Wondering how to grow alternanthera plants? You’re not alone. A compact, fast-growing annual plant, alternanthera (all-ter-NAN-ther-ah), has been a landscaper’s favorite for centuries. The small mounds and showy colors were used in English knot gardens and even inspired Victorian needlework designs. Today, there are 200 different types of alternanthera growing all across the U.S. and around the world. So if it’s time to grow some of your own, here’s everything you need to know about this fabulous foliage.
Alternanthera, A Plant of Many Names
Commonly called Calico Plant, Joseph’s Coat, Alligator Weed, Parrot Leaf, and Joyweed, alternanthera is a tropical and tender perennial. BUT it’s normally treated as an annual and grown for its brightly colored leaves.
And if colorful foliage is what you’re going for, alternanthera is the perfect choice. They come in a wide range of showy shades like red, green, pink, copper, purple, and yellow. The broad, oval leaves may also be marked with blotches of orange, red, or yellow and look similar to coleus. In late fall, keep an eye out for white flowers. You’ll need to look closely. They set on short stalks and can be small and hard to see.
How to Grow Alternanthera: Seeds, Cuttings or Starter Plants?
If you’re growing from seed, start them indoors in late winter and transplant them outside after the last frost. You can check your seed packet for more specific directions.
Growing from stem tip cuttings? It’s best to get your hands on those in late summer.
The hands down easiest route is to order live alternanthera plants. This gives you greater choice of the more popular varieties, and you don’t have to bother with seeds or cuttings.
When planting, bear in mind that alternanthera plants need a rich, organic soil that drains well and is kept moist. Full sun develops the best colors, although it tolerates partial shade. If you’re using them as ground cover, you’ll want to space them about 4 to 9 inches apart. Since Joseph’s Coat is a fast grower, you’ll need to pinch off stems or trim with shears to keep the compact, mounded shape. It will typically last you one season, but bear in mind that alternanthera are winter hardy in zones 10 and 11.
How to Maintain Alternanthera
Alternanthera is an easy care plant. You’ll want to give them some liquid fertilizer every 2-3 weeks. If you use granular fertilizer, remember that it needs water to activate it, and use it once a month. You can follow the directions on the container.
Beyond ground cover, alternanthera look great edging a lawn or other flower bed. If you’re after a tropical look, try starting with some elephant ears, cannas, or caladiums to contrast with your alternanthera. If a cottage garden is more to your liking, go for black-eyed susan, shasta daisies, purple coneflower, or blue salvia alongside your Joseph’s Coat. The vibrant colors of the Brazilian Red Hot Alternanthera pair well with Suntastic Scaevola and Marguerite Ipomoea. This tropical perennial also makes a striking accent plant grown in a container.
Whatever display you decide on, get ready to fall in love with this vivacious, easy care foliage.