem is usually one-headed, the leaves glandless and stiff-haired. The collecting head has a diameter of four to about six centimeters. The crown is blue-green in color. The glandular spherical thistle is native to southeast Europe and was naturalized in Central Europe. It is rarely used as an ornamental plant.
Ruthenische Kugeldistel (Echinops ritro)
In August there are not many plants left in this country that can provide food for bees. One of these plants is the Ruthenian spherical thistle. The extremely perennial Echinops ritro can be found most frequently in our gardens, mainly as an ornamental plant in perennial beds. It reaches an average height of 80 centimeters and is resistant to both frost and summer drought. It thrives best when in full sun, but even partial shade doesn’t prevent this plant from showing its lush, bright purple-blue flowers. The Ruthenian spherical thistle has its natural range in Western Asia, Eastern Europe, on the Balkan Peninsula, Italy, Spain and southern France. Like all spherical thistle species, the Ruthenian spherical thistle is a popular pasture for bees. Their fruits have a high raw fat content and they are also very rich in protein. The oil has many fatty acids, such as linoleic acid or oleic acid, the fruits are rich in quinoline (echinorin). In some countries the Ruthenian ball thistle is used as a medicinal plant. After appropriate processing, their seeds are used as a remedy for multiple sclerosis. The Ruthenian spherical thistle is not only very pretty to look at when it has faded. It is still used in autumn, for example for flower arrangements. Although it reproduces via self-sowing, among other things, this species of thistle does not become as annoying in your own garden as other species. In some countries the Ruthenian ball thistle is used as a medicinal plant. After appropriate processing, their seeds are used as a remedy for multiple sclerosis. The Ruthenian spherical thistle is not only very pretty to look at when it has faded. It is still used in autumn, for example for flower arrangements. Although it reproduces via self-sowing, among other things, this species of thistle does not become as annoying in your own garden as other species. In some countries the Ruthenian ball thistle is used as a medicinal plant. After appropriate processing, their seeds are used as a remedy for multiple sclerosis. The Ruthenian spherical thistle is not only very pretty to look at when it has faded. It is still used in autumn, for example for flower arrangements. Although it reproduces via self-sowing, among other things, this species of thistle does not become as annoying in your own garden as other species.
Low spherical thistle (Echinops humilis)
The low spherical thistle reaches heights of growth of five to twenty centimeters. Their lower leaves are either undivided or pinnate, the stem leaves have a thorny tip. The stem can have up to three heads and is white wool. The collecting head is steel blue and up to four centimeters in diameter, the crown is light blue. Flowering time is from August to September. The lower spherical thistle grows on rocky mountain steppes and is native to the Altai and Mongolia. It is rarely used as an ornamental plant for perennial beds.
Glandular spherical thistle (Echinops sphaerocephalus)
This type of thistle, also known as a bee spherical thistle, is a biennial or perennial plant that can reach a height of 60 to 180 centimeters. This thistle, which comes from Eastern Europe, was cultivated in Central Europe as a beehive for bees. Occasionally they are found overgrown in arid areas, on banks or rubble sites. The glandular spherical thistle flowers only once in Central Europe. Pollinators are bees and wasps, but also butterflies. The glandular spherical thistle has light gray to silvery white flowers. Together with the Ruthenian spherical thistle, it is most common in our gardens.
In contrast to the blue spherical thistle, which is a real eye-catcher, thistles, at least those growing in the wild, are reluctant to see them in their own gardens. Because once they have conquered a garden or a field, they are very difficult to get rid of. Thistles are namely root germs. They multiply in fields, arable land or along the roadside, and their deep roots can reach a considerable length of up to six meters. As a result, they can easily survive longer periods of drought. In order to get rid of them permanently, the entire root should be pulled out in good time.
Parasites and diseases
As a rule, spherical thistles do not suffer from parasites and are rarely afflicted by diseases. Sometimes they are attacked by aphids, which can damage the flowers. Excessive or incorrect maintenance or soil that is too moist and nutrient-rich can lead to diseases such as fungal infections. Heavy, loamy soil can lead to root rot.
Ball thistles have, depending on the species, beautiful purple-blue, light gray or silvery-white flowers and are a real eye-catcher in every garden. They are frugal plants with a lot of stamina that require little care. Depending on the species, they can be up to 120 centimeters high and are particularly suitable for beds that already have plants in the lower area. Globe thistles can also reproduce by self-sowing and therefore spread quickly in an uncontrolled manner. Measures such as building a root barrier can counteract this well.