How to Grow and Care for Devil’s Claw Plants

How to Grow and Care for Devil’s Claw Plants

How to Grow and Care for Devil’s Claw Plants

Introduction to Devil’s Claw

Devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) is a perennial plant native to southern Africa. It is known for its unusual claw-like seed pods, which give the plant its common name. Devil’s claw has been used for centuries in traditional African medicine to treat various ailments like arthritis and lower back pain. The root and tuber are the medicinally useful parts of the plant. The plant produces pink or purple flowers in the summer. Devil’s claw prefers full sun and dry, sandy soil. It can tolerate drought and high temperatures once established. With the right growing conditions, devil’s claw can thrive both as a landscape plant and a medicinal herb.

Growing Devil’s Claw from Seed

Growing devil’s claw from seed is the easiest way to propagate the plants. Here are some tips for starting devil’s claw from seed:

  • Obtain fresh devil’s claw seeds in late winter. The seeds have a hard outer coating and may need scarification for better germination.

  • Sow the seeds in flats or pots indoors 8-12 weeks before the last expected frost. Use a well-draining starting mix.

  • Barely cover the seeds with soil, as they need light to germinate. Keep the soil moist but not soggy.

  • Germination typically occurs in 1-2 weeks at temperatures around 70°F.

  • Once seedlings emerge, provide plenty of light and ventilation. Thin seedlings to 6 inches apart.

  • Harden off plants for 7-10 days before transplanting outdoors after all danger of frost has passed.

Transplanting Devil’s Claw Outdoors

Devil’s claw should be transplanted outdoors in late spring, when temperatures are consistently warm. Here are some tips for transplanting devil’s claw:

  • Prepare the planting beds in advance by amending the soil with compost. Devil’s claw prefers slightly acidic, sandy, well-draining soil.

  • Space devil’s claw plants 1-2 feet apart in the garden. They can spread up to 3 feet wide when mature.

  • Dig holes the same depth and width as the root ball of each plant. Gently loosen any circling roots before placing in the hole.

  • Backfill the holes with native soil, firming it around the root ball to eliminate air pockets.

  • Water deeply after transplanting to settle the soil and eliminate air pockets around the roots.

  • Add 2-3 inches of mulch around plants to retain moisture and reduce weeds. Avoid mulching right up against the stem.

Caring for Devil’s Claw Plants

Devil’s claw requires minimal care once established. Here are some growing tips:

  • Devil’s claw prefers full sun locations and will tolerate reflected heat and light shade. Provide at least 6 hours of direct sun per day.

  • Water devil’s claw when the top 1-2 inches of soil become dry. Established plants are quite drought tolerant but need occasional deep soakings.

  • Apply a balanced organic fertilizer or compost in early spring to support growth. Avoid nitrogen-rich fertilizers that can inhibit flowering.

  • Pinch back leggy growth to encourage bushiness, especially in the first season. Deadhead spent flowers to prolong blooming.

  • Watch for aphids, spider mites, and scale insects. Treat with horticultural oils or insecticidal soaps if pests are observed.

  • Cut plants back to the ground in fall after the first hard frost. Apply winter mulch in colder climates.

Harvesting Devil’s Claw Root

The medicinal root of devil’s claw can be harvested in the plant’s second or third year of growth. Here are some harvesting guidelines:

  • Time the harvest when the plants become dormant, typically after the first hard frost in fall.

  • Use a garden fork to loosen the soil and pull up the entire plant. Shake off excess soil.

  • Cut away the aboveground growth, leaving just the taproot and tubers. The tubers look like claws along the side of the main taproot.

  • Clean the roots thoroughly with cool water, removing any remaining soil. Cut away any damaged portions.

  • Slice the washed roots into smaller pieces to aid in the drying process. Discard diseased or insect-damaged roots.

  • Dry the roots quickly on screens or mesh racks out of direct sunlight. Proper drying is crucial for preservation.

  • Store fully dried roots in airtight containers kept in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, devil’s claw root can remain viable for 2 years.

With its medicinal value and sculptural seed pods, devil’s claw can be a rewarding plant to add to the garden. Follow these growing guidelines for the best results with this unique African native plant. Let me know if you have any other questions!