Alyssum in Your Desert Potted Garden
Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima)
Did you know that something as simple as Sweet Alyssum will keep Javelina’s noses out of your pots? I did not know this, but when we planted Alyssum in two pots outside a front yard gate in Tucson’s foothills, we found those pots were not touched by the Javelina. It was lucky to discover this because I had never seen the plant on any critter-resistant list. As I ‘Google’ Alyssum now, I find that it is known to be a deer-resistant plant. If we use deer-resistance as indicators for many of our critters, I will venture to say it is Javelina and Rabbit resistant.
Now, what about squirrels? Is anyone willing to give them a try and report in?
Sweet Alyssum is a wonderfully fragrant plant perfect for desert pots. We can find them in any nursery starting in October and throughout the winter. They appreciate cooler temperatures and can survive a freeze into the upper 20’s. Technically a perennial, sweet alyssum is grown as an annual throughout most parts of the U.S.
Many tiny stems grow from the center of the plant, each with loads of clusters of tiny flowers.
Sweet Alyssum grows between 6 to 8 inches tall and a four-inch nursery plant will spread to cover 12 inches of your pot. Plant it on the edge of the container and not only will it spread this far but will also cascade over the end of your planter to distances of 18”!
Sweet Alyssum also does very well in beds, raised or ground beds. It will spread nicely and you want to plant it on the edge to be a strong contrast to the rest of the plants.
Alyssum will do best planted in full winter sun. It will self-seed in the moist ground surrounding your planter. Even though we grow it as a winter annual, in the right spot with plenty of shade after mid-morning, I have seen it grow all summer long.
Follow my normal instructions on planting in pots as well as your regular fertilizing routine.
Plant Sweet Alyssum in the morning when conditions are cool and moist. Dig holes that are no larger than the rootball. Space the holes in beds 12 inches apart. In pots, place them six to eight inches apart.
There is no need to deadhead Alyssum as it is self-cleaning and will drop spent flowers in an almost unnoticeable blanket below the pot. Like Vinca, they will continue to bloom without deadheading.
Before you realize it, new plants will start growing around the pot, creating a carpet of sweet-smelling flowers. I wish I could share the smell in my articles! I imagine someday there will be an app for that!
As Alyssum grows in length over the sides of the pot, you will want to prune it now and then. If you lift the cascading volume and inspect the undergrowth, you will most likely see brown branches underneath the heathy top, flowering stems. You want to take your snippers and cut this weighty, dead plant material out. Don’t worry if you catch some of the flowering stems and it will continue to grow.
In addition, trim the bottom length of the plant by about one-third to encourage new growth and lessen the amount of dead weight that will continue to occur. The pruning will also maintain the dense blanketing of the plant.
Alyssum is listed as drought-resistant, but I always share that with caution. Too often, gardeners, especially those new to the desert, think that drought-resistant means you don’t have to water it. This is not correct. In the case of any annual flowers, when grown in the desert, some may not need as much as others but they need, consistent, thorough water. In the winter, mid-desert annuals, once actively growing will need water every other day when planted in full sun. Pots in low-desert regions may require daily waterings if the nighttime temperatures do not cool off significantly. I would predict that an every other day watering routine will be perfect as long as the nighttime temperatures hit 50F.
Bottom line for Alyssum? Consistent moisture is needed. When it is warmer or windy, you need to make sure it never dries out. So I would water it as much as you do Pansies. Don’t hold back!
I never got into starting seeds in my desert pot – well, rarely that is. I did use seeds for Sunflowers, Nasturtiums and Spinach.
Alyssum can be purchased as a four-inch annual and you will sometimes find it in jumbo packs or six-paks. Either size IF, the top of the plant is well grown and you see many healthy roots as you gently inspect the root ball.
Too often the nurseries bring in Alyssum and Lobelia before it has matured. The tops are small and do not fill the area of the 4” container. Because we are anxious to get our winter annuals planted, we are too impatient to wait a couple of weeks and get well-grown plants. The problem with this is, particularly in the desert garden, if we get a hot spell, those young plants will stress out. We may lose them entirely or they may get such a rough start before the winter sets in that they never do well.
You will find Alyssum in white, deep purple, lavender, pinkish and mixed shades. I have heard of yellow Alyssum but so far have not seen this color in desert nurseries. There is a newer variety called ‘Snow Crystals’ with white flowers that are larger than traditional alyssum flowers.
Added Benefits of Sweet Alyssum
- Attracts the most beneficial insects
- The leaves and flowers of sweet alyssum are edible providing a peppery flavor to a salad. (it is recommended that you only eat Alyssum you grow from seed as nursery plants are generally grown with chemical fertilizers and pest control.