It May Be Cold Outside But I’m Thinking Of Joseph’s Coat For Next Summer

Our horticulture team at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is working on a new vertical wall idea for the summer of 2014. Today, we were brainstorming which plants to use in the vertical panels. Someone mentioned Sedum ‘Angelina,’ another idea was Lysmachia nummularia ‘Aurea,’ and then I remembered Joseph’s Coat or Alternanthera ficoidea. Alternanthera is a tender perennial (hardy to USDA zone 10) native from Mexico to Argentina which is primarily grown for its foliage. The leaves on the plants are small and vary in appearance from being an inch wide to some cultivars which have thread-like foliage.

Alternanthera-Red-Carpet

The Alternanthera would work in our green wall idea because it would provide us with some interesting colors in a fast growing plant. In our zone 6a gardens here on the coast of Maine, we would need to start the plants in late April or early May in a greenhouse to get them rooted in and growing. Probably in mid-June, we could place the vertical panels out into the garden. In order for Joseph’s Coat to continue growing successfully, the temperature needs to be consistently above 55-60 degrees. As summer goes on, the warmer it gets, the stronger it will grow. By mid-summer, each plant should be around a foot wide and could be a foot tall. The great thing about Alternanthera ficoidea is that it can be sheared into a tight form. Many Victorian gardens utilized Joseph’s Coat as a tightly clipped annual in bedding schemes.

Alternanthera

Joseph’s Coat grows best in full to part sun, in acidic, moist but well-drained soil. In warmer parts of the country, you might want to double check if you can plant Alternanthera. It is closely related to the noxious alligator weed. In warm areas where alligator weed is a problem, different insects that feed on it have been released to try to control its growth. These insects might go after the ornamental Alternanthera as well.

Some of the more popular cultivars include: ‘Party Time’ – a tricolor selection with white, red, and green colored leaves, ‘Red Threads’ – a dark red, finely leaved selection, and ‘Yellow Form’ – a chartreuse colored form. We will probably use ‘Yellow Form’ on our wall because of the pattern we are trying to paint.

Have you grown Joseph’s Coat in your garden? What was your experience with this plant?

– Rodney

Images: HMA Plants, All The Plants.com

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rodney eason

Rodney Eason - Director of Horticulture and Plant Curator at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, father of 4, husband to a Renaissance woman. I spent the first part of my life in North Carolina, the middle in Pennsylvania, and now I am determined to become a Mainer  while keeping my southern drawl. I consider the rhetorical question, "you're not from around here, are you?" a compliment. I love great gardens, beautiful plants, and inspiring architecture. Because of this, I am on a lifelong quest to find a garden that artistically combines beautiful plants while being centered around an evocative building. For me, this would be Beatrix Farrand's Dumbarton Oaks, with the plants of Lotusland and Chanticleer, around Fay Jones' Thorncrown Chapel. My wife and I are now making our new home and garden in a 130 year old New England house with a farmer's porch near the Damariscotta River in coastal Maine. When our kids get into college, we want to hike the Appalachian Trail as a family over a summer break. My likes (in random order): the smell of fresh basil and rosemary, bold foliage, India Pale Ale, good running shoes, Top Gear, the smell of New England in the fall (it reminds me a bit of English Leather, which my grandfather wore), and the sound of our family laughing together around the dinner table. I dream of one day owning an old Toyota 4X4 pick-up and seeing the Avett Brothers in concert.

2 Comments

  1. Kris P on December 20, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    I’ve grown various varieties of Alternanthera in my southern California garden, most recently using a mass of 9 plants (‘Crinkle Red’) bordering a new pathway. It gets more sun and more regular irrigation than the varieties I’ve tried before so I’m hoping it will last longer – my previous plantings looked good for less than a year and didn’t respond well to trims.

  2. [email protected] Trekker on December 30, 2013 at 1:15 am

    Interesting thought. I am very interested in working more with living walls so I would love to see what you choose and how it works for you. Any detailed information would be appreciated.

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