Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens), a ground-hugging perennial flower frequently used as pathway edging, is a late bloomer that brightens gardens in April or May. Best planted in early fall, it is a slow grower that will brighten gardens for many years. Its white or pink blooms are abundant and showy. Masses of blinding white flowers dot the stems. 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. They are effective for drawing bees and butterflies to your landscaping, thereby improving pollination for other perennials. One thing the flowers do not have going for them is a nice aroma; the scent is actually unpleasant.
|Botanical Name||Iberis Sempervirens|
|Mature Size||12–18 in. tall, 12-16 in. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil Type||Well-drained, gravelly|
|Flower Color||White, pink, lilac, red|
|Hardiness Zones||4 to 8 (USDA)|
Candytuft is considered an evergreen or semi-evergreen sub-shrub, but most gardeners treat it as they would any other perennial flower. 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.
Candytuft flowers are suitable for growing in USDA hardiness zones 4 to 8. When planting, space them about 6 inches apart in moist soil if you want a ground cover that will fill in quickly. 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 candytuft a good choice for xeriscaping. 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.
'Purity' candytuft will tolerate some shade but bloom best when planted in the sun. For zone 8, all varieties of candytuft will benefit from a spot where the flower will have partial shade in the afternoon during the hottest part of the day, especially during the heat of summer.
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. More importantly, it is critical to provide them with excellent drainage. This perennial prefers to be grown in the ground with a soil pH that is on the alkaline side.
Once established, candytuft flowers are moderately drought-tolerant, but make sure to water young plants, particularly during dry periods.
Temperature and Humidity
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 to keep them green longer.
The natural environment for candytuft tends to have drier air conditions. For that reason, it is not recommended for areas with high humidity such as the southeastern United States as the flowers tend to wilt.
Fertilizing candytuft is not necessary but can help ensure abundant blooms. A slow-release fertilizer will help candytuft grow if applied in early spring. Choose a low-nitrogen, high-phosphorous mix for best results.
Varieties of Candytuft
The name "candytuft" probably conjures images of 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, sempervirens, indicates that the plant has evergreen foliage—the term is derived from the Latin words for "always" and "alive." Here are a few popular varieties of candytuft:
- 'Purity' has sparkling white flowers and can reach 10 inches in height, with a slightly greater spread.
- 'Nana' is a shorter cultivar that reaches a height of 6 inches and has lovely white blooms.
- 'Autumn Snow' is a well-named cultivar that will rebloom in the fall.
- 'Pink Ice' is a springtime favorite, bearing pink-colored blossoms with dark pink centers.
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.
If propagating from cutting, select a green, healthy stem that is a bit long or tall. While the stem will self-root, it does take a while. Be patient if you use this method. Propagating can also be done through root division in the fall right before candytufts begin their winter dormancy. One large plant can be divided into two to three new plants and stems and roots are included in each clump.
Candytufts are deer-resistant perennials and are also rabbit-proof. In fact, this plant is mainly free of pests and most disease problems, although root rot can be an issue if they are planted in boggy soil.