Candy tuft is a lovely, low-growing plant that works well as a carefree groundcover, edging plant, or at the front of the border. It blooms abundantly with masses of white flowers and is a perennial evergreen (semi-evergreen in certain regions).
There are lots of reasons to add candytuft to your garden, especially if you enjoy low maintenance gardening. It flowers reliably and spread slowly, so it’s not at all invasive.
Here’s a guide to growing and caring for the candy tuft plant, plus ways to use it in your landscape.
What is the Candy Tuft Plant?
Candy tuft (Iberis sempervirens) is a perennial plant native to the Mediterranean region of Europe. You’ll most often see it spelled as one word (candytuft), but the two names can be used interchangeably.
A low growing plant, candytuft reaches about 10-16 inches in height and is often used as a flowering groundcover. It will bloom profusely in April and May with showy masses of white or pink flowers and may bloom again if cut back in the summer.
The leaves of candy tuft are an attractive green and remain evergreen, except in colder regions where they are semi-evergreen.
Candytuft is a very attractive and hardy plant. It blooms abundantly with masses of white flowers, yet is drought tolerant and needs little care.
You can grow candytuft as a perennial in USDA hardiness zones 4-8, although some varieties are winter hardy as low as zone 3. Because plants don’t thrive in areas with very high humidity, they may not grow well in the southeastern U.S.
Benefits of Growing Candytuft
Besides its beautiful masses of flowers in late spring, candy tuft is a great addition to any garden because it’s an extremely low maintenance plant. You won’t have to do much as far as caring for it, and it rarely gets bothered by pests or diseases.
The flowers will draw beneficial pollinators to your garden, although their fragrance isn’t so attractive to humans.
Once established, candytuft is drought resistant and makes an excellent plant for a low-water landscape. Deer and rabbits usually don’t care for it, so you won’t have to worry about your plants getting eaten.
The evergreen nature of candy tuft is also a welcome addition. It adds interest throughout all the seasons and can fill in drab areas in your garden.
Finally, candytuft is a very versatile plant. It can be a groundcover, an edging plant, used in a rock garden, grown in containers, and so on. The white flowers against the dark green foliage even makes it a good addition to a moon garden.
Most candytuft cultivars have pure white flowers, although some bloom pink or purple. The plants are very versatile and can be used in many ways within your landscape.
There’s really a lot to love about this little plant!
Top Candytuft Cultivars
Most candytuft cultivars are white, but there are some with pink or purple flowers available. There are also some even more compact versions for small spaces, window boxes, containers, etc.
Here are some of the top choices:
- ‘Whiteout’– A popular cultivar, this variety is very uniform in growth and flowering. It won’t need to be pinched or pruned and blooms heavily from early to late spring. Plants are mounding and grow 8-10 inches tall and 8-12 inches wide.
- ‘Snowflake’– One of the best cultivars for cold regions, ‘Snowflake’ is hardy to zone 3. It grows 6-10 inches tall and spreads more than a foot. Plants flower in the spring and will rebloom in the summer if cut back after the first flowering.
- ‘Purity’– Another popular cultivar, ‘Purity’ is very compact, growing only about 6-8 inches tall. It blooms profusely in late spring and grows in mounds that get about 12 inches wide.
- ‘Autumn Beauty’– This cultivar is so named because it blooms in spring and again in the fall. Plants grow about 8-10 inches tall and spread 16-20 inches.
White is the classic candy tuft look, but pink and purple cultivars add some color to the mix. For a gorgeous display, try planting white, pink, and purple varieties mixed together in large masses.
- ‘Pink Ice’– One of the best pink blooming cultivars, ‘Pink Ice’ has pale pink flowers with darker pink at the centers. It grows 6-8 inches tall and about 10-16 inches wide.
- ‘Absolutely Amethyst’– This is a purple flowering cultivar that has light to deep lavender blooms. Plants grow 10-12 inches tall and 8-10 inches wide.
How to Grow the Candy Tuft Plant
Candytuft is usually available for sale at garden centers and nurseries in the spring, but you have some other options for growing it. You can start it from seed either indoors or outdoors. Or you can divide mature plants if you know someone else who is growing it.
Here’s how to grow it using each method.
Growing from Seed Outdoors
You have two options for starting candy tuft seeds outdoors: plant them in spring or plant them in fall.
Planting perennial seeds in the fall is often easier for the gardener because the weather will tell the seeds when to germinate in the spring. You’ll want to plant them while the ground is still workable but after the weather turns cold. Otherwise, they’ll germinate too early.
Even though plants are cold hardy, you’ll want to wait to plant seeds until the danger of frost has passed in the spring. Or you can sow seeds in late fall that will come up on their own the following spring.
In the spring, you can sow candytuft outside after the danger of frost has passed. It’s best to put your seeds out when the soil temperature is at least 60°F.
Whichever time you choose to sow seeds, you’ll want to start by getting your garden area ready.
First, weed and remove any rocks or debris. If your soil has poor drainage, amend it with compost or sand before putting your seeds down. Then, rake the top of the soil so that you have a smooth planting area.
After you’ve done this, you can scatter your seed over the prepared area, or plant seeds spaced out in designated spots. Press the seeds into the soil but don’t cover them.
If you’re planting your seeds in fall, no more work is necessary! Mother Nature will take care of the rest for you. If you’re planting in spring, keep the area moist until the seeds germinate.
Germination can take a little while, anywhere from 2 weeks to 25 days. Be patient until your seedlings start sprouting up. Once they are several inches high, thin them out to a spacing of at least 6 inches between each plant.
Growing from Seed Indoors
It’s also easy to start candy tuft seeds indoors if you prefer that method. In this case, you’ll want to start your seeds 6-8 weeks before your last average frost date in the spring.
To start your seeds, you’ll need a plug tray or cell packs and a good quality seed starting mix. Moisten your seedling starting mix beforehand by mixing it with water until it’s damp but not soaking wet.
If you have a greenhouse or indoor seed starting area, you can start candytuft from seed indoors about 6-8 weeks before the last frost in spring. Plants will have a headstart and flower more quickly than those started from seed outdoors.
Then, fill up your tray or cell packs with your seed mix. Sow the seeds on top of the soil and firmly press them in but don’t cover them. Water your seeds and cover the trays with plastic domes (if you have them) to help keep moisture in.
At a temperature of about 70°F, the seeds will germinate in around 2 weeks but can take almost a month, so don’t give up if you don’t see anything happen for a while!
Once your seedlings sprout, remove the plastic domes and place the trays under grow lights or by a very sunny window. Water them before the soil dries out, but don’t get water on the leaves. Run a fan a few times a day to help with air circulation.
To help your seedlings grow better root systems, transplant them to 3 or 4 inch plastic pots after they’ve been growing for a few weeks.
Once the danger of frost has passed in the spring, you can harden your seedlings off for a week and then plant them in the ground.
Propagating by Division
If you have an established patch of candytuft (or you know someone else who does), you can easily get more plants by dividing the existing ones.
Because they flower in the spring, root division for candy tuft is best done in late fall before the plants go dormant for the winter. Make sure you only divide healthy plants that have had a few years to get established.
Dividing plants is an easy way to get extras for free. You’ll need to have access to an established candytuft plant that you can dig up and divide into 2 or 3 sections.
Start by digging a circle around the clump you want to divide with a sturdy shovel. Then, dig the shovel under the clump and lift it out of the ground.
One large candytuft plant should only be divided into 2 or 3 smaller plants. You can use your shovel or another sharp tool to divide them. Make sure you get roots and stems on each new section.
Replant one of the sections where you dug up the original, and plant the others in your garden as soon as you can.
Tips for Planting Candytuft
If you bought plants locally or have seedlings that are ready to go, wait until after the danger of frost has passed in the spring to plant them outside.
In most regions, the candy tuft plant grows best in full sun. It will bloom at its best when it gets lots of sunlight and may get leggy with too much shade.
If you are growing in USDA zone 8, plants will do better with partial shade. Giving them morning sun and shade during the afternoon is ideal.
A hardy plant, candytuft adapts to many different soil types, but it will do poorly with wet feet. Planting it in well-drained soil is probably the most important step to having healthy plants. Avoid heavy clay soil or low areas that collect a lot of water.
Full sun and well-drained soil will go a long way for your candytuft plants. They are used to the dry, gravelly soil of the Mediterranean and hate getting their feet wet, so try to avoid planting them in heavy clay.
If your soil is all heavy clay and you still want to grow candy tuft, amend with sand and/or compost before planting to give your soil better drainage and a lighter texture.
To plant candy tuft as a groundcover, space individual plants only 6 inches apart. Otherwise, space them at least 12 inches apart. The plants will slowly fill in the space between one another over time.
If you live somewhere with high humidity in the summer (something candytuft doesn’t like), space you plants at least 12 inches apart so they can have good airflow.
How to Care for the Candy Tuft Plant
Candytuft is very easy to care for. The biggest maintenance task will probably be weeding around your plants during the spring and summer.
Because it’s drought resistant, you will rarely need to water established plants. However, you should always water newly planted plants during the first few weeks if they aren’t getting steadily watered by rain.
Fertilizing candy tuft is optional. It can give you more abundant blooms but isn’t necessary. If you do choose to fertilize, the best option is to apply a slow release fertilizer in the spring. Use one that is higher in phosphorus and lower in nitrogen to promote flowering.
Pruning is also optional, but many gardeners choose to cut candytuft back after its first bloom period in the spring. You can cut plants back by as much as half to stimulate new growth and possibly encourage them to bloom again.
Cutting your candytuft back is optional, but it will most likely cause your plants to bloom again later in the summer. Pruning also stimulates new growth and vigor.
Because it’s evergreen, candytuft does not need to be pruned in the fall. However, if you live in zones 4 or 5, mulching plants over the winter will help them to fare better.
Pests and Problems
Fortunately, candytuft is mostly pest- and disease-free. Even bigger pests like deer and rabbits tend to avoid this plant, and insects rarely bother it.
The most common disease problem for candytuft is fungal pathogens that cause things like downy mildew or root rot. This is most common in places with damp or humid conditions.
The best way to prevent fungal diseases is to properly space your plants so that they get good air circulation. If plants get badly infected, remove all infected material and destroy it to prevent the problem from spreading.
Keep in mind that candytuft doesn’t always do well in regions like the southeastern U.S. If you are consistently struggling with unhealthy plants, you may want to go with an option better suited for your region.
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Candytuft in Your Garden
A very adaptable plant, candytuft can be used in many different ways in your garden. Here are a few ideas:
- Plant in masses for a beautiful late spring display.
- Use as an edging plant.
- Use in the front of a border.
- Plant around spring bulbs to cover up the foliage when it dies back in spring.
- Use in a rock garden with other plants like rock cress and basket-of-gold.
- Use in a xeriscape.
- Plant as a flowering groundcover (not for areas that get lots of foot traffic).
Now that you know all about how to grow the candy tuft plant, you’ll be able to enjoy it in your garden for years to come! Learn about other perennial flowers to grow in your garden to keep your new candytuft company.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.