Choosing and Maintaining Rock and Alpine Plants

You are probably wondering what exactly the difference is between an alpine plant and a rock plant.

Alpine plants are defined by their natural habitat; they are found growing in mountainous regions of the world, above the tree line but below the area where snow lies permanently on the ground.

Rock plants refer to any plant which is by nature small or dwarf in stature, making it suitable for cultivation in the miniature landscape of a rock garden.

Spring is a good time to purchase and plant both rock and alpine plants. Look for healthy specimens and ones that fill the pot comfortably; they have neither outgrown the pots they are in nor appear to be marooned in a sea of compost. If roots are emerging from the base of the pot, then the plant is pot-bound. If there is a small mat of moss and lichen on the surface of the compost, you will know the plant has been neglected. It is not necessarily a good thing to buy the plant which has the most flowers or the biggest leaves; look instead for a plant that has healthy foliage and evidence of new, healthy growth.

With all these ‘buyer beware’ warnings, my best advice is to buy plants for rock gardens from specialist nurseries. These nurseries will offer the widest range, will be able to advise you knowledgeably about the requirements of the plants in their collection and will be only too pleased to help you select the best plants for your purposes.

Although there are a few annuals and biennials, we will mostly be interested in the enormous range of perennials (some short-lived), shrubs and bulbs that can be grown in a rock garden. It has been said the average life span of a perennial alpine is seven years, but that is just an average as some specimens can live to a ripe old age; others you will have to keep an eye on and propagate in order to keep them in your garden.

26. February 2012 by Dave Pinkney
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