The Q&A Archives: Care for Plant

Question: How do you care for a Alternanthera?

Answer: Alternanthera is the botanical name for a small group of dwarf, tender plants native to tropical America. 'Alternanthera' is derived from two latin words - (alternans) which means 'alternating', and (anthera) 'an anther', and refers to the fact that alternate anthers are sterile. 'Alternanthera' belongs to the Amarathus family 'Amaranthaceae'. These plants are sometimes also called 'Achyranthes' or 'Telanthera'.

'Alternanthera' is only hardy, or used as a perennial in zone 8 and south, so, where winters are cold, the plants are treated as annual bedding plants and are set out in the garden in spring after danger of frost has past. They grow well in almost any type of soil, but must have full sun. The plants are generally spaced 4 - 5 inches apart in the flower bed.

The short, dwarf plants with their colorful leaves are used extensively for carpet bedding, and also for edging flower beds. They adapt well to shearing, one of the main reasons they are used for carpet bedding (creating designs such as flags, clocks, etc.) and most often are maintained at heights of 4 to 6 inches.

Where winters are mild, Alternanthera can be propagated by division of mature plants in early autumn or spring. Where winters are cold, several plants are dug up and potted (in commercial potting soil) before frost arrives, and over-wintered in the home as houseplants. In early spring, softwood cuttings are taken from these plants and rooted to propagate new plants, or, the over-wintered plants can also be divided into smaller plants as a means of propagation. Cuttings root easily in moist sand at a temperature of 65 degrees F. if they are enclosed in a propagating case to keep them close.

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