candytuft grow care guide

Candytuft: Grow and Care Guide

Are your kids interested in a spot of gardening? Then try growing candytuft – an easy to maintain plant to set them off on their gardening adventure…

Candytuft, a delightful addition to any garden, thrives with minimal care and graces landscapes with vibrant bursts of colour. In this article, we will explore the essentials of cultivating Candytuft, from selecting the perfect spot and planting the seeds to ensuring prosperous growth. Discover how to care for both annual and perennial varieties, tackle common pests, and encourage lush, prolonged blooming. Ideal for gardeners of all levels, Candytuft offers enduring beauty with its charming white, pink, and purple flowers.

For more info on the history of candytuft, read up on the big effects brought about by small flowers like iberia amara (bitter candytuft).

Choosing the Right Variety of Candytuft

Candytuft, known botanically as Iberis, is celebrated for its vibrant and versatile display in gardens. This charming plant, deriving its name from Candia (now Iraklion, Crete), offers varieties suitable for any garden setting. The perennial Iberis sempervirens, commonly referred to as perennial candytuft, is favoured for its durability and prolonged bloom time. 

For gardeners looking for seasonal colour, Iberis umbellata, or annual candytuft, provides a quick and colourful display. The less common Iberis gibraltarica, or Gibraltar candytuft, adds a unique touch with its lilac flowers.

Growing Conditions for Candytuft

Candytuft thrives the following conditions: 

  • Soil: Well-drained.
  • Sun exposure: From full sun to partial shade. 
  • Soil pH: From acidic to alkaline.
  • Growth: Can grow between 12–18 inches tall.
  • Spread: From 12-16 inches wide.
  • Habitat: Candytuft flowers bring life to rock gardens, containers, and borders with their white, pink, purple, and sometimes red blossoms. 
  • Hardiness: USDA zones 3–9.

Tools Needed

  • Candytuft seeds packet
  • Rake
  • Protective gardening gloves
  • Hand trowel
  • Watering can

How To Grow And Plant Candytuft

growing candytuft

To cultivate candytuft successfully, whether it’s the perennial Iberis sempervirens or the annual Iberis umbellata, start by choosing the right time and soil conditions. For annual varieties, sow directly in the garden either in autumn or early spring.

Prepare the bed by loosening the soil and creating shallow drills to sow the seeds, then lightly cover with soil. This ensures your candytuft seeds have optimal conditions for germination. 

Perennial candytuft, often purchased as potted plants, should be planted ensuring the top of the root ball is just below the soil surface. Press the soil down firmly around the plant and water thoroughly.

When And Where To Grow Candytuft

Candytuft flowers prefer rocky locations, the edges of borders, and even pots, since this will allow enough space for it to flower over these edges. To know when to sow candytuft, follow the table below.

JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Sow

Growing Conditions

As mentioned, candytuft thrives in full sun but can tolerate partial shade, making it versatile for various garden spots. It prefers well-drained, gravelly soil, reflecting its Mediterranean origins. Though it tolerates a range from acidic to alkaline pH levels, slightly alkaline conditions are ideal. After establishing, candytuft becomes drought-resistant, requiring less frequent watering, making it a suitable candidate for xeriscaping in drier climates. Xeriscaping is especially common in US gardens compared to the UK.

Pruning Candytuft

Pruning is essential to prevent candytuft from becoming leggy. After flowering, reduce the plant’s height by one-third to maintain its compact form. While candytuft generally does not require much fertilisation, applying a low-nitrogen, high-phosphorus fertiliser in early spring can enhance blooming.

Seasonal Care Tips

Candytuft’s resilience makes it a low-maintenance choice for gardeners. However, certain practices can help maintain its health and enhance its beauty:

  • Watering: Young candytuft plants should be watered regularly, especially during dry spells, to establish roots. Mature candytuft is drought-tolerant and can withstand periods without water.
  • Soil Requirements: Thriving in gravelly, well-drained soil, candytuft prefers a slightly alkaline soil pH but is adaptable to both acidic and neutral conditions. Ensure excellent drainage to prevent root rot and promote healthy growth.
  • Sunlight and Temperature: Candytuft flowers best in full sun but can tolerate partial shade, particularly in hotter zones (8 and 9), where afternoon shade can prevent scorching. Hardy from USDA zones 3 to 9, candytuft can be evergreen in warmer areas and may need mulching in colder regions to protect against frost.
  • Fertilisation and Pruning: While not necessary, applying a low-nitrogen, high-phosphorus fertiliser in early spring can boost blooming. Post-bloom, prune back one-third of the candytuft’s foliage to encourage a tidy form and prevent legginess. For plants behind retaining walls where a cascading effect is desired, minimal pruning is recommended unless the plant appears overly woody.
  • Winter Care: In regions experiencing cold winters, mulch perennial varieties with a thick layer to protect them from freezing temperatures. For gardeners in warmer climates, candytuft is evergreen and requires less winter protection but may benefit from some shade in the peak afternoon hours to prevent scorching.

Propagating Candytuft

Propagating candytuft effectively ensures a vibrant and flourishing garden year after year. 

In milder climates, candytuft can spontaneously regenerate as stems naturally root around the parent plant. For those in colder zones, where candytuft might not survive the winter, dividing the roots is a more reliable method. 

To divide candytuft, undertake this task in the fall, just before the plant enters dormancy. Carefully excavate the entire root clump with a shovel, then use a sharp knife or trowel to split the clump into two or three segments, each with healthy roots and stems. Replant these divisions immediately into well-prepared soil, ensuring they are spaced adequately to allow for natural spreading.

Ongoing Care

After the blooming season, it’s beneficial to deadhead candytuft flowers to encourage a second bloom and prevent self-seeding in unwanted areas. Annual varieties should be dug up and composted after flowering, with new seeds sown the following season for continued displays. Perennial varieties, if well-cared-for, will return each year, becoming a staple in the garden with their delightful blooms and easy-care nature.

Growing Candytuft From Seeds

Growing candytuft from seeds is a straightforward way to populate your garden with this vibrant plant. Begin by sowing candytuft seeds indoors in late winter or directly in the garden once the threat of frost has passed in spring. Plant the seeds about 1 inch deep in well-loosened soil, ensuring they are spaced approximately 6 inches apart to facilitate quick ground cover growth. Water the seeds well after planting and maintain moisture until germination occurs. Continue to provide regular water to the seedlings until they are fully established, which encourages robust growth and a healthy root system.

Potting and Care for Container-Grown Candytuft

caring for candytuft plant

While candytuft is typically grown in garden beds, it can also thrive in containers. This is particularly useful for gardeners with limited space or those who prefer the flexibility of moving their plants. Choose a large container with adequate drainage to prevent waterlogging, and use a standard potting mix amended with sand or fine gravel to improve drainage. Candytuft in pots may require more frequent watering than those planted in the ground. During the winter, protect potted candytuft by relocating it to a sheltered area or burying the container in the garden up to the rim to shield it from extreme cold.

Browse our picks for the best bedding plants for your garden.

Candytuft Flowers: Appearance and Aroma

The candytuft flower, with its vibrant white or pink blossoms, forms a picturesque flat-topped raceme composed of small, roughly 2-inch wide petals. These blossoms contrast beautifully against the dark green foliage, making candytuft a striking addition to moon gardens and daytime landscapes alike. 

Unlike many other garden flowers that boast sweet fragrances, candytuft flowers emit a distinctive cabbage-like scent, which can be polarising among gardeners.

Promoting Blooms

For optimal blooming, candytuft requires a sunny location and well-drained soil. While generally low-maintenance, enhancing bloom quality can be achieved with minimal intervention. An early spring application of a phosphorus-rich fertiliser can encourage more vigorous and plentiful blooms. Overwatering, especially during rainy springs, may hinder flowering and lead to subpar bloom displays. Monitoring water levels and adjusting care during unusually wet seasons are crucial for maintaining the health and aesthetic appeal of candytuft flowers.

Common Pests and Diseases

Candytuft is notably resilient to pests and diseases. However, young plants are sometimes susceptible to slugs and snails. Regular monitoring and preventive measures, like organic slug baits or barriers, can protect these young plants from damage.

Addressing Environmental Stress

Yellow leaves on candytuft plants often indicate stress due to excessive heat, moisture, or humidity. To mitigate these issues, adjust watering practices to morning hours, which helps reduce plant stress by minimising leaf wetness and humidity around the plant.

Combatting Root Diseases

Stunted growth in candytuft may signal a more severe problem like clubroot, a disease common to the Brassicaceae family. This fungal infection distorts root structures, impeding the plant’s growth. If symptoms appear, it’s crucial to remove and destroy affected plants promptly to prevent the spread of the disease. Adjusting soil pH and improving drainage can also help prevent future occurrences of this issue.

Where To Purchase Candytuft

Candytuft can be purchased from a variety of reputable garden centres and online retailers. Some reliable sources include:

  • Crocus: Known for a wide variety of plants and garden supplies.
  • Dobies: Offers a range of candytuft seeds and plants, specialising in robust garden varieties.
  • Thompson & Morgan: Provides a selection of both seeds and live plants, with detailed growing information.

Candytuft Varieties and Their Uses

Several varieties of candytuft offer different colours, sizes, and blooming periods, which can suit various garden designs and uses:

  • Iberis ‘Dwarf Fairyland Mixed’: This easy-to-grow annual produces a spectrum of colours and is ideal for quick blooms. It reaches a height and spread of approximately 23cm, making it perfect for border fronts and flower arrangements.
  • Iberis sempervirens: A hardy perennial that produces large white blooms over evergreen foliage, excellent for rockeries with its 30cm height and 50cm spread.
  • Iberis gibraltarica: Suited for challenging growing conditions like poor soils and coastal areas, it offers lilac flowers from May to June and grows to 15cm tall and 30cm wide.

Candytuft Uses

Candytuft is not only visually appealing but also serves multiple functional uses in the garden:

  • Ground Cover and Aesthetic Appeal: With its dense growth, candytuft is excellent for covering ground and masking the fading foliage of early spring blooms. Its cascading habit makes it stunning in hanging baskets and over walls.
  • Companion Planting: Candytuft pairs well with other drought-resistant plants. For example, Rock Cress and Basket-of-Gold thrive in similar conditions and complement the white and pink blooms of candytuft with their vibrant colours and unique textures.
  • Pollinator Attraction: Candytuft is a favourite among pollinators, adding ecological value to your garden by supporting bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects.

Integrating Candytuft into Your Garden

To make the most of candytuft in your garden, consider its growth habits and how it will fit into your existing or planned garden design. Candytuft’s versatility makes it suitable for borders, rockeries, and as a ground cover in sunny spots. It is also particularly effective in coastal gardens where other plants might struggle. By considering these factors, you and/or your children can handle an easy to grow plant around your garden to propel your journey into the world of gardening.

For more tips on what activities to do with your family in the garden, view these family garden ideas.

FAQs


Where is the best place to plant candytuft?

Candytuft thrives in full sun and well-drained soil, making it ideal for planting in sunny borders, rock gardens, or along pathways.

Does candytuft come up every year?

Yes, candytuft is a perennial plant, meaning it comes up every year and can live for several years with proper care.

What kills candytuft?

Candytuft can be killed by overwatering, poor drainage, and severe fungal infections. It’s essential to ensure good drainage and avoid overwatering to keep the plant healthy.

What is the common name for candytuft?

The common name for the plant genus Iberis, which includes several species, is candytuft.

Does candytuft bloom all summer?

Candytuft typically displays its flowers until early summer. However, with prompt deadheading of spent blooms, you can encourage a secondary bloom later in the season.

Does candytuft spread?

Candytuft expands gradually, seeding itself and rooting along stems that contact the soil, thus slowly increasing its coverage area.

Do pollinators like candytuft?

Absolutely, candytuft attracts a variety of pollinators including birds, bees, and butterflies with its appealing fragrance, while deer and rabbits tend to avoid it.

Is candytuft invasive?

No, candytuft is not considered invasive. While it does spread, it does so modestly and serves well as a groundcover without overpowering surrounding plants.

Sources


National Geographic (2022) Xeriscaping. [online] Available at: https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/xeriscaping/ [accessed 30/05/24]

Petruzzello, M., (2016) List of plants in the family Brassicaceae. Brittanica. [online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/plant/peppergrass [accessed 30/05/24]

Crocus. (n.d.) Iberis Masterpiece (PBR). [online] Available at: https://www.crocus.co.uk/plants/_/iberis-masterpiece-pbr/classid.2000018235/ [accessed 30/05/24]

Dobies. (n.d.) Iberis sempervirens. [online] Available at: https://www.dobies.co.uk/flowers/perennial-plants/all/iberis-sempervirens_mh10728 [accessed 30/05/24]
Thompson & Morgan. Candytuft. [online] Available at: https://search.thompson-morgan.com/seeds/Candytuft [accessed 30/05/24]

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