Home » Gardening » Trees and shrubs » Datura tips and guidance for the best possible care

Datura tips and guidance for the best possible care

Datura flower, double or triple, with white and purple petals

Datura, also called “devil’s trumpet” for its magnificent inflorescence, is a very interesting and ornamental shrub.

Datura facts, a short list

NameDatura species
Family – Solanaceae or nightshade
Type – shrub

Height – 6 ½ to 16 feet (2 to 5 meters)
Exposure – full sun
Soil – rich enough

Foliage – evergreen
Flowering – May to September

It is vulnerable to freezing and loves sun to bear, all summer long, very beautiful flowers.

Planting datura

It is best to plant your datura trumpet vine in spring in a blend of earth, soil mix and soil conditioner.
Find a place in your garden that is protected from wind, but gets a lot of sun.

It’s possible to sow in a sheltered place starting in March and put in place in May.

If you live in an area where winter freezing is very cold (lower than 23°F or -5°C), consider growing your datura in a lean-in or transfer them during the coldest months to a spot where it doesn’t freeze.

Propagating Datura

It is really simple to propagate datura through cuttings, it’s the easiest and fastest technique.

  • Summer, from May to July, is when to prepare datura cuttings.
  • Select cuttings about 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) long.
  • Remove lower leaves, keeping only the topmost 1 or 2 pairs at the tip.
  • It is possible to dip the cuttings in powdered rooting agents.
  • Plant your cuttings in nursery pots filled with cutting soil mix.
  • Ensure the soil stays reasonably moist, place it in a warm place with light but not direct sun.

Make sure the air stays moist around your cuttings. Either wrap a clear sac around the nursery pots to lock the moisture in (like a greenhouse) or increase ambient air moisture.

Pruning and caring for datura

Since it is easy to care for, the only bit of attention it needs regards watering: it must be watered often.

How to trim datura

  • Pruning datura is best at the beginning of spring.
  • Datura can bear pruning well, so it can be quite drastic.

How to water datura

Water regularly, but not too much, in times of high temperature. Spread mulch out at the foot of shrub over winter.

For potted datura, water must be provided as soon as the surface soil is dry.

Take note to protect your hands when pruning this shrub, because its leaves and stems contain high levels of alkaloids that are very poisonous.

Datura in Winter

Overwintering Datura outdoors

In areas where it freezes, there’s no chance of your Datura surviving outdoors. It might take a night or two of very light frost, but cold temperatures for days on end will kill it.

If it gets any colder than 40°F (5°C), however, your best chance is to prune your datura short (under a foot or 30 cm) and dig it out to a pail or temporary pot.

  • Store the plant in a place where there’s not too much light and where temperatures hover around the 50s or 60s °F (10-15°C).
  • Water only once a month, abundantly but make sure it drains well.
  • Leaves will die off, but in Spring it will grow back after you plant it in the ground again.

Potted Datura in winter

If your datura is already in a pot, simply prune it to reduce its size and bring it indoors. Do this at the end of Fall, but before it freezes.

The ideal storage for it is a garage or room that only gets a little light and where temperatures stay around 55°C (12-13°C).

  • Keep the plant in its normal pot, unless you plan on repotting it. You can repot every two or three years to replenish soil nutrients.
  • Water monthly, making sure any excess water drains out well from the bottom.

When Spring is there, wait for any risk of frost to have subsided. Then only can you bring your datura out.

Diseases and pests that infect Datura

Datura avoids problems with large herbivores thanks to its poisonous leaves, but insects and diseases still attack it.

  • Fungal diseases such as Septoria will spot the leaves. All datura species are among the septoria fungus host plants.
  • Leaf spots that show rings inside them are most certainly due to Alternaria tenuissima, another leaf spot fungus.
  • A few other fungus are responsible for root rot in this plant, such as Pythium (see a case where Pythium results in diseased Sunpatiens), Thielaviopsis and Phytoptora.

Viral diseases (sometimes spread by insects) may also contaminate Datura :

  • mosaic viruses and others may result in leaves folding up and wilting.

Insects may also be to blame for spots and disease:

  • Aphids are quite recognizable and can be seen with the naked eye. In addition to the damage they inflict, they also spread viral plant diseases.
  • Whitefly requires a magnifying glass but can also be dealt with easily. They don’t usually spread diseases.
  • Other insects that typically attack plants of the nightshade family: the tomato hornworm and Sphinx moth caterpillars. You can control these caterpillars naturally.

Toxicity of Datura

Is Datura toxic?

There are high amounts of alkaloid compounds in all parts of the plant. These powerful substances are very poisonous, even though they are also used as an ingredient for some drugs.

Ingesting Datura can induce severe hallucinating and may even lead to death. It is a drug, and selling it as such is crime liable to severe penalties.

The three most important compounds that the pharmaceutical industry uses are atropine, scopolamine and hyoscyamine (also known as daturine, incidentally). These all have anticholinergic properties. These molecules directly affect the way messages sent through the nervous system are interpreted by various organs. This is why they impact the senses like sight and hearing, and also affect dizziness and equilibrium.

Use gloves when you handle any portion of this plant.

Also, teach toddlers to avoid ingesting plants (maybe teach them to check with you first whether anything is edible or not, every single time).

Datura and pets (and horses)

As a consequence, make sure to keep pets away.

David, a Nature & Garden reader, noted in a comment below that horses are particularly vulnerable to datura. Indeed, if they’re curious or don’t have much else to feed on, they’ll sample the plant and start showing symptoms of intoxication… to a point that can explain why “death trumpet” is another name for this plant!

Learn more about Datura

Datura careNative to Mexico and to the American South-West, there are about ten species that belong to the Datura genus.

This magnificent shrub with remarkable blooming produces abundant and fragrant trumpet-shaped flowers.

It originated in the warm climates of South America and tends to have trouble adapting to places where it freezes often.

Quite often, Datura is confused with Brugmansia

Smart tip about datura

Add small quantities of organic fertilizer often during the blooming to enhance it.

Image credits (edits Gaspard Lorthiois):
CC BY 2.0: Mike Lewinski
CC BY-SA 2.0: kafka4prez
A comment ?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your reactions
  • Roxy wrote on 2 August 2023 at 3 h 52 min

    My datura is struggling in the August Texas heat. It is in the ground and has thrived for 3 years. I’m looking to lower my water bill since there is no end in sight for this heat wave.. If I cut it back now to the base would it survive fall and winter for next spring? Would I possibly get some new shoots when the temps lower?

    • Gaspard wrote on 3 August 2023 at 2 h 53 min

      Hello Roxy, yes it’s a good idea to cut it back. Perhaps not to the base, since that would interrupt the flow of sap and might kill the plant during this heat wave. I’d recommend cutting it back by about 2/3rds. It will most certainly produce new shoots, and fall/winter survival won’t be a problem.

  • Ruthe Burgener wrote on 21 June 2023 at 17 h 37 min

    My Datura plant was planted here in Tucson Arizona last February. It bloomed beautifully in Aril but now has yellow tiny spots on the leaves and some are turning yellow. From research I think the plant has Septoria. How to get rid of it. I was thinking of cutting the plant completely down and letting it regrow hopefully more healthy

    • Gaspard wrote on 29 June 2023 at 2 h 38 min

      Hi Ruthe, you’d certainly get more answers if you tried posting the pictures on the forum. Try posting a few pictures there, you’ll get helpful answers. There’s a whole page on treating septoria here.

      I wouldn’t cut it back down right away. Perhaps try making some weedy tea to fertilize it first. Horsetail weedy tea, for instance also doubles off as a fungus killer, so that might be an option to strengthen and protect your datura at the same time.

  • Lisa wrote on 6 February 2022 at 3 h 31 min

    Hey there. I have a small plant I put in the ground last Spring. I forgot all about it. We’ve had a good deal of frost, and when I was cleaning up the garden I found just a stem there. No leaves. When I scratched the stem it was still bright green inside so I did not remove. What are the chances it’ll start growing again?

    • Gaspard wrote on 6 February 2022 at 7 h 33 min

      Very high! Just pile leaves around it to protect it from the last frosts, and it should sprout back when the weather warms up.

  • Patricia Franks wrote on 2 October 2021 at 20 h 42 min

    Can I put discarded leaves in the compost or will it transfer toxins to the compost mix?

    • Gaspard wrote on 11 October 2021 at 13 h 22 min

      Hi Patricia, you can go ahead and put the leaves in the compost – the toxins are mostly dangerous to animals to keep them from eating the plant while it’s alive. Compost buggers won’t suffer much from that, the added organic matter outweighs the inconvenience of having a few toxins, from their point of view.

      Life in the compost is harsh on organic matter: not many compounds survive the bacteria, fungus, heat and other agents that break matter down. Toxins are also broken down within the span of time it takes for compost to ripen and mature.

      There is thus no risk in using compost that has had a few datura leaves mixed in with the rest. There haven’t been many serious scientific studies on the topic – who would fund that? – but there have been quite many on the fact that composting gets rid of other highly toxic artificial chemicals and compounds, so natural ones don’t stand a chance.

  • David Bigalow wrote on 3 September 2021 at 17 h 52 min

    I used to have a lush abundance of Datura. Our neighbors used to come over in the evening to watch the blossoms open and enjoy the fragrance. We typically had well over two hundred blossoms each night during their peak season. I was intrigued that a pungent smelling plant could produce such a desirable aroma. How ever one of the main chemicals that Datura produces is atropine. Historically, physicians used small amounts to ease their patients before surgery. Likewise, assassins found a little more did their work for them. If you have pets, these plants should be kept out of their reach.

    Due to equestrian activity, I have removed and continue to remove all that I can find near my corrals. They propagate like crazy in the southwest desert.

    If your plant’s leaves are being eaten, it is probably the Tomato Hornworm. If you see a Sphinx moth around your blossoms, you will soon see leaves disappearing and little green worms that soon become large green worms. I used to pluck a coffee can of worms every evening around August … chickens love ‘em.

    • Gaspard wrote on 12 September 2021 at 7 h 25 min

      Hi David! That sure is a rich comment – thanks a lot for sharing! It’s true that there is a lot to be both grateful and careful for regarding datura. It’s a double-edged sword that really shouldn’t be in every single garden. I like your solution to battle the caterpillars… I also have chickens and no caterpillar lives for very long here!

  • Scott wrote on 12 July 2021 at 4 h 36 min

    I am looking to reuse the soil that my Datura Metal was planted in. I am looking to use the soil for a tomato plant. Should I be concerned about the poison of the plant being in the soil, tainting my tomato plant to make the tomato’s unsafe to eat?

    • Gaspard wrote on 14 July 2021 at 5 h 46 min

      Hello Scott, honestly there hasn’t been much research into datura toxins and how low they survive as such in the soil. From my experience, there are a few facts that should help in deciding whether or not to plant tomato in the same soil:

      – first of all, datura and tomato are both part of the Solanaceae family. This means they have similar nutrient requirements, to a certain degree. Certainly more than carrot and tomato, for example. This means that your datura may have depleted the soil from those nutrients that tomato needs. It’s always possible to fertilize your tomato plants, with nettle fertilizer for instance, but it makes more sense to plant your tomato somewhere else or with fresh soil and keep the old datura soil for another type of plant.

      – regarding the toxins, only the root parts are left since you probably discarded the rest already. These will break down, and a fraction of the toxic alkaloids will leach into the soil as the roots decay. If you’ve pulled the root clumps out, the amounts will be truly minimal. Also, these alkaloids are broken down underground as time passes, especially when soil life is abundant and thriving. Lastly, it has been proven that some of these toxic compounds do enter plants through the root system, but the quantities are so minute that there is virtually no risk at all in your case.

  • Dave wrote on 6 July 2021 at 22 h 11 min

    Thanks for the information on Datura having grown them from seed I did not know they would grow so tall.
    I’ll try to save them over winter now that they are about to flower. Does the fact that they are about to flower indicate that at about 2ft (two feet) they will not grow taller ??

    • Gaspard wrote on 7 July 2021 at 4 h 52 min

      Hi Dave, not necessarily. Your datura should keep growing even as flowers come and go. Usually it’ll keep growing until the first frosts strike. It also slows down a lot when it doesn’t get enough water in Summer.

      What’s probable is that next year’s datura, from this year’s seeds, will probably grow a smidgen taller even: since they’ll be growing in the same environment exactly as the parent plants, some traits will have adjusted to grow even better. These “optimizations” are, to a certain degree, handed down to child plants as part of their genetic material.

  • Joan Schmidman wrote on 6 May 2021 at 23 h 18 min

    I received a datura plant that is leggy. Can I plant it deeper than it is in the pot?

    • Gaspard wrote on 8 May 2021 at 3 h 25 min

      Hi Joan, there’s a chance this might work, though I haven’t tried it before! Solanaceae plants are known to root from stems easily, which makes cuttings easy to produce. If you simply bury the whole plant a bit deeper, it’ll sprout rootlets from the stems as well. However, to make sure the plant doesn’t rot, it’s a good idea to make sure your potting mix is airy and drains very well. Water frequently in tiny amounts at the beginning, too, and only return to normal once you notice new leaves sprouting.

  • Barb Poole wrote on 8 September 2020 at 22 h 00 min

    How to over winter the datura? Do you take it out of the pot or leave it in? Keep it inside in the light or dark?

    • Gaspard wrote on 10 September 2020 at 15 h 45 min

      Hi Barb! You can keep it in its pot, there’s no need to remove it. However, it is important to bring it indoors, especially if it freezes in your area. Just keep it in a darkish place such as a garage or shed, it’s ok if a little window lets light in. What’s important is temperature, it shouldn’t get too cold in there!

  • Sissy Tubb wrote on 3 August 2019 at 14 h 51 min

    What diseases, etc does Datura get. The leaves on my plant look mottled with some yellowing.

    • Gaspard Lorthiois wrote on 6 August 2019 at 18 h 50 min

      There are quite a few possibilities. Mostly they might be fungal diseases, viral diseases, or insects.

  • Firoz TT wrote on 9 April 2018 at 10 h 13 min

    Is it poisonous?
    Which part of this plant is poisonble?

    • Gaspard Lorthiois wrote on 9 April 2018 at 14 h 16 min

      Actually all parts of the plants are dangerous. Touching them won’t be fatal, but ingesting it might.