Alpine is a term used for plants that originate from high altitudes above the tree line. They therefore enjoy an open position with good drainage and can tolerate cold. They’re typically low growing.
Alpines are at home in a rock garden, planted in crevices or in bespoke alpine troughs. Popular alpines include saxifrage, helichrysum and lewisia. The choice is huge and plants are often very reasonable priced. If you plan well you could have an alpine in flower every month of the year.
More on growing alpines:
Where to plant alpines
As the range of plants described as alpines is so broad, so too are the growing conditions required. Nearly all require an open, sunny position in a well-drained soil. However, some will prefer an acid soil and some neutral. If planting a wide range of plants on one rock garden, you can construct the rockery so that it has pockets of different soil.
When planting in alpine troughs mix in plenty of grit with your compost. This will help improve drainage.
In this clip from Gardeners’ World, Monty Don plants the alpines spoon-leaved stonecrop (Sedum spathulifolium ‘Cape Blanco’), a mini-tree-like Crassula sarcocaulis, and bulbs of Fritillaria michailovskyi. Find out how he grows alpines to ensure they thrive:
If planting alpines in rock gardens, your aim is to create a natural look. Position plants with care and try and avoid a regimented end result. Consider that some plants will spread quite considerably, so space plants carefully. Some plants, such as lewisias, prefer to be planted on their sides so that rain can run off the foliage (this prevents plants from rotting).
How to plant alpines
Dig a small planting hole in the rock garden or alpine trough. Remove the plant from its purchase pot. Tease out the roots. Put the plant in the hole and back fill, then firm in place. Water in. Avoid planting too deep as about 5cm of grit is usually placed around the plant.
Be inspired by Kevin Smith’s No Fuss video guide on creating a vintage alpine trough, below:
How to care for alpines
Alpines, by their nature, have adapted to growing in poor soil, so there’s no need to feed them.
Keep on top of weeding as they will soon be pushed out by invasive weeds. Top dress pot-grown alpines in spring. For a mixed planting top dress with coarse grit. For alpines that prefer an acid soil, top dress with bark chippings.
As a general rule, alpines can be clipped back by about a third in autumn. However, it’s worthwhile investigating the specific requirements of each plant.
Many alpines won’t cope with winter wet. Cover them with a cloche if you’re worried about losing them.
How to propagate alpines
Alpines can be propagated by either division, cuttings or seed.
Growing alpines: problem solving
Alpines will fail to flourish if they are in a shady position in a poorly drained soil. To avoid this, position alpine troughs and rockeries in an open, sunny position. Improve the drainage by digging in horticultural grit and sharp sand.
Another common problem is birds pulling out the plants – particularly saxifrage. Pigeons are the main culprit. The only way you can avoid this is to put up bird scarers.
Alpines to grow
- Pulsatilla vulgaris – purple flowers in spring followed by attractive seed heads. A hardy perennial with silver foliage. Height 15cm
- Sedum ‘Touchdown Teak’ – mounds of succulent maroon/red foliage. Pink flowers from August to November. Hardy. Height 25cm
- Silene alpestris – a perennial mound-forming plant with white star-shaped flowers in May and June. Fully hardy. Reaches a height of 15cm
- Oxalis depressa – pink summer flowers with yellow centre. A hardy plant that doesn’t emerge until late spring. Clover-like foliage. Height 5cm
- Phlox divaricata subsp. laphamii ‘Chattahoochee’ – fragrant mid-blue flowers in summer from this hardy gem. Height 25cm