Sep 28, 2009

Sweet Alyssum Lobularia maritima (Brassicaceae)

A hardy annual native to Southern Europe, but has naturalized throughout the United States. Dense clusters of tiny snow-white flowers bloom continuously throughout the growing season if the spent blossoms are trimmed back. A compact, rapid growing variety which is drought tolerant and heat resistant. Thrives in full sun to partial shade, in almost any soil. Best sown in early spring, seedlings cannot withstand a heavy frost. A seemingly endless parade of blooms.

Characteristics of Sweet Alyssum
Although treated as an annual in the North, sweet alyssum is one of the hardier annuals there: it may survive light frosts that tenderer plants will succumb to. Sweet alyssum flowers do come in other colors (there is a purple alyssum, for instance), but white alyssum is the most widely planted. Its flower clusters are fragrant. The flowers have 4 small, blunt petals set in such a way as to give the blossom almost a squarish appearance. Sweet alyssum plants are short and spread to form mats. The plants' narrow leaves hardly show at all when sweet alyssum is in full bloom, if the plants are packed tightly together.

Uses for Sweet Alyssum

Sweet alyssum flowers can form a striking border when massed together as bedding plants. Mat-forming sweet alyssum stays short and complements taller border plants well: planted in front of the taller plants, sweet alyssum won't obscure them. They are also popular in container gardens; as short plants, you can install them along the rim (they'll hang over slightly). Their short stature also makes sweet alyssum plants useful as temporary rock garden plants or ground covers. White sweet alyssum flowers are often used with red salvia and blue ageratum in the U.S. for a "patriotic" landscaping color scheme.

Care for Sweet Alyssum

Hate to deadhead plants to encourage reblooming, because it's so time-consuming? Not to worry, with sweet alyssum flowers. Just give the plants a good "haircut" with a pair of scissors when they start to get leggy (remove about 1/2 of the growth): not only will this care promote further flowering, but it will also keep the plants optimally compact. Sweet alyssum sometimes re-seeds.

Outstanding Characteristics of Sweet Alyssum

Sweet alyssum flowers boast a long blooming period, and the flowers are rugged (unlike those on petunias, for example, which are a veritable blight upon the landscape after a strong rain has ruined them). For that matter, even after a few of their flowers have died, sweet alyssum plants still look good: their individual flowers are so small, you really don't notice a dead one here or there. This latter feature makes sweet alyssum flowers relatively low-maintenance, as there's no compelling aesthetic reason to "pick up after" them.

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