What is a Candytuft?

Mary McMahon

A candytuft is a plant in the genus Iberis, named for its native Iberian Peninsula, a region in the south of Europe that includes Spain, Portugal, and several other nations. These European natives have been widely transported to gardens all over the world, where they are used in borders, massed plantings, and edging. Additionally, candytufts can make excellent groundcovers.

Candytufts are native to the Iberian Peninsula.
Candytufts are native to the Iberian Peninsula.

These plants are classified as subshrubs, tending to grow low to the ground. Some candytuft species are annuals, while others are perennials, and will return and grow larger every year. Most perennial species are evergreen, with I. sempervirens being a notable and popular example of an evergreen candytuft species. As a general rule, candytufts do not exceed 12 inches (30 centimeters) in height. They prefer partial shade to full sun and have moderate water requirements, preferring moist, but not wet, soil.

Candytuft plants produce clusters of white to pink or red flowers. The massed flowers rise slightly above the low mats of dark green foliage and can be encouraged to bloom for an extended period by deadheading older blooms. These plants also produce excellent cut flowers, for gardeners looking for plants that will provide flowers for the table, as well as looking attractive in the garden. The plants are hardy to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) zone four, although they can be difficult to grow in very warm climates like those in USDA zones 10 and 11.

Gardeners can cultivate these plants from divisions of established candytuft plants or from seed. Seedlings are also sometimes available at nurseries. It is advisable to be aware that mature plantings do not transplant well. Once candytuft is established, which can take up to two years when growing from seed, the plants should be left to grow where they are. Transplant shock can kill mature plants if they are moved, even under good conditions for transplanting like cool, moist weather.

In addition to being grown in beds, candytuft species can also be cultivated in containers. These low shrubs can be attractive in flowerboxes, as well as other types of containers, and can be trained to grow along rockery walls and other garden features. When container gardening, gardeners should be careful to use a well-drained soil mix and to check moisture levels frequently, as container plants tend to dry out quickly. An occasional fertilizing session is recommended to keep the plants healthy and encourage the development of large, robust flower clusters.

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