Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens) is a ground-hugging perennial flower that is frequently used as a ground cover or as edging along pathways. Its white or pink blooms brighten gardens in April and May.
Candytuft plants are mid-spring bloomers, but they are worth the wait. The flowers are showy, and there are a lot of them—masses of blinding white flowers along their stems. This white is softened towards the end of the blooming period, as the central petals turn lavender. The color of the blossoms stands out nicely against the backdrop of the dark green foliage and also makes these plants good for moon gardens. The petals form a pretty pattern that never fails to hold your attention if you are willing to take a good, close-up look. One thing the flowers do not have going for them is a pleasant aroma; the scent is actually unpleasant.
One popular cultivar, 'Purity', can reach 10 inches in height, with a slightly greater spread. A shorter cultivar (height of 6 inches) is 'Nana' The well-named 'Autumn Snow' is a cultivar that will rebloom in fall.
Iberis sempervirens 'Purity', like other candytufts, is considered an evergreen or semi-evergreen sub-shrub, but most gardeners treat candytuft as they would any other perennial flower. 'Purity' has white flowers, along with several other cultivars, such as:
- 'Alexander's White'
The cultivar 'Pink Ice' bears pink-colored blossoms. There are also related species that are annual: Iberis amara and Iberis umbellata. In addition to white, the annual candytuft flowers may also be pink, red, or lilac in color.
Interestingly, this flowering ground cover is part of the mustard (or "cabbage") family. This makes it a so-called "crucifer," even though that name usually calls to mind food crops such as broccoli.
Origin of the Name
The name "candytuft" may make you think they are so named because they resemble tufts of candy. However, the name actually originates from the word "Candia," an early name for the island of Crete, which was the source of the first plants imported to Europe. "Tuft" may refer to either the clusters of flowers or the mounded growth habit of the plant.
The Latin genus name indicates the plant harkens from Spain and the Iberian peninsula (Iberia), while the second part of the name, the species identification sempervirens, indicates that the plant has evergreen foliage—the term is derived from the Latin words for "always" and "alive."
Because candytuft flowers crave well-drained soils, they are perfect for rock gardens, where Angelina stonecrop makes for a good companion plant to grow with them. Their drought resistance also makes candytufts a good choice for xeriscaping. Finally, their rich-green foliage and showy blooms make candytufts effective where short edging plants or ground covers are required. They are short enough that they won't block your view of the flowers growing behind them.
Candytuft flowers are effective for drawing bees and butterflies to your landscaping, thereby improving pollination for other perennials.
How to Grow Candytuft
Candytuft is suitable for growing in USDA hardiness zones 4 to 8. The candytufts are native to southern Europe, including areas along the Mediterranean coast; they prefer the kind of gravelly soil found in their land of origin.
'Purity' candytuft will tolerate some shade but bloom best when planted in the sun. When planting, space them about 6 inches apart if you want a ground cover that will fill in quickly. More importantly, it is critical to provide them with excellent drainage. Once established, candytuft flowers are moderately drought-tolerant, but make be sure to water young plants, particularly during dry periods. This perennial prefers to be grown in the ground with a soil pH that is on the alkaline side.
To keep candytuft looking tidy, you can prune away the top one-third of the foliage after blooming—this will keep them from getting leggy. However, if you are planting candytuft flowers behind a retaining wall, legginess may actually be a good quality. In this case, prune them only if you think the stems are getting too woody-looking. Pruning will spawn new, fresh growth.
In cold regions such as zone 5, the leaves are only semi-evergreen. Some gardeners in cold regions gently place pine boughs over the plants in late fall to shelter them from the cold, drying winds of winter and keep them green longer.
Candytufts are deer-resistant perennials and are also rabbit-proof. In fact, this plant is mainly free of pest and most disease problems, although root rot can be an issue if they are planted in boggy soil.