How to Plant and Grow Globe Thistle

Add these peppy pompons to fresh arrangements or dry them to enjoy globe thistle long after the growing season.

The globe thistle derives part of its botanical name (Echinops) from the Greek word “echinos”, which means hedgehog. Globe thistles are also members of the Asteraceae family, which includes daisies, sunflowers, cosmos, chrysanthemums, and other beloved garden ornamentals. Like many of its Asteraceae relatives, globe thistles are perennials with composite blooms—or large flower heads composed of smaller flowers grouped together to resemble a single blossom.

When fully open, globe thistle blossoms are magnets for pollinators, but the ball-shaped blooms are also stunning in floral arrangements. For some, the foliage of globe thistle is reminiscent of a weed, but it does not bear the same invasive and self-spreading tendencies  

Globe Thistle Overview

Genus Name Echinops
Common Name Globe Thistle
Plant Type Perennial
Light Sun
Height 1 to 3 feet
Width 1 to 2 feet
Flower Color Blue
Foliage Color Blue/Green, Gray/Silver
Season Features Summer Bloom
Special Features Attracts Birds, Cut Flowers, Good for Containers, Low Maintenance
Zones 10, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
Propagation Division, Seed
Problem Solvers Deer Resistant, Drought Tolerant

Where to Plant Globe Thistle

Globe thistles make dramatic centerpieces in garden beds and add height to the back of border gardens. They are hardy in almost all climates (Zones 3-10) and tolerate poor soil conditions. The foliage has prickly spines, so keep that in mind when planting near pathways and children’s play areas.

To help your plants thrive, look for a spot where they will get at least 6 hours of sunlight per day and won’t be shaded by large trees or structures.

How and When to Plant Globe Thistle

Plant globe thistle seedlings in the spring when the danger of frost has passed and temperatures begin to rise. Dig a hole twice the size of the root ball and deep enough to keep the plant at the
same level it was in its container. Before placing the plant in the hole, rake through the roots with your fingers to untangle them and spread them apart. Place the plant in the hole and fill in the soil, tamping it down as you work. If you are planting multiple seedlings, space them approximately 16 to 24 inches apart. Water thoroughly and keep watering your new plants daily for the first couple of weeks.

Globe Thistle Care Tips

Globe thistles are no-fuss perennials that need little tending once they are established. Actually, if you plant them in well-draining, nutrient-poor soil, you’ll need to do little else besides deadheading the blooms to prevent unwanted spreading.


Globe thistles grow best in full sun. You can grow them in partial shade conditions, but they may grow leggy and are not likely to flower as spectacularly. For the best blooms, plant your globe thistle in an area where it will get at least 6 hours of sun each day (like the south or west side of your house).

Soil and Water

Globe thistles are drought-tolerant and prefer drier soils, but a neutral, loamy, well-draining soil is best. If the soil is kept too moist, your plants are likely to develop root rot. Rather than overwater, add a thin layer of mulch to help the soil retain its moisture levels.

Temperature and Humidity

Globe thistles can tolerate very arid climates and thrive when temperatures hover between 65 and 75 degrees. In very humid conditions, powdery mildew or other fungal diseases are more likely to develop. To prevent this issue, make sure to position your plants with ample space for airflow.


Globe thistle plants do not need fertilization. In fact, if your soil is too nutrient-rich, your globe thistle stems could grow overly tall and spindly (which may require staking).


Globe thistles produce a lot of seeds as they finish up their flower show, which means there's a good chance that they will self-seed in your garden. If you're worried about them overtaking, deadhead the spent flowers before they have time to scatter their seeds. You will miss out on some lovely late-fall interest, but pruning in this manner will prevent the plants from spreading to unwelcome spots.

If you are not worried about self-seeding, you simply let it grow or cut back the stems once the blooms have faded, to keep the plant looking tidy and shape its growth. Just be sure to wear gloves as the leaves have little spines and the stems produce thorns.

Pests and Problems

Globe thistle plants aren’t frequently plagued with pests, but aphids and four-lined plant bugs can be an issue from time to time. If you don’t mind a little seed scattering, hit the plants with a blast from the garden hose to remove the pests.

Fungus and root rot can also occur if your plants are placed too close together, if the climate is too humid, or if the soil is kept too moist.

How to Propagate Globe Thistle

Propagating via Seed

Globe thistle will self-seed and propagate on its own if left unattended, but you can deadhead the blooms in early fall and propagate it yourself via seed if you want to control where it grows. As the blooms fade, place a bag over the flower head, cut it off at the stem, and allow the flower to dry out. After it dries, shake the bag to release the seeds from the flower head. Sow the seeds immediately outside or store them in a cool, dry place until the spring.

You can sow the seeds outside in the fall by pressing them into the soil surface and very lightly covering them with soil (they will need light to germinate). Do not begin supplemental watering until after the first frost in the spring.

To start the seeds indoors, start approximately 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost date in your area. Stratify the seeds first by placing them (still in the bag) into the crisper drawer of your refrigerator for 20 to 30 days. After the seeds have been stratified, prepare small (4-inch) grow pots with a moist seed-starting mix and sow the seeds (a few to each pot) on the surface of the soil. Lightly dust them with a layer of soil and mist the top with water.

Keep the grow pots in a bright spot that stays between 65 and 75 degrees as they germinate (which should take about 8 to 10 days). Spritz with water if the soil begins to feel dry.

Once the seedlings emerge, thin them out to one per pot and allow them to continue germinating until it is time to plant them outside.

Propagating via Division

You can also propagate your globe thistle via division, but it is best to wait until the plant is at least three years old before dividing it. If you have a hybrid cultivar and want to create identical plants, this is the best method of propagation.

While wearing gloves, dig up your globe thistle and cut the taproot lengthwise leaving each section with lateral roots and above-ground growth. Place each plant in the ground (with 16 to 24 inches of space) at the same depth they were previously planted and water thoroughly.

Types of Globe Thistle

'Blue Glow' Globe Thistle

globe thistle Echinops bannaticus 'Blue Glow'
Peter Krumhardt

Echinops bannaticus 'Blue Glow' is a seed-propagated variety that grows 4 feet tall with deep blue globes of flowers in midsummer. Zones 5-9

Small Globe Thistle

Globe Thistle
Peter Krumhardt

Echinops ritro grows 2-3 feet tall. Its silvery leaves resemble those of a thistle. Spiny globe-shaped flowers open slivery-blue and mature to bright blue. Cut them just before they fully open to dry them. Zones 3-9

Globe Thistle Companion Plants


detail shot of purple coneflower echinacea blooms with butterfly resting on petals
Greg Ryan

Purple coneflower is so easy to grow and attractive and draws so many birds and butterflies that you simply must grow it, if you have the room. Valued for its large sturdy daisy-like flowers with drooping petals, this prairie native will spread easily in good soil and full sun. It is bothered by few pests or diseases. It's a great cut flower—bring in armloads of it to brighten the house. And birds and butterflies love it. Allow it to spread so that you have at least a small stand of it. Let the flowers go to seed and the goldfinches will love you, coming to feast on the seeds daily. Butterflies and helpful bees also love purple coneflower. It used to be that rosy purple or white were the only choices in flower color. Recent hybrids have introduced yellow, orange, burgundy, cream, and shades in between.


Coreopsis verticillata 'Zagreb'
Scott Little

One of the longest bloomers in the garden, coreopsis produces (usually) sunny yellow daisy-like flowers that attract butterflies. Coreopsis, depending on the variety, also bears golden-yellow, pale yellow, pink, or bicolor flowers. It will bloom from early to midsummer or longer as long as it's deadheaded.


yellow yarrow (Achillea), purple Penstemon
Tim Murphy

Yarrow is one of those plants that give a wildflower look to any garden. In fact, it is indeed a native plant and, predictably, it's easy to care for. In some gardens, it will thrive with almost no care, making it a good candidate for naturalistic plantings in open areas and along the edges of wooded or other wild places. Its colorful, flat-top blooms rise above clusters of ferny foliage. The tough plants resist drought, are rarely eaten by deer and rabbits, and spread moderately quickly, making yarrow a good choice for massing in borders or as a groundcover. If deadheaded after its first flush of blooms fade, yarrow will rebloom. If left to dry on the plant, flower clusters of some types provide winter interest. Flowers of yarrow are excellent either in fresh or dried arrangements.

Garden Plans for Globe Thistle

Deer-Resistant Garden Plan

Deer-Resistant Rock Border Garden Plan illustration
Illustration by Gary Palmer

This colorful garden bed plan is filled with blooming perennials that are low-maintenance and of little interest to deer. In it, you'll find flashes of purple from irises, lamb's ear, and Russian sage (not to mention globe thistle). You'll also find bright yellow yarrow and potentilla in shades of warm orange. The low-growing foliage of artemisia and thyme gives the front of the bed a clean finish.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What's the best way to use globe thistle in floral arrangements?

    The large spherical blooms of globe thistle are fantastic in floral arrangements. Bunch them in with other flowers or cut them slightly taller to stand outside the rest of the arrangement like little midcentury satellites. Globe thistles can also be dried and will retain their color if snipped when young and hung in a warm, dry room. If you are planning on drying globe thistle, the best time to cut them is just before they open.

  • Is globe thistle invasive?

    Globe thistle is not officially classified as invasive in any state, but it can self-seed if the spent blooms are not deadheaded—and some species (like Echinops sphaerocephalus) propagate faster than others. If you like globe thistle, but are concerned about its invasiveness, check with your local gardening extension service or a nearby nursery to find out which varieties would be best for your space.

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