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wide shot of white flowering alyssum plants
With delicate, butterfly-shaped petals creating a spectacular carpet of colour, alyssum plants are the heart of any garden. These easy-to-grow annuals are easily kept in prime condition, and if you follow this simple advice, yours are bound to flourish.

What you need to know about alyssum

Name: alyssum (Lobularia maritimum), carpet flower, sweet alyssum, sweet Alice, yellow alyssum (Aurinia saxatilis).

Height: from 7.5 up to 30cm.

Foliage: long, narrow, grey-green leaves.

Climate: some varieties are tolerant to frost-prone areas, but most prefer a warm-temperate and mild growing environment.

Soil: a fertile well-drained soil is preferred, but alyssum will grow in most garden soils.

Position: most sweet alyssums will grow in full-sun or partial shade.

Flowering and fruiting: colourful clusters of fragrant flowers that repeatedly bloom, although this pattern is heat sensitive and may cease in situations of prolonged excessive heat.

Feeding: use a controlled-release fertiliser when initially planting in poor soil conditions. Potted alyssums may require a water-soluble fertiliser every month.

Watering: does not like lengthy dry spells; ensure you water every week, and more frequently during the hot summer months.

Appearance and characteristics of alyssum

Alyssums are compact annual and perennial flowering plants that cover themselves in colourful blossom. The plant grows and flowers from spring through to autumn. These sun-loving ground covers have a minimal height of just over 7cm, but can reach up to 30cm under shadier conditions. When sown or planted closely together, alyssum creates a thick carpet of flowers.

Originating in the Mediterranean region, species of the alyssum genus form clusters of fragrant honey-scented flowers. White was the traditional colour of the blooms, but selected breeding has produced a multitude of colour varieties, including red, pink and purple shades. The cross-shaped blossoms are best grown in warm-temperate conditions, although it is important that they don’t dry out, as this reduces the longevity of the flowers. Best grown in full sun or partial shade, they can be placed between pieces of pavement, in pots or in garden beds.

Bedding alyssums are durable annuals that are used throughout the garden. The dwarf cushion varieties are perfect for window boxes, hanging baskets or as fillers in between plants, rocks and pavers. Dead-heading any weathered or dried-out flowers will increase the lifespan of the plant. Annual alyssum varieties will survive light frosts, but will be killed by freezing temperatures.

The yellow-flowered perennial Aurina saxatilis flowers in spring and early summer, with persistent grey foliage. It is usually grown as a sprawling rockery plant, or is seen cascading over walls and rocks. It grows best in full sun in cooler climates, but needs some afternoon shade in warm temperate climates.

close up of a purple alyssum flower

How to plant and grow alyssum

Soil

Alyssum will grow in most garden soils, but prefers a well-drained fertile soil. There should be a balance between good drainage and water retention, although it is important that the plant is kept well-watered during the summer and doesn’t dry out, as this will terminate the flowering period. As alyssum is part of the Brassica family, the best growing conditions consist of a pH around 6.5–7, which can be easily monitored with a pH kit. The species name, “Maritimum”, means growing on the coast (maritime), so alyssum is highly suitable for growing in alkaline free-draining coastal soils.

In hanging baskets, window boxes and containers, always use a premium standard potting mix and keep the plant well-watered throughout summer.

Caring for alyssum

Fertiliser

Apply a controlled-release organic fertiliser around the plant at the beginning of spring and summer. Liquid feeding after deadheading a flush of flowers will also encourage quick regrowth and repeat flowering.

Pruning alyssum

Alyssum responds well to deadheading with shears straight after flowering, pruning off up to 50 per cent of the growth. This will prevent the plant from going to seed and dying, keeping it compact in the process. Overgrown, straggly plants or plants grown in the shade can also be trimmed in this way to keep them neat and tidy.

Diseases and pests

Alyssum is usually trouble-free, but can occasionally be attacked by caterpillars and aphids. Its flowers attract bees and butterflies, and the pollen and nectar encourage hoverflies and their larvae that feed on aphids, so usually the aphids will be naturally controlled. Alyssum is often planted between rows of commercial vegetable crops and orchards, or in pots within glasshouses, providing a habitat for beneficial insects used in biological pest control. If specific control is required, treat with an insecticide.

How to propagate alyssum

Growing alyssum from cuttings

Perennial types of alyssum can be easily propagated using semi-ripe cuttings in early summer.

  1. Take firm tip growth around 7–10cm long and place it in a pot with seed and cutting mix, or 50:50 peat and coarse propagating sand.
  2. Remove the bottom two thirds of leaves and dip the bottom in rooting hormone.
  3. Place in a propagator or pot covered with half of a clear 2 litre bottle, and position in partial shade. In around 6–8 weeks the cuttings should have taken root.

Growing alyssum from seed

Annual species of alyssum are usually grown from seed sown on the surface of seed trays in late winter if grown inside, or from early spring onwards if sown outside. Do not cover the seeds, as they need light to germinate. Alyssum will readily self-seed around the garden and naturalise once you have grown it, so you won’t need to do much more.

If you like this then try

Lobelia: trailing annual suitable for bedding, hanging baskets and edging in shades of blue, purple, pink, red and white.

Pansy (viola): brightly coloured perennial with dark blotches on the flowers, usually grown as an annuals, flowering from late winter through to spring, and sometimes summer in cooler climates.

Foxglove: perennial and biennial cottage garden plant, with delicate spikes of tubular flowers in spring.

Start planting today

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