• Faerie-Dusted Moon Rock Gardens: Growing Alyssum from Seed

July 26, 2018

Creeping between stepping stones. Spilling over terraced rock gardens. Providing a cooling living mulch between vegetables and tall ornamentals. If you want to carpet your garden with an easy-to-grow, densely-flowering groundcover or garden accent, you've got to put alyssum on your list.

Seed Needs carries both annual and perennial alyssum varieties, and while both have very similar growing habits and requirements, each has something of its own to bring to the table... er, potting bench.

Alyssum's Cultural History

We usually think of herbal medicine when we consider practical uses for harvested plants. (Aside from cut flowers and cooking, that is). But what about practical magic?

Once upon a time, alyssum was used as a treatment for the bites of rabid animals. The name alyssum comes from the Greek meaning "without madness".

Witchipedia

According to Witchipedia, which claims to be "the online encyclopedia of magick, folklore and the occult," alyssum combats hexes and spells. The site highlights alyssum's attributes:

  • When planted around a home, it protects the occupants from "spells intended to mislead you."
  • Alyssum's pleasant aroma promotes "peaceful energy and spiritual and emotional balance."
  • A boutonniere made from alyssum, or an alyssum flower in the pocket, will diffuse, deflect, or calm hostile conflicts.
  • When flowers are mailed in with your taxes, you'll be protected from IRS audits.
  • Yes, we made that last one up.

Can we all drop our cynicism for a while, have faith in a little magic, and carpet the planet with alyssum? For example, we can imagine making seed bombs (seed balls for those of more delicate sensibilities...or those who just like to snicker) and lobbing them anywhere politicians are known to habituate. Guerrilla gardeners, it's time to up your game!

Witchipedia also advises that alyssum is recommended for faerie and moon gardens. More on that in a few.

Alyssum in the Garden

You never need a theme to use alyssum—or any plant—but its low, spreading, clumping growth habit makes it a great groundcover between, under, and around taller plants. It does well in larger containers, where it will trail over the lips in a cheerful cascade. It softens the edges of pathways, sidewalks, and driveways, and helps to suppress weeds.

Rock Gardens, Raised Beds and Retaining Walls

Alyssum's most notable use is as a rock garden ornamental. Have you ever seen terraced rock gardens that appear a little too stark or contrived? Alyssum will gracefully soften the appearance of stacked stone or rock "structures" in your garden, and give geometric hardscaping a more natural aesthetic. This is never truer than when you interplant alyssum of varying colors and heights.

Moon Garden

Moon gardens provide forage for nocturnal and crepuscular (twilight-loving...no, not that Twilight, silly) pollinators, most notably moths and native bees. Plants chosen for their light-colored blooms, silvery foliage, or predisposition to release nectar when the cool night air descends upon your garden will also coax you out onto your porch, deck, or patio to sip some alcopops and enjoy all your hard work.

Faerie Gardens

There are a ton of reasons to design your garden with an eye to scale. Perhaps you want to make the most of a small area, or you're seeking the perfect plants for a foreground garden zone. Or, maybe, you are gaga over tiny, whimsical figurines, such as those displayed here. Faerie gardening is the Western counterpart to Bonsai gardening, though here and there, cultural (cultivation?) appropriation runs a bit rampant. Not that that's always a bad thing; if it weren't for global aesthetic inspiration, our gardens wouldn't be quite as gorgeous.

By this point, you've likely decided that your garden could use some alyssum—and maybe about 20 ceramic fairies or pewter D&D characters. Perhaps you're on Amazon, looking up tactical slingshots for your seed ball crusade. Hang on a sec; you've got choices, and we'd like to share some tidbits on two major types of alyssum. We've chosen one from the annual varieties, another from the perennials.  

Lobularia maritima: "Sweet Alyssum"

An herbaceous annual native to Mediterranean Europe, Lobularia maritima is a member of the Brassicaceae—or Mustard—family. It's also referred to as Alyssum maritimum. Both "maritima" and "maritimum" refer to the plant's preference for cool, maritime climates.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 5-11, though it performs best in zones 6-9.

Plant Height: 3" to 8"

Plant Width: 5" to 12"

Soil Quality: Sweet alyssum prefers rich, well-drained, sandy to loamy soil amended with aged compost.

pH Tolerances: 6.0 to 7.5; try and keep the soil's alkaline/acidity balance as neutral as possible.

Sunlight Requirements: Full sun to partial shade; plant your sweet alyssum in partial shade if you have hot, dry summers or intense afternoon sun.

Moisture Requirements: Tolerates some drought. Allow the soil to dry out in between waterings, and irrigate more frequently in the hottest weeks of summer to encourage continuous bloom.

Flowering Period: April through July, sometimes through early fall; flowering will slow down in the hotter weeks of summer, but gain momentum after temperatures peak. This frost-tolerant groundcover will continue to bloom until (or possibly beyond) the first fall frost.

Flowers: Tiny four-petaled flowers bloom in dense clusters at the terminal ends of their delicate stalks; bloom colors vary by variety.

Foliage: Sweet alyssum's many-branched stems bear small, oblong, narrow green leaves in an alternating pattern. Once the plants are in full bloom, it's difficult to see the leaves, but in between bloom periods, the foliage is an attractive ground cover, persevering until at least the first hard freeze of fall.

Maintenance: As the flowering period tapers off midsummer, trim back the plants by about 1/3 to 1/2 to encourage regrowth and to reinvigorate late-summer blooms.

Pests and Diseases: Sweet alyssum, when grown under ideal conditions, isn't prone to pests or diseases.

Aurinia saxatilis: "Basket-of-Gold"

Also known by the botanical name Alyssum saxatile, basket-of-gold is an herbaceous perennial closely related to sweet alyssum...but with a wider footprint and taller growing habit. As both grow in densely-flowering mounds, they are fantastic companions as groundcovers, container plants, and rock garden accents. Both species do well under similar growing conditions.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 4-7; Aurinia saxatilis isn't a huge fan of humid climates.

Plant Height: 6" to 12"

Plant Width: 1' to 2'

Soil Quality: Aurinia saxatilis prefers rich, well-drained, sandy to loamy soil amended with aged compost, but it will tolerate dry, rocky soil and short periods of drought.

pH Tolerances: 5.6 to 7.5; try and keep the soil's alkaline/acidity balance as neutral as possible.

Sunlight Requirements: Full sun to partial shade; plant your sweet alyssum in partial shade if you have hot, dry summers or intense afternoon sun.

Moisture Requirements: Tolerates some drought; allow the soil to dry out in between watering. Basket-of-Gold hates wet soils.

Flowering Period: Early to late spring; flowering will slow down in the hotter weeks of summer, but gain momentum after temperatures peak. This frost-tolerant groundcover will continue to bloom until (or possibly beyond) the first fall frost.

Flowers: Tiny four-petaled bright yellow flowers bloom in dense clusters at the terminal ends of their delicate branching stalks, and like sweet alyssum, basket-of-gold attracts butterflies and other beneficial insects.

Foliage: Narrow, oblong, gray-green leaves. Once the plants are in full bloom, it's difficult to see the leaves, but in between bloom periods, the foliage is an attractive, evergreen ground cover that fades only in the hottest summer days, or as fall frosts arrive.

Maintenance: As the flowering period tapers off mid to late spring, trim back the plants by about 1/3 to 1/2 to encourage regrowth and to reinvigorate late-summer blooms.

Pests and Diseases: Basket-of-gold, when grown under ideal conditions, isn't prone to pests or diseases.

Growing Alyssum from Seed

Sick of lists? We're going to make this short and sweet...just like alyssum. We don't need a huge flowchart to tell you how to grow alyssum from seed.

Both the perennial and the annual alyssums are easy to plant. They require daytime temperatures of at least 65-70°F and can be sown indoors in flats 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost, or direct-sown in mid-late spring on the surface of consistently-moist, smooth soil.

You can broadcast and thin, or seed-in-place with a 6" spacing. Dense plantings create a luxurious carpet of flowers when alyssum hits its bloom period.

Alyssum easily self-seeds, and in successive years, it might look like the same plants (the annuals, in particular) have persevered through winter, when in fact it's just the next generation. If you end up with more plants than you need, they're easily pulled out by hand.

Fresh Seeds from Seed Needs

If your seed stash is covered with dust, or you've got tons of folded-over seed packets from the past several seasons, you might want to consider starting with a clean slate. Why spend all that time prepping your garden beds, setting up your irrigation, and stocking up on mulch and compost if you're going to plant dried out, past-their-prime seeds?

Germination rates sharply decline after the second year, which is why we only carry enough to sell to our customers within a single growing season. We trust our sources to provide us with a high-quality stock of hardy, productive, non-GMO lineage that's been harvested in the crop's latest cycle. We keep our own inventory in climate-controlled storage designed specifically for plant seeds.

Plus, we hand-package our seeds for one last quality check before shipping them out to you.

Contact us for more information on this year's varieties, or to learn more about our expanding catalog of vegetable, herb, and ornamental seeds. We've got a little something for everyone... and if you are into witchcraft, we've even got something for your cat.


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