Portulaca is a flowering annual that thrives where others shrivel, perking up seemingly hopeless sites with a summer-long supply of delicate double blossoms atop fresh, succulent foliage. We’ll provide all the instruction you’ll need to grow your own.
Get the basics
Portulacas bloom in colours ranging from deep magenta and shades of orange and yellow to white, salmon, and a peppermint pink colour that’s patterned with frosty white. In fact, recent improvements in portulaca are so dramatic that portulaca’s status has been raised from a fill-in plant for problem spots to a featured flower in beds, containers, and even hanging baskets.
Portulaca spreads out to form soft mounds of delicate, succulent foliage. It’s ideal for planting in broad bands along a sun-baked walkway, for spilling over warm stones atop a wall, edging a bed filled with taller flowers, or for bedding alongside roses or other bare-stemmed shrubs.
The flowers open wide in bright, sunny weather and close during rainy weather and at night. While open, flowers attract honeybees, so avoid stationing a planting right next to a doorway or other high-traffic area.
Portulaca often reseeds, and even hybrids produce offspring well worth keeping.
Best of all, portulaca is a champion at withstanding drought, capable of going without water longer than almost any other garden flower.
Grow your own
Inexpensive bedding plants of portulaca are easy to find in garden centres in spring, or you can start seeds indoors four to six weeks before your last frost. Seeds have a wide tolerance for germination temperatures, so you can even sow them outdoors in beds or containers in late spring.
Sow the tiny seeds on top of the soil, and just barely press them in because they need light to germinate.
There’s no great hurry to get seedlings started, because they grow best in warm or even hot weather. And although established plants tolerate drought very well, it’s important to provide enough moisture to young plants to support steady growth. Ideally, you should allow the soil to become barely dry between waterings.
Portulacas are not heavy feeders, but they’ll stay in bloom longer if you drench them with a soluble all-purpose fertilizer monthly in the summer.
Should the plants eventually become thin and leggy looking, you can shear them back by about half their size to force out fresh new flowering stems.
True to their care-free character, portulacas are ordinarily impervious to insect attack and diseases, only succumbing to root rot in soggy soil. If this happens, set healthy plants in a new location with well-drained soil.
Consider the wide variety
- The Sundial series has earned a reputation for beauty and dependability. Its colour range is outstanding too, particularly if you like soft sherbet shades like ‘Peach’ and ‘Mango’. Sundial portulacas grow 15 centimetres (six inches) tall and spread 35 centimetres (14 inches) wide, which makes quite a sight when they’re allowed to cascade over the top of a wall or large container.
- The Margarita series is similar in its mix of colours, but the plants form more compact mounds only 25 to 30 centimetres (10 to 12 inches) wide. This makes Margarita portulacas perfect for use as an edging or as blooming ground cover in sunny spots.
Portulacas are both tough and beautiful, making them a versatile and welcome addition to your landscape or garden. Treat them well and you’ll be rewarded with a stunning display.