Growing Alpine Plants

With smart alpine plant selections, rock gardens can become beautiful landscape additions.
Dianthus

Dianthus

Dianthus

Dianthus

With all the talk in recent years about climate change, global warming and environmental sustainability, home gardeners are opting more and more for tough plants that can thrive under adverse conditions. The finicky stuff is getting left on garden center shelves in favor of the so-called low-maintenance plants – a category that includes varieties suitable for alpine and rock gardens.

Many commercial growers don’t distinguish between alpine and rock garden plants because the two share similar characteristics. But alpine plants are ones that have adapted to the extremely tough conditions found in high mountain regions around the world, whereas rock garden plants can be grown anywhere if given the right conditions of heat and sandy soil.

Alpines include a wide range of plant types, including small shrubs, dwarf conifers, ornamental grasses, perennials and annuals. All have naturally evolved to withstand harsh conditions such as drying winds, bitter cold, scorching ultraviolet rays and the short growing season of the tundra, high above the tree line. For that reason, most alpine plants typically are short from huddling down among rocks to protect themselves from the extreme conditions.

Yet, despite the challenges in growing them, many alpines contribute to the economy of some countries. Hundreds of species are traded for medicinal and aromatic uses in the Himalayas, for example.

Besides their low-growing characteristic, many alpine plants tend to be spreaders, flouncing over rocks and spilling from crevices, and have blue-green and gray foliage.

In planning a rock garden, don’t overplant as you might with an annual bed;  instead, be more selective, choosing plants that will bloom for an extended period – though remember, most high-elevation plants, while they flower profusely, bloom only for a short while.

Opt for plants that are low growing and spreading, and choose ones with foliage that stays attractive most of the year. Site the rock garden where it gets full to part sun, especially if your plant palette includes blooming plants and well-drained soil.

Good choices include:

  • California poppies
  • Portulaca
  • Sweet alyssum
  • Gazanias
  • Dianthus
  • Bell flowers
  • Sedum
  • Agave
  • Oregano
  • Creeping phlox
  • Yucca
  • Ice plant
  • Creeping Thyme
  • Candytuft
  • Ajuga
  • Lavender
  • Thyme
  • Creeping juniper 
Keep Reading

Next Up

Growing Water Lotus

Learn how to add exotic flair to your garden with a striking water lotus.

How to Grow a Lettuce Sphere

Plant a deliciously decorative sphere of lettuces and greens.

Exotic Herbs To Grow

Add some extra spice to your garden with these flavor-packed herbs from around the world.

Aquaponics: Grow Fish and Flowers!

This soil-less system puts produce and protein on your plate.

Cast-Iron Plant: Still Going Strong

This old-fashioned addition to the home or garden is tough to beat.

Herbivore: Get a Dose of Good Luck by Growing Oregano

A closer look at the history, lore and uses for oregano.

Grow Guide: Reviving Basil

Without a warm greenhouse, your best choice for growing this sun- and warmth-loving summer annual during the winter is in a sunny window.

Choosing Terrarium Plants

Making a terrarium is even easier with this helpful guide to choosing terrarium plants.

Grow Plants Hydroponically

Say goodbye to soil and hello to water-based gardening.

Plant of the Day: Drooping Leucothoe

This HGTV Flower of the Day is favorited for its graceful, fountain-like form and leaves that become mottled cream and pink in winter.

Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss HGTV in your favorite social media feeds.