How to Grow and Care for Iberis — Candytuft

Candytuft Iberis
Perennial candytuft, Iberis sempervirens

Iberis–commonly called candytuft–is a garden favorite. The compact umbel heads of short-spiked cover the low-spreading plant during the bloom season. There is both annual and perennial candytuft. Both have green, fine-textured foliage and are trouble-free.

Perennial Iberis has white flowers. Annual Iberis has white, pink, rosy red, scarlet, violet, and purple flowers. The annual types are popular bedding plants, and the perennials are long-lived and attractive.

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Iberis starts to bloom in early spring when tulips bloom. Plants can be massed at the front of borders, used as a groundcover, or planted in a rock garden or at the top of a stone wall where the foliage and flowers can cascade over.

Iberis are natives of Southern Europe. They are hardy and easy to grow.

Annual candytuft,  Iberis umbellata
Annual candytuft, Iberis umbellata

Get to know Iberis

  • Plant type: Evergreen perennial or cool-season annual
  • Growing Zones and range: All zones as annuals; Zones 3 to 9 as perennials
  • Hardiness: Perennial is hardy to -30°F/-34°C, can tolerate some summer heat
  • Height and width: 6 to 12 inches (15-30cm) tall; 12 to 36 inches (30-91cm) wide
  • Foliage: Dark green leaves that are narrow and lance-shaped
  • Flower form: Clusters of tiny flat, single blossoms, creating a carpetlike effect
  • Flower colors: Perennials are white; annuals can be white, pink, rosy, red, scarlet, violet, or purple
  • Bloom time: Annuals bloom in late spring through summer in most regions; perennials bloom early to late spring
  • Uses: Beds and borders, rock gardens, edging, patios, narrow spaces, spilling over walls, planters
  • Garden companions: Tulips and late spring bulbs
  • Common name: Candytuft
  • Botanical name: Iberis spp.
  • Family: Brassicaceae
  • Origin: Southern Europe

Where to plant Iberis

  • Plant Iberis in full sun.
  • Iberis will grow in average, well-drained soil that is neutral to alkaline.
  • Iberis prefers a soil pH of 5.5 to 7.

Iberis uses

  • Plant Iberis in borders or as edging in borders and beds.
  • Iberis is a good-looking addition to a rock garden.
  • Use compact Iberis forms as edging for formal gardens.
  • Good Iberis companions include Armeria maritima, Aurinia saxatile, Dianthus, Heuchera, Iris, Phlox subulata, Veronica. Iberis combines well with tulips.
Candytuft, Iberis sempervirens
Perennial candytuft, Iberis sempervirens

When to plant Iberis

  • Set Iberis in the garden in spring or fall.
  • Start seed indoors 8 weeks before the last expected frost in spring. In Zones 9 to 11, sow seeds in fall or winter.
  • Sow annuals outdoors in spring after the danger of heavy frost has passed, a few weeks before the last expected frost.
  • Make successive sowings several weeks apart.
  • Set annuals and perennials outdoors after the last frost in spring.
Rocket candytuft, Iberis  amara
Rocket candytuft, Iberis amara

Planting and spacing Iberis

  • Sow seeds in flats or six-packs in sterile potting soil; cover seeds with 1/8 inch of soil. Annuals may germinate in less than two weeks, perennials may take two months to germinate.
  • Thin or transplant seedlings to the garden when they are 4 to 6 inches (10-15cm) tall.
  • Space Iberis 12 inches (30cm) apart. Plant Iberis in mass, 8 plants or more, for best effect.

How to water and feed Iberis

  • Iberis needs moderate moisture to produce the best bloom; keep the soil evenly moist.
  • Fertilize Iberis lightly in spring with a slow-release fertilizer.
Annual candytuft, Iberis umbellata
Annual candytuft, Iberis umbellata

Iberis care

  • Mulch around Iberis to conserve soil moisture.
  • After flowering, cut back candytuft by one-third to renew plants.
  • Protect plants in winter in Zone 6 and colder by mulching around plants with chopped leaves or straw; remove the mulch in spring before new growth emerges.
  • Slugs may attack Iberis; dust around plants with diatomaceous earth to deter them.

Iberis propagation

  • Seeds germinate in 7 to 14 days; sow seeds of annual varieties in the garden in spring or autumn; sow seeds of perennials in a cold frame in autumn.
  • Perennial Iberis can be propagated by division or stem cuttings.
  • Divide perennial varieties to increase plants.
  • Take cuttings 6 inches (15cm) long from perennials right after the flowers bloom. Root cuttings in the sand, vermiculite, or peat moss; keep cutting moist until they root.
Rock candytuft, Iberis saxatilis
Rock candytuft, Iberis saxatilis

Iberis varieties to grow

  • Iberis amara, rocket candytuft: Annual grows 6 to 18 inches (15-45cm) tall with spoon-shaped leaves; bears rounded 4 to 6-inch tall clusters of mildly fragrant white to lilac-white flowers in summer; cool-weather annual.
  • I. saxatilis, rock candytuft, perennial candytuft: Perennial subshrub with wood base grows 3 to 6 inches (7.6-15cm) tall spreading to 12 inches wide; bears a flat-topped cluster of white flowers in mid-spring.
  • I. sempervirens, common candytuft, evergreen candytuft: Perennial in Zones 9-10. It has 2-inch (5cm) clusters of bright white flowers from early to late spring. Plants are 8 to 12 inches (20-30cm) high and twice as wide. When not in blooms the narrow, glossy, dark green leaves form dense mounds. Cultivars include ‘Autumn Snow’, ‘Purity’, ‘Pygmea’, and ‘Snowflake.’
  • I. umbellata, globe candytuft: Cool-season annual is taller and broader than the evergreen candytuft, I. sempervirens; has fragrant white blossoms; dwarf strains grow to about 6 inches high. In mild-winter regions, sow seed in the garden in autumn or early spring. Cultivars include ‘Brilliant’, ‘Dwarf Fairy’, ‘Flash’, and ‘Hyacinth Flowered.’

Iberis sempervirens — Edging candytuft

Iberis sempervirens bears rounded, 1-inch-wide clusters of bright white flowers that cover the entire plant in early spring. Iberis evergreen leaves are arranged in whorls around procumbent stems.

  • Size: 9 inches to 1 foot tall; 1 ½ feet wide.
  • Light: Full to half sun.
  • Soil and moisture: Average, well-drained, neutral to alkaline soil; moderate moisture.
  • Planting and propagation: Plant container-grown plants in spring, spacing 6 inches to 1 foot apart. Needs no division. Take stem cutting in summer.
  • Special care: Cut back by one-third after flowering to keep plants compact and tidy; cut back by two-thirds every few years to reduce woodiness and promote new growth.
  • Pest and diseases: Clubroot may be troublesome.
  • Climate: Zones 3-9.
  • Cultivars: ‘Autumn Snow,’ blooms in spring and again in autumn, 9 inches tall; ‘Snowflake,’ large leaves and flowers, 7 to 8 inches tall, later blooming: ‘Purity,’ white, 8 inches tall; ‘Little Gem,’ 6 inches tall; ‘Alexander’s White,’ early blooming, 10 inches tall.
  • Gardens use: Forms attractive mounds in rock gardens and walls. Use compact forms as edging for formal borders. Combines well with tulips.

Iberis — candytuft frequently asked questions

Q: What are the different types of candytuft?

A: Rocket candytuft (Iberis amara) has large, upright, cone-shaped spikes of fragrant, glistening white flowers that look like hyacinths. These make good cut flowers. Globe candytuft (Iberis umbellata) is lower-growing and has dome-shaped flowers. Fairy Mix is the best-known globe candytuft.

Q: Why did my annual candytuft bloom for such a short time and then die?

A: Annual candytuft (Iberis umbellata) is a short bloomer. It blooms quickly from seed but does not last long. If you cut back the first blooms, the plant may bloom a second time. For continuous blooms, plant seeds at two- to three-week intervals in the cool spring and fall temperatures. Annual candytuft does not do well in the summer heat.

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