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Join The Annual Tour: Grow Candytuft From Seed

Candytuft sounds kinda like an electronica band. Something that would play at the same clubs as Lemon Jelly. But the latter hasn't put out an album in more than a decade, while Iberis umbellata remains a hit with gardeners and puts on a performance that never gets stale.

Check out Lemon Jelly's website. At the time of this post's publication, the landing page says it all. Go to our Candytuft page, and place an order for ornamental seeds that are sure to top the charts...and stay there.

Candytuft's Backstory

Just in case you were wondering, we couldn't think of a garden-related riff on VH1's "Behind the Music" other than "Behind the Bushes," and we really didn't want to go down that path...but we're determined to keep this theme going. (Sorry/not sorry).

Just as you don't want to confuse Lemon Jelly with The Lemonheads, you won't want to mistake the annual candytufts with the perennial species. So from here on out, we'll be referring solely to the annual Iberis umbellata.

Candytuft—referred to by its genus name or as globe candytuft—is a member of the enormous Brassicaceae family which includes mustards, broccoli, and pretty much everything in between.

Native to the Mediterranean region (Iberis refers to the Iberian peninsula), candytuft has spread across much of Europe. It's become naturalized in many parts of North America. Here and abroad, it grows on rocky hillsides in lower elevations, and in spite of being a precious delicate flower, it often turns up in abandoned gravel pits, on the shoulders of highways, or along railroad beds.

You know. Like passed-out hair-band rock stars.

Unlike some of its perennial half-siblings, Iberis umbellata isn't known for its medicinal or culinary properties, but it does make an interesting cut flower. Try creating small, low-profile arrangements using longer candytuft stems.

The Godfather of American Botany

Long before Keith Richards set foot on American soil (but not that long) globe candytuft was a favorite in Colonial gardens. Irish immigrant Bernard M'Mahon/McMahon, who had experience in both printing and horticulture, published the first North American seed catalog in 1804.

You guessed it! Iberis umbellata was listed among his offerings.

It's unclear when Europeans first brought candytuft to North America, but by M'Mahon's time, it had already jumped garden fences and naturalized throughout New England.

From Philadelphia, M'Mahon collected and exported native seeds across the Atlantic to meet a growing demand, as Europeans were hot for all things colonial. He later published The American Gardener's Calendar, a tome that was regarded as the gardener's bible for half a century.

According to the Biodiversity Heritage Library, that catalog caught the eye of Thomas Jefferson, who befriended M'Mahon and commissioned him to curate and propagate seeds collected on the Lewis and Clark expedition. M'Mahon's impact on early American gardening and nursery operations have earned him cult status equivalent to a hall-of-fame rockstar among his peers as well as with contemporary horticulturists.

For more information on Bernard M'Mahon, we encourage you to check out the BHL website.

Candytuft in the Garden

Nearly as compact in height and stature as Glenn Danzig, candytuft rarely grows more than 16 inches tall. Its specific name refers to its collection of flat umbels, which combined, look like tiny, slightly convex parasols of white, pink, and lavender. Some varieties are deep purple, and others are a dramatic red. With candytuft, you can decorate video sets for K-Pop girl bands to late-90s era Marilyn Manson.

(Okay, hold on...Let's just say candytuft's range of hues, plus a bucket or two of compost and a few miles of black plastic sheet mulch have Marilyn Manson's entire video catalog covered—IF you throw in those slugs and tomato worms you accosted this morning.)

Each two-inch flower has four petals surrounding six bright-yellow stamens. The blossoms on the top of each umbel are perky and upward-reaching, while those below it form a ruffled skirt of rounded petals. New blooms appear to have bud "beads" toward the centers, as petals radiate around the edges.

What's more, annual candytuft smells as sweet as it looks.

At first glance from a bloodshot, sleep-deprived, birds-eye view candytuft flowers looks a lot like a larger version of alyssum. Since both annuals make excellent rock garden specimens and groundcovers, they complement one another due to their variance in size and texture.

Candytuft's leaves are long, narrow, lustrous and smooth. Defined as "simple," the leaves grow in an alternating pattern on upright stems. The foliage color has been described as medium green to green-grey, but several shades darker than Gorillaz' Murdoc after a week of non-stop debauchery.

Candytuft is often (incorrectly) referred to as a native wildflower, but even if it isn't, you can throw it into your favorite wildflower mix or incorporate it in wildflower floral displays. We recommend using candytuft as a border or edging, to cascade over retaining walls, as a dense groundcover, or to hide the foliage of spent bulbs.

It grows in a mounding, upright habit, with a tendency to spread. White candytuft is a great specimen for a moon garden, and during the day, Iberis umbellata is never without its entourage of beneficial insects. Try growing it on the borders of your vegetable or berry gardens to attract pollinators and predatory wasps.

USDA Hardiness Zones: Grown as an annual in zones 1 to 9, Iberis umbellata is somewhat frost-tolerant and ideal for regions with short growing periods.

Plant Height: 8" to 16"

Plant Width: 12" to 16"

Sunlight Requirements: Full sun. Candytuft isn't a melty goth that needs (or wants) shade. Think of candytuft as the fourth act in an all-day summer stadium rock festival. Candytuft loves heat.

Water Requirements: While established candytuft is drought-tolerant, but consistent moisture at the taproot level will produce the best foliage and most abundant flowers. Don't let them get thirsty while they're in the growth phase. After that, deep watering on an infrequent basis, allowing the surface soil to dry in between irrigation, will keep them healthy and happy.

Soil Requirements: Light, compost-amended, well-drained soils are ideal, but candytuft can handle poor-quality substrate as long as it isn't boggy.

pH: The ideal range is between 6 and 7.5.

Bloom Period: June-September; longer in temperate zones, especially with successive planting and regular irrigation.  

Maintenance: Deadhead the flowers to keep the plants from looking scraggly, and to encourage fresh blooms. If you live where winters are warm, you might have luck overwintering your candytuft by mulching around the base of the plants.

Pests and Diseases: No serious pests or maladies, though as with most other plants, lack of air circulation can cause root rot. Watch out for aphids, snails, and slugs.

Harvesting: Cut longer stems and immediately place in warm water. Candytuft holds up for several days, especially with flower-preserving water additives.

Growing Candytuft from Seed

Candytuft is easy to grow from seed and begins flowering within a couple months. It can be scattered on the surface of clump-free, compost-amended soil as you would wildflower mixes, or started indoors 6 to 8 weeks before your last frost if you want to get a jump on the growing season. Grow them in a sunny window or under fluorescent lighting, keeping soil temperatures between 70°F and 75°F.

If you do start your candytuft seeds indoors, be mindful of the plants' fragile taproots. We recommend transplanting seedlings out of cell flats and into larger containers even before they grow their first "true" leaves. Once they do, give them a few more days of coddling before hardening them off and planting them outside.

  • When to Direct Sow: Plant outdoors as soon as possible after the last spring frost. Successive plantings (and deadheading) will provide fresh blooms up until the first hard fall frost.
  • Seed Depth: 1/16"; Iberis umbellata requires sunlight to germinate.
  • Seed Spacing: While you can mass plant your seeds, spacing them 10" to 12" apart will reduce the potential for legginess and root fungus and allow your plants to reach their full, flowery potential.
  • Germination: 7 to 21 days under optimal conditions.

Candytuft is one of those plants we recommend to novices and parents who want to introduce their kids to gardening. It's a forgiving plant, and if everything goes sideways—which it won't unless you or your tykes set your garden on fire or you experience a flood—its rapid growth allows you a second or even third chance at success.

Get Your VIP Passes at Seed Needs

When you purchase your globe candytuft seeds from us, you know you're getting the genuine article. No scalpers here!

Trust us to provide you with high-quality, non-GMO seeds selected from healthy, productive, vibrant parent stock. We only source enough quantities that we can sell in any given season so we can be confident that we're providing our valued customers with the freshest seeds with the highest germination rates.

We wouldn't be where we are today without our customers' rave reviews, and we do our best to live up to your expectations every day, every season. Reach out to let us answer your questions, or to help you choose the right varieties for your garden.

In the meantime, we're looking for sewing patterns so we can create KISS costumes for our garden gnomes.
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