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Candytuft, Iberis Sempervirens, is a low growing evergreen shrub that we often see in rock gardens. It can also be grown in borders, or containers with it's bright cheery blossoms in white, rose, purple, and shade of light purple. Candytuft is an old fashioned perennial that is drought tolerant, and it works wonderfully in stone wall crevices, as an edging, or a ground cover.
There are two types of candytuft that are commonly available---I. sempervirens is known as evergreen candytuft and is a hardy perennial. Some of the varieties available are 'Alexander's White', 'Little Gem' (a dwarf), 'October Glory', 'Purity', 'Snowflake' and 'Summer Snow'.
Candytuft loves full sun, though it will adapt to partial shade. An average soil is fine, as long as it's well drained. Wet feet will rot the plants or cause disease. I consider it a low maintenance plant in the sense that you don't really have to fuss much with it. Deadheading and cutting it back after blooming will keep it looking nice and stop it from reseeding in unwanted places. Once established candytuft will spread about 2 foot across. It's hardy even in Zone 3, and can be grown from seed!
You can start candytuft inside about 8 weeks before the last frost, or it can direct seeded when the soil warms. If you start it indoors don't transplant outside until after the last frost. Sow the seeds and cover very lightly with no more than an 1/8 inch of fine soil. It can take up to 20 days or so to germinate, so be patient. Thin the plants to 6 to 8 inches apart and give them regular waterings.
Candytuft will form a mound of foliage about 10 inches tall. It's considered an evergreen subshrub and looks nice year round as long as it's kept trimmed. In cold climates such as Zone 3 and 4, it's semi-evergreen. It can bloom for up to ten weeks, and if deadheaded may give you another bloom! The plants can be divided and then replanted in the fall if necessary.
They can also be be cut back to 3-4 inches from the soil level in late summer to keep them from getting woody. If you want to multiply your plants you can take cuttings in the mid-summer and root them. Dip in rooting hormone and pot up in some good sterile soil, then later transplant. You can also give candytuft a layer of mulch before winter to help prevent problems during the freeze/thaw weather cycle.
The candytuft we treat as an annual is I. umbellata, and it is also known as globe candytuft. Some of the varieties you'll see are 'Dwarf Fairy', 'Candycane Mix', and 'Apple Blossom'. Start the seeds in the same way as mentioned for the perennial variety. Globe candytuft attracts bees and butterflies and some varities can reach over a foot tall. The flowers are more like pincushion flowers, Scabiosa. They are 2 inches across and in pretty shades of red, purple, pink and white.
The candycane mix blooms just 10-12 weeks from sowing. The annual candytuft does best in the cooler weather, though they will bloom all summer if deadheaded and watered on a regular basis. Try combining the globe candytuft with Sweet Alyssum and other bedding plants like petunias.
Evergreen candytuft is a spring bloomer and looks stunning with phlox, rock cress or planted where it will mix in with the spring bulbs and other early flowers. Whether you grow the annual or the perennial candytuft you will love it's bright appearance in your landscape!
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Bottom Image: Brenda Hyde