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An introduction to growing alpine plants

September 23, 2018

It’s a common misconception that alpine plants are tricky to grow. That couldn’t be further from the truth!

Due to their resilient nature, alpines make the ideal plants for amateur gardeners. There are many alpines which are easy to grow in the garden with minimal maintenance, whether in borders, raised beds or troughs and containers.

Find out more in our introduction to growing alpine plants below.

Introduction to growing alpines, Cliff Booker's alpine garden

Cliff Booker's Alpine Garden

Why grow alpines?

Adaptability: Climate change is an increasing concern for gardeners. It’s tricky to find plants that will continue to thrive during dry summers and hosepipe bans. There are a lot of drought-resistant alpines which flower freely once established.

Versatility: Modern housing has led to smaller gardens. It can be hard to know what to plant in a small space. Alpine plants come into their own here; a wide range can be grown in a limited space. They look great in rock gardens, raised beds and crevices.

Low maintenance: Alpines are hardy plants that can withstand harsh conditions. They don’t need much upkeep at all.

Aesthetic: There are so many attractive, colourful alpines that will brighten up your garden.

When to buy

The best time to buy alpine plants is whenever you see one you like!

You can buy easy-to-grow alpines in most nurseries and garden centres. A wider range of more interesting alpines can be obtained at our plant fairs and shows and at nurseries specializing in alpine plants.

When to plant

March and April is the best time to plant out pot-grown alpines. This is when the soil is moist and starting to warm up. This allows the roots to grow and settle-in before the drier summer arrives.

September and October can also be a good time, providing the soil is moist and the weather not too hot.

If you choose to plant your alpines during the rest of the year, you may have to water them more often while they establish.

Where to grow alpine plants

Having evolved in a variety of environments on mountains all over the world, alpines are highly versatile. They can be grown outdoors in rock gardens, raised beds and a range of different containers. If you have the space and confidence you can build a collection of the more demanding alpines in a dedicated alpine house.

Troughs are extremely popular containers to grow alpines in. You can make your own and details can be found here or in Lori Chips book Hypertufa containers.

When it comes to rockeries, crevice gardens are all the rage these days. Many alpines will thrive in the cool, confined space between sheets of rock. From a large garden to a small container, you can create a crevice garden at any scale.

Learn how to build your own crevice garden Product The Crevice Garden, A Bold Aesthetic for Adventurous Gardeners by Kenton Seth, Paul Spriggs A crevice garden replicates the environmental conditions ...
crevice garden
You pay: £25.00 (Members pay: £20.00)

How to plant alpines (things to consider)

1. Good drainage

If planting a bed, spread a 5cm layer of grit on top and dig it into the top 10cm of soil.

2. Mind the roots!

  • Most alpine plants have very long roots (60cm long roots are not uncommon!). Make sure the planting hole is roughly the same diameter as the pot your alpine is in.
  • When you remove your alpine from the pot, inspect its roots. Often, the roots will spiral around the base. Probe the root ball with your fingertips to tease them apart.
  • Lower the roots into the planting hole then gently pat the soil firm as you refill it.

3. Water

Once you’ve planted your alpine, water it thoroughly.

4. Upkeep

If you’ve planted in cool spring weather, you might not have to water it again.

If your soil is heavy, a layer of coarse gravel on the surface can increase the life expectancy of some alpines. This is because alpines often don’t like to be wet at the ‘neck’ (where the roots join the stem).

Find your alpine plant

Here are some of our top easy-to-maintain alpine plants, perfect for beginners.

Aethionema ‘Warley Rose’ Evergreen sub-shrub with rose-pink clusters of flowers.
Aubrieta deltoidea A garden favourite. Flowers in many colours: white, pink, red, purple
Crepis incana Pink dandelion with grey-green foliage. Flowers all summer.
Pulsatilla vulgaris British native which grows in any soil.
Sempervivum There are hundreds of houseleek species in a rainbow of colours.

The best of the rest

For a shady, woodland corner why not try a number of small and miniature Hostas?

Also check out our Top 9 Alpines for Beginners page for more suggestions.

Campanula cochlearifolia Little bellflowers in shades of white and blue.
Erinus alpinus Spikes of blue flowers in shades of pink and white.
Saxifraga paniculata Mats of rosettes with grey lime-encrusted leaves. Flowers are white, yellow or pink.
Sedum spathulifolium Small rosettes of leaves with bright yellow star-shaped flowers.
Verbascum x ‘Letitia’ Painted grey-green leaves and yellow flowers.

If you’ve enjoyed this introduction to growing alpine plants discover more in our other Plant Articles.

Or better yet, join the AGS and will you get access to exclusive content to nurture your passion for alpines and actively support our conservation work in the UK and overseas.