By Matt Gibson
Honesty is a biennial flowering plant that is cultivated for its ornamental value, specifically for its flowers and seed pods. As a biennial, honesty will develop during the first year, then it will bloom in the second year, and then go to seed. If you want honesty flowers every year, you should plant them two years in a row, as honesty only blooms in the second year after it has had a chance to establish itself for the first year.
Honesty’s four-petaled flowerheads bloom from mid spring to early summer of the second year in various shades that range from deep purple to white. The color of flowers produced by the honesty plant is dependent on the variety that was planted. Most cultivars produce deep-purple or other purple-tinted flowers, though there are a few species which produce white flowers instead.
When honesty’s flowers fade away in the early summer, they are replaced in midsummer by coin-shaped, translucent seed pods. The seed pods start out green, but then fade to a golden brown as they dry. The dried flowers and seed pods can be used in floral arrangements, and can be expected to last for extended periods of time.
The foliage of the honesty plant is rather unremarkable by itself, but makes an excellent backdrop for the plant’s flowers and seed pods, which stand out nicely in front of the standard-looking foliage. The leaves of the honesty plant are medium green and range from oval to heart-shaped, with serrated edging and pointed tips.
Lunaria annua is most commonly known as honesty, but is actually a plant with many alternate names. It is also referred to as Silver Dollar, Dollar Plant, and Money Plant because of its coin shaped seed pods, and also called Moonwort, Moneywort, Bolbonac, and Lunaria. Honesty is resilient to most garden pest and disease issues, and attracts butterflies, bees, and other beneficial insects during its blooming season.
Varieties of Honesty
There are three main species of the honesty flower. Annual honesty (Lunaria annua), which is actually a biennial, despite its scientific name, and perennial honesty (Lunaria rediviva) are the most commonly found species of honesty, and both are grown for their aromatic blooms and ornamental seed pods, which bring color to flower gardens and cut flower arrangements alike. The third species of honesty is quite rare, its scientific name is Lunaria telekiana, and it grows in the wild in the mountainous regions of Serbia, Albania, and Montenegro.
Because of the plant’s popularity amongst gardeners across the world, breeders have set out to create some alternate versions of the beloved flower. A few of the most popular cultivars are listed below.
Lunaria annua ‘Chedglow’ – This variety has chocolate-colored foliage and nectar-packed lilac flowers that attract bees and butterflies. Chedglow honesty plants grow to around three feet tall.
Lunaria annua var. Albiflora – Though most varieties of honesty come in various shades of purple, this cultivar blooms in a brilliant white which seems to glow in the moonlight, replaced by pretty, papery seed pods after the flowers fade. A winner of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.
Lunaria rediviva – This perennial variety has become popular due to the powerful sweet fragrance of its lilac flowers and its large, attention-grabbing seedheads. Grows to nearly three feet tall.
Lunaria annua ‘Alba Variegata’ – This smaller biennial cultivar has become popular due to its variegated, heart-shaped leaves, which have cream-colored edges to match the plant’s creamy white flowerheads. Mature plants grow to just below two feet in height.
Lunaria annua ‘Munstead Purple’ – Bred to closely resemble the original honesty flower, but to bloom every year instead of every other year. This cultivar has dark foliage, bright pink to magenta flowers that bloom annually, and papery, ornamental seed pods that closely follow the blooms.
Growing Conditions for Honesty
Honesty is pretty easy to grow if provided with the proper growing conditions. It’s a great plant to pick for growing with children, as the plants are adaptable, quite forgiving and have a high success rate.
Honesty prefers sunny locations and will produce more flowers in full sun but will tolerate partial shade locations as well. Try to avoid letting the soil dry out between waterings, as honesty prefers a consistently moist soil. Take care not to overwater, however, as honesty will not perform well in soggy soil conditions. In moderate climates, you will only need to provide water once per week, especially if you have installed a good layer of mulch to improve water retention.
Just about any type of soil will suffice, as honesty plants will grow well in chalk, clay, loamy, or sandy soil types. The plant also doesn’t seem to have any preference between acid, alkaline, or neutral soil pH, but adapts to whatever soil it is provided. The only soil requirement is that the medium is well-draining, and kept moist at all times.
How to Plant Honesty
Honesty flowers would likely grow well if their seeds were just tossed randomly into a patch of soil and left to fend for themselves. However, there are some loose guidelines which gardeners can follow to get an idea of when, where, and how to best plant honesty flowers. We also included a few suggestions for companion plants that will grow well with honesty in your flower beds.
Lunaria seeds can be directly sown for the first planting anytime after the last frost in the spring or summer. You may also want to stagger honesty’s appearance in the garden by planting a few seeds in the fall as well, as the plant is a biennial and will not likely produce any flowers or seed pods until the second year of growth.
Plant honesty flowers in a sunny to partially shaded location. Keep in mind that honesty is an aggressive self-seeder, so you may want to isolate it in an area that is easy to tend to or contain or it could spread into areas of the garden where you never wanted it to go.
Honesty plants are quite hard to transplant due to their long taproots. The best way to plant them is to sprinkle seeds on the ground and cover them with a very small amount of soil. Trim seedlings back to every 15 to 18 inches to provide adequate air circulation and room for root growth between plants. Amending your beds with organic matter before planting will help provide plenty of nutrients for healthy and stable growth. Provide plants with a deep watering right after planting, and keep beds consistently moist, especially through germination, until plants have become established.
Honesty is a good bed buddy with just about any type of plant you might pair it with, but it is especially fond of growing next to other spring flowering plants, like Tulips and Forget-Me-Nots. Honesty looks great and grows especially well next to Hakone Grass. You may also choose to plant honesty next to other flowers that produce lovely dried flowers in a cutting garden. Annuals that are perfect for dried arrangements include strawflower, cockscomb, globe amaranth, bells-of-Ireland, starflower, annual statice, and love-lies-bleeding.
Care for Honesty
Honesty is a very low-maintenance garden plant which doesn’t demand lots of fertilizer or require regular trimming. Plants will benefit from a little bit of balanced fertilizer once or twice per year, but they do not require it. The plants should be allowed to go to seed so that their ornamental pods will be on display. Harvest a few of the seed pods for sowing and keep the remaining pods attached to the plant for ornamental purposes.
How to Propagate Honesty
As long as it is not regularly cut back, honesty will self-seed surprisingly well. You may also choose to collect seeds by saving a few seed pods for future planting. Sow honesty seeds indoors in the early summer for transplanting in the fall and flowering in the following spring.
Garden Pests and Diseases of Honesty
Honesty is quite resistant to most garden pests and disease issues, but it is not entirely immune. To keep your honesty plants free of any common problems, we have listed a few issues to keep an eye out for, as well as suggestions for how to treat them should they become a problem.
Aphids, the notorious garden pests that feed on the underside of the foliage of many common garden plants, can occasionally trouble the honesty flower. Usually appearing in small numbers, aphids can often be dealt with by blasting them off with a strong burst of water from your garden hose.
However, when water is not enough to kick them off your plants, you may need to turn to applying insecticidal soap to handle large infestations. Another excellent way to treat aphids in your garden is to release (or cultivate plants which naturally attract) ladybugs in your garden. Aphids are like a light snack to ladybugs, and a handful of ladybugs can make short work of a large aphid infestation.
Septoria leaf spot is a fungal disease which is an occasional issue for honesty flowers. While leaf spot doesn’t typically kill garden plants, it weakens them and prevents them from reproducing. Septoria leaf spots can be identified as small freckle-like spots which appear on the topside of the foliage. The leaves develop holes, then start to yellow and eventually fall off the plant entirely.
Leaf spot can usually be avoided by using drip irrigation or by watering at the base of the plants instead of from overhead. Keeping the leaves dry can go a long way towards preventing the fungal infection. Provide plenty of space between plants and lay down a layer of mulch to help improve air circulation and keep plants dry. In extreme cases, fungicides may be necessary to control leaf spot. Practicing regular crop rotation will also help to prevent septoria leaf spot.
Another issue that can affect honesty plants is clubroot. Clubroot is identified by noticing leaves turning yellow and having stunted growth issues. Club-shaped galls form on the root system below the soil. To treat clubroot issues, move the affected plants to a different area of the garden and amend the soil in that area, if necessary, to provide an alkaline or neutral environment for affected plants.
White Blister Rust is another common garden disease that can affect honesty plants, slowing their growth habits and distorting their growth. White Blister Rust appears as white powder-like lesions on the surface of foliage. If symptoms of White Blister Rust are noticed, clip off and destroy affected leaves and space affected plants out further for extra air circulation. If possible, use drip irrigation or switch to manually watering affected plants at the base of the plant to avoid water splashing. Laying out a layer of mulch will also help to keep plants dry.
How to Harvest & Store Honesty
The most popular part of the honesty plant is the silver-dollar-like seed pod that appears on the plant after the flowers fade away. These seed pods are popular additions to dried flower bouquets and arrangements and are commonly used as play money by young children. Keep the seed pods on the plant until they are dry, or cut the stems anytime after the pods fade to brown and tie them together, hanging them upside down to finish drying.
Wait to collect the seeds until they have turned brown in the pod. Then, remove the outer layer of the pod by rubbing it between your fingers. Store the dried seeds in airtight containers in a dark, dry, cool location, such as a basement, or a storage closet.
Honesty flowers are not the most eye-catching flowers in the garden, but they are mighty fragrant, and the seed pods that appear after the flowers fade, are just as attractive as the flowers themselves, if not moreso. Grow honesty to add an interesting double-ornamental to the flower beds in your cottage garden, or to provide your dried flower bouquets with a few unique conversation pieces to make your dried arrangements stand out.