What Are Alpine Plants?

Alpine plants, as the name suggests, are flowering plants that come from mountainous, alpine regions. Since they are naturally found high in the mountains, many are very hardy, and so can be a great choice for many UK gardens.

Alpine plants are often extremely easy to grow, and so can be fantastic choices for a low maintenance planting scheme. A common feature of rock gardens, or nestled into stone walls, alpine plants can also be great choices for raised beds, planters or containers.

These plants can be shrubs, sub-shrubs, herbaceous perennials or bulbs. Most are low growing ground cover plants. They form low, cushioned mounds or spreading carpets of foliage that protect the soil beneath and help in weed suppression and moisture retention. The compact plants usually flower abundantly, with tiny, jewel-like flowers in bright colours.

Enduringly popular with UK gardeners, these plants are commonly grown in collections or groups combining a number of different varieties. One of the great things about them is that they can work equally well in large sprawling gardens and in the tiniest of spaces. They can look great in a large rural garden, or on a doorstep, balcony or patio in the heart of a city.

Popular Alpines Grown In The UK

What Conditions Do They Prefer?

Most alpines will thrive in dry conditions in full sun. They will do best where the soil or growing medium is free-draining. Once established, they can do well even where the conditions are cold and exposed – as you would expect from plants that grow naturally in mountainous regions. They are also fairly tolerant of short periods of drought.

Whether you are growing them in the ground, amongst rocks, or in containers, alpine plants will do best when their foliage does not rest on damp ground. It is a good idea to place a cover of grit or gravel on the soil surface or the surface of the growing medium in pots around these sorts of plants.

In order to create the perfect conditions for alpine plants, you should think about how you can mimic their natural mountain slope habitat as closely as possible.

What Conditions Should You Avoid?

Wet and waterlogged conditions are the main ‘enemy’ for those growing alpine plants. Alpines will not survive in enduringly damp conditions. If you are trying to grow alpines in your garden where there is a heavy clay or other soil that is slow to drain, make sure you add plenty of organic matter, and plenty of grit to improve drainage.

If you are growing alpines in containers, a stone trough or container can be great. But do make sure that, whatever material your containers are made from, they have plenty of drainage holes. Make sure those holes do not become blocked. And raise containers off the ground if necessary to help them to drain more freely.

Fill your containers with a free-draining growing medium and make sure you cover them with a layer of grit, gravel or similar. Do not make the mistake of choosing a growing medium more suited to more moisture-loving plants.

In winter, avoid placing containers with alpines where they will be subjected to a lot of rain. Especially in higher rainfall areas, consider moving your containers into the lee of a wall or fence to make sure they do not get too wet.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Alpine Plants Perennial?

Most alpines are shrubs, sub-shrubs, herbaceous perennials or bulbs – they are perennial plants. This means that they will remain in your garden over a number of years. While there are also annual and biennial plants that will survive in similar conditions, when we talk about alpines we are usually talking about hardy perennial plants that are great for a low maintenance garden.

Where Should You Plant Alpines? Do They Need Full Sun?

Alpines can be planted in free-draining soil in rock gardens, perennial borders, stone walls, or containers. Most will do best in full sun, in an open and sunny location.

However, alpine plants can be a very varied lot. While most thrive in full sun, there are many that can cope with some shade. A number of alpine plants are very adaptable and hardy, and will be able to cope with periods of light shade as long as their roots do not rest in waterlogged or damp conditions.

As long as the site where you are considering placing your alpine plants gets some direct sunshine during each day, these are some of the alpine plants that you could consider for a slightly more shaded site:

  • Aquilegia
  • Astilbe
  • Campanula ‘Foerster’, or ‘Kathy’
  • Geranium sanguineum Striatum
  • Sedum ‘Fuldaglut’ (And a number of other sedums)
  • Saxifraga ‘Pixie’, ‘Black Beauty’ or ‘Cloth of Gold’
  • Veronica prostrata

Can You Grow Alpines Indoors?

While alpines are hardy plants and can thrive outdoors in many UK gardens, many can also be considered as houseplants. You can grow a number of alpine plants in containers. And those containers can be indoors as well as outside, as long as they are in a sunny position and get plenty of light.

In fact, a number of alpines will do better indoors over the winter months. This is especially true where winter rainfall is high and shelter cannot easily be provided. Alpines will not have an issue with winter temperatures. But winter wet can be a problem in some areas. Where this is the case, growing alpines indoors can be a worthwhile option to consider.

However, if you are thinking about keeping alpines as houseplants and growing alpine plants indoors, there are a number of things to bear in mind. First of all, even a sunny windowsill will typically have lower light levels than a full sun sight outside. So choose alpine plants that can cope with some shade.

It is also worth noting that certain alpines need a certain differentiation between daytime and nighttime temperatures. Some alpines will not thrive if kept indoors in more consistent and warmer temperatures.

Some final thing to note is that while some alpine plants are commonly grown indoors in containers, a number of these plants have deep roots or spread to widely and are not suitable for growing in small containers. So make sure you understand the needs of the alpine plant or plants you are considering before you opt to grow them indoors.

How Frequently Do They Need Watering?

Most alpine plants growing outside in your garden will require little watering. You may need to water a little as plants become established, but thereafter will usually only need to provide additional water during any prolonged periods of drought. Too much water is usually more of a problem with alpine plants than too little.

Remember, containers will tend to dry out more quickly than the soil in ground-level growing areas.  But even when the alpine plants are grown indoors, be very careful not to overwater. Water most alpines only rarely, especially during the winter months. And make sure no excess water remains around the roots.

What Soil Do Alpines Usually Need?

Alpines need a free-draining soil. Most will do best in a sandy or silty, stony soil, rather than one that is heavy, fertile and rich in clay. If you have a soil that is prone to waterlogging then it will usually be better to grow alpine plants in containers. Fertility is not hugely important, and most alpine plants will thrive in a free-draining medium – even when it is relatively nutrient-poor.

In terms of soil pH, alpine plants vary in their preferences. Some prefer a neutral pH, while others will thrive in more acid conditions. Note however that you could amend the soil in different containers or different parts of a rockery to provide the soil conditions that different alpine plants need.

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