A magical aura surrounds the deadly nightshade, probably the most famous poisonous plant in the world. In fact, its jet black berries are extremely toxic, followed by all other components of the mysterious ornamental shrub of the nightshade family. It would be easy to forego the cultivation of an Atropa belladonna if it weren’t for the beautiful flower bells and the decorative, oval leaves. Hobby gardeners who like to adopt an extravagant style in garden design are not deterred by the poisonous content of deadly nightshade. As long as there are no children running around in the garden or nosy pets, the care of the mystical plant proves to be quite feasible.


  • Plant family of the nightshade family (Solanaceae)
  • Kind of deadly nightshade (Atropa)
  • Species Name: Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladonna)
  • Herbaceous ornamental plant up to 150 cm high
  • Hardy and deciduous
  • Dark violet, bell-shaped flowers from June to autumn
  • Oval foliage, lanceolate, tapering
  • Initially green, later black, glossy berries from August to October
  • Extremely toxic in all parts due to high concentration of alkaloids
  • Trivial names: devil’s cherry, wolfberry, dead herb

The relationship between humans and deadly nightshade is ambiguous. On the one hand, their appearance is associated with the devil, on the other hand, their active ingredients are widely used in medicine. For cultivation in your own garden, the focus is particularly on the toxic content of the berries and seeds. It is no coincidence that the botanical name points to the goddess Atropos, who cuts the thread of life according to Greek mythology.

location and soil conditions

The black deadly nightshade unfolds its lavish splendor in the bed as generously as in the bucket. The most important ingredient from Mother Nature for the distinctive flower is as many hours of sunshine as possible. In addition, a wind-exposed location should not be shortlisted. An Atropa belladonna quickly yields to strong winds and topples over. Where the light and wind conditions are right, the soil should meet the following requirements so that the devil’s cherry feels comfortable.

  • Rich in nutrients and humus
  • Well-drained, yet fresh to moist
  • A pH of 7.5 to 8.5 is ideal

A good decision in the context of a tub culture is the use of hand-mixed substrate. A combination of loamy garden soil, sifted compost, sharp sand and a few handfuls of perlite create the perfect conditions for healthy growth. If the components are not available, good compost-based potting soil serves as a suitable equivalent.

watering and fertilizing

The amount of irrigation water depends crucially on the extent to which the deadly nightshade has developed biomass in the form of leaves, flowers and berries. The larger the evaporation surface, the higher the water requirement. In terms of nutrient supply, the ornamental plant has average requirements.

  • Keep constantly moist from April to October
  • Let the substrate surface dry before the next watering
  • Supply with liquid fertilizer every 14 days from March to September
  • Alternatively, repeated organic fertilization with compost and horn meal

Waterlogging in any form inevitably leads to the death of an Atropa belladonna. It is therefore advisable to only water after a thumb test. You can determine whether the soil has dried to a depth of 2-3 cm. Only then is there water for the next time, right next to the root area.

To cut

In order for the pretty small shrub to retain its decorative habit, dried or withered shoots can be cut at any time during the vegetation phase. Regular trimming has an extremely beneficial effect on the development of further flowers. Don’t let yourself be tempted to reach into the plant without the protection of gloves, because the poisonous content is omnipresent in all parts of the plant. The central form and maintenance pruning takes place immediately after the flowering and fruiting period, before it freezes for the first time.

  • Branches that are too long can be shortened by up to two thirds
  • At least one or two sleeping eyes must remain on the shoot
  • Dead branches are cut at the base

Choose a frost-free, dry day without blazing sunshine for this care measure. The cutting tool should be freshly sharpened and meticulously disinfected. Only dispose of clippings in the compost when no pets, cows or horses can get to them. Otherwise, the safest disposal is via the garbage can.

Overwinter in the bed

The black deadly nightshade easily endures frosty temperatures down to -20 degrees Celsius. This means that winter protection in the bed is not necessary. Should the shoots freeze back during a particularly harsh winter, this is by no means a cause for concern. A healthy plant will reliably sprout again next spring. A wolfberry that was only planted in autumn should be protected from frost with leaves, straw or brushwood as a precaution.

Hibernation in bucket

Different conditions apply to a devil’s cherry in a planter in winter than in a bed. In the bucket, the root ball is vulnerable to the cold winds, so that in the worst case it could freeze completely. As a result, some precautions must be taken before the first frost:

  • Cover a planter thickly with garden fleece or bubble wrap
  • Cover the substrate with a layer of leaves or straw
  • Put a jute bag or perforated foil over the shoots

To prevent the cold from rising from the ground to the root area, place the bucket on wood or polystyrene. So well shielded against the rigors of winter, the only danger a deadly nightshade is from is frost. Hardy plants usually tolerate even the lowest temperatures without complaint. If there is no snow at the same time, they are still at risk of drought. In this case it is advisable to water the Atropa belladonna on a frost-free day.


Every 2 to 3 years, deadly nightshade should be moved to a larger pot. At the latest when the roots grow out of the ground opening, it is time to repot. The perfect time for this measure is early spring, just before the new budding.

  • The diameter of the new bucket is a maximum of 5-6 cm larger
  • Drainage at the bottom of the pot is used to prevent waterlogging
  • Unpot the madrid herb and shake off the used substrate
  • Shorten overly long or stunted root strands with scissors
  • Put the plant in the fresh substrate and water it

Press down repeatedly with your fist as you fill in the potting soil around the root ball. This prevents the formation of cavities that could prevent the roots from spreading.


Since a deadly nightshade is particularly impressive in a group or as a hedge, hobby gardeners often want more specimens. There are two methods to choose from with quite different demands on gardening experience. Propagation by means of cuttings is recommended for beginners because of the uncomplicated procedure. Anyone looking for a challenge will choose sowing. The higher degree of difficulty is based on the fact that the Atropa belladonna is one of the cold germs.


Select several healthy, strong shoots in early summer. Cut these off with scissors to a length of 10 cm to 15 cm. Then defoliate each offshoot except for the top pair of leaves. The aim is to ensure that the shoot forms new roots both from the cutting point and from the leaf nodes. Consequently, plant each cutting so deep that only the remaining leaves are visible. As a substrate, choose a lean composition, for example peat and sand, pure coconut hum or perlite. If space is limited, you can of course plant several shoots together in a seed pot. In this case, of course, the intertwined roots have to be unraveled later.

The desired rooting can be forced by a plastic hood that is pulled over each pot. In a partially shaded place on the balcony or the window, keep the substrate constantly slightly moist. If a fresh shoot appears at the end of the shoot, rooting in the substrate is successful. Since the deadly nightshade is currently in its main growth phase, the point is quickly reached that the breeding pot becomes too small. Either repot the young plant in a bucket or plant it out in the bed.


The sowing of a wolfberry is associated with a higher degree of difficulty for several reasons: The seeds have to go through a stratification as cold germs. As part of a berry, they are subject to a germination inhibition that must be broken. The poison content is particularly high.


If seeds are to be removed from a fruit, they are normally subject to germination inhibition. In this way, Mother Nature prevents premature germination in the bed during the winter. This means that the very hard shell has to be softened first. A cold stimulus is then required, which simulates the natural change of seasons, to put the seeds in a good mood to germinate.

  • Remove the seeds from the berries and clean them carefully under running water
  • Soak the seeds in 0.2% potassium nitrate from the pharmacy for 24-48 hours
  • Fill a plastic bag with damp sand and put the seeds in it
  • Place the tightly sealed bag in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator

In the following 6 to 8 weeks the seeds experience the desired cold stimulus. In this phase they must not dry out. Check repeatedly whether the seeds are beginning to sprout. This is the signal that the pre-treatment brought the desired success. The actual sowing can then be tackled.

Sow germinating seeds
Small plastic pots are filled with lean substrate and 1-3 seeds are planted approx. 1 cm deep. Moistened with water from the spray bottle, place the containers in a warm, partially shaded place. Ideally, a greenhouse is available for this purpose. Alternatively, a plastic bag acts as a protective cover. Since germination has already started, the seedlings will grow quickly. As soon as several true pairs of leaves have developed above the cotyledons, sort out the strongest specimens into their own pots. The young Atropa belladonna receive the same care as adult plants until autumn, after which they can be planted out.

Protection from snails

While the deadly nightshade is classified as highly toxic for humans and pets, it is considered a favorite food for slugs. If an Atropa belladonna is planted anywhere in the garden, the news spreads like wildfire among snails , because they come in droves. From this follows the need for effective protection against the pests right from the start. Immediately after planting, a moving barrier made of dry, pointed material keeps the snails away. Chips, shards of pottery or sawdust are suitable. Individual deadly nightshades are preferably planted with a snail collar, which has proven to be an efficient defensive measure. A group or hedge of Atropa belladonna should be surrounded by a snail fence.

As part of regular care, the snail theme is also omnipresent. You can keep the infestation under control with the following measures:

  • Basically water in the early morning hours
  • Before that, collect the rigid slugs
  • Spread coffee grounds as fertilizer, which is poisonous to snails
  • In the event of excessive infestation, set up gap traps with slug pellets

The beer trap has proven to be a purely biological means of control, but only within an area surrounded by a snail fence. Simply fill a deep bowl with old beer and set it up. The snails cannot resist this temptation, fall in and drown.

The deadly nightshade is one of the most poisonous specimens within the nightshade family. If special safety precautions are observed, cultivation in the garden is quite possible. As long as there are no children or curious pets around, nobody has to do without the lavish flowers and shiny berries. In fact, the multitude of beneficial garden dwellers are grateful for this coveted food source. The maintenance does not make any significant demands. It is limited to regular watering and fertilizing within normal limits. Propagation by cuttings presents no horticultural hurdles. Solely the sowing should only be considered by experienced hobby gardeners, given the necessary stratification.

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