Yellow Wax Bells: The belle of the late summer garden

Yellow Wax Bells, Kirengeshoma palmata, are a little known but dramatic herbaceous perennial for the full to partial shade garden.  A late summer bloomer, its striking clusters of pendulous bright yellow flowers bloom when just about nothing else does, making it a favorite of gardeners in the know.  This exotic-looking perennial is a great addition to the woodland garden and can be planted under high trees.   Good companion plants include ferns, hostas, astilbe.  It can also be grown in a container. As I get older and travel more, I have planted more and more perennials in planters as they are lower maintenance and return year after year.

The flowers emerge in tight spherical buds and will open in 1-2 weeks after appearing. You can see some buds are tighter than others, leading to sequential opening and an extended blooming period.

This native to the mountainous regions of Japan and Korea is a member of the hydrangea family.  It is hardy in zones 4 to 8.  Its name comes from the Japanese, ki (yellow), renge (lotus blossom), shoma (hat).  Kirengeshoma palmata was the winner of the 1993 Royal Horticultural Award of Garden Merit.  I have grown it in our zone 6 garden for 17 years and it never fails to attract attention from visiting fellow gardeners who want to know, “What is this?”.

Plant Yellow Wax Bells in well drained soil in a shade to part shade location where the plant will have at least 4 feet of space to spread into its clump-like mounded shrub form.  Water regularly until established then only in severe dry periods.  The plant will establish quickly and is pretty much resistant to most insects and resistant to deer.  Slugs can be a problem for the young leaves. The 1.5 inch  bright yellow flowers will appear in clusters in late July-early August.  They slowly open from tight, spherical buds into bell-shaped pendulous flowers with pointed tips turned outwards and flower for several weeks.  The flowers attract butterflies and can be cut for arranging in bouquets. The flowers are followed by funky-looking seed pods with intriguing 3-pronged seed capsules that go from green to brown when mature. If the foliage is not damaged by frost, it will turn a gorgeous golden color in fall.  After the first freeze or in late autumn, cut the stems back to the ground, although I often just leave mine to decompose on its own.

Propagation is best done in the spring by division.  Just as spring growth begins, separate  large clumps with at least 3 buds in each division.  Water until established.  Yellow Wax Bells can also be grown from seeds although I have never tried it.  Select nurseries sell it in small containers for spring planting.

The stems are almost woody, eliminating the need for staking the 3 to 4 feet tall plant.

The  darling of the late summer woodland garden.

The striking maple-shaped leaves make it an interesting 3-season plant. The leaves can be bright chartreuse as these are in part shade or a deep green in deeper shade.

Yellow Wax Bells are grown as much for its dramatic foliage as for its flowers. The leaves can be up to 8 inches in diameter and feature an almost felt-like surface texture. Late in the season, before the first frost, the leaves will turn gold.

The handsome dark stems create a dramatic contrast to the bright yellow flowers.

The shrub-like habit of the clump forming plant which can grow 4 feet high and 4 feet wide.

As my friend Bonnie put it best, yellow wax bells are just the pick-me-up tired summer gardens need!


10 thoughts on “Yellow Wax Bells: The belle of the late summer garden

  1. OK…I just looked to make sure, and we’re in Zone 6a. I’m going to ask the nursery down the way if they have this. Sounds like a great way to fill in those shady spaces on the west side of the house (completely shaded by the house next door!) and add some late summer color. Thank you!

    • You will love these Alycia! Plant them and pretty much let them do their thing. I’ve never had pests, or deer problems with them either. Hope you will enjoy them. The flowers are delicate and so pretty.

      Johanne Lamarche


  2. Where I live in MN is zone 4 now! We were upgraded from 3 a few years back. (And we got possums that moved up from Iowa, the little opportunists) I think this would be gorgeous in my shady yard! 🙂

    • I am thinking possums, even those from Iowa who seem to understand global warming, would leave this gorgeous plant to thrive in your shade garden! We are now a zone 6 but used to be a zone 5. Hope you can find it for sale, Mollie.

      Johanne Lamarche


      • I had not thought of it as an old fashioned type of flower but it definitely is, another reason I love it so much. You must miss your garden Mollie. Xo

        Johanne Lamarche


  3. Well I never!!! Just a stunning specimen isn’t it? Those wee yellow balls filling up the shade garden when all else looks dull and faded is sure to light it up. The leaves should hold particular interest too, superb! I’ve learned about a new plant 🙂

    • I am happy to teach a knowledgeable and passionate gardener about a new plant Loretta! I can’t say I knew of yellow wax bells until we had a hardscaping installed 17 yrs ago with professional bed designed and installed. When this plant grew I had no idea what it was but I was delighted with it. I love that although it grows into a mound, it is very well behaved and does not spread where it’s not wanted. It has been blooming for 3 weeks now and has hundreds of more buds yet to open. I will photograph some of its autums foliage and return to update the post. I am working on another gardening post on growing moss on hypertufa. No luck! Any tips? I’ve tried buttermilk and beer, direct moss transfer, sitting the stones right in a bed of moss all to no avail! Everyday I go check on those balls only to find them still bald. LOL!

      Johanne Lamarche


    • Thanks Jenna. Can’t claim to have known about this plant until it thrilled me with its first blooms after it was professionally installed by a landscape architect. But I’ve been in love with it since and have learned all about this beauty! Happy Sunday.

      Johanne Lamarche


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