Portulaca: This plant thrives on neglect!

Portulaca: This plant thrives on neglect!

If the idea of watering your garden plants often is not your cup of tea, you should consider drought-tolerant plants.

I’m not just talking about plants that can withstand a week without rain. I’m also thinking that “drought” means nobody remembered to water the plants for a day or so…or three. Ask the staff at your local nursery or home improvement garden center for drought tolerant plants – that’s the usual lingo used.

Portulaca, Moss Rose, Rose Moss

My all-time favorite plant that absolutely thrives on almost total neglect is the annual flower portulaca, which also goes by the name of moss rose, and sometimes by rose moss. I remember first seeing this flower in my grandmother’s garden when I was a little girl, and have loved it ever since.

White double-flower Portulaca
White double-flower portulaca with pink supertunias
(in a pot on our patio)

I plant this every year in my garden and containers. It blooms all Summer into Fall (as long as there is warm sunshine), it spreads with more and more blooms as the Summer progresses, and it thrives in poorer soils. No need to fertilize this plant, and it isn’t bothered by any serious pests either. 

Let me repeat: no need to fertilize this plant at all. In fact, if you do fertilize it? You might kill it. Seriously.

OK, didn’t mean to scare you, but a little fertilizer will encourage more green leaves than blooms. A lot of fertilizer will indeed kill the plants.

We have a strip of garden in front of our low-walled garden beds that gets super-hot in the Summer being next to our sidewalk going up to our front door. Portulaca has been the perfect solution for this spot.

Portulaca newly planted in a Summer garden
Portulaca, newly planted & watered in June 2012
(in front of the low garden wall)
Portulaca in the Summer garden
Here’s the portulaca just one month later, July 2012

The plants receive water whenever we run our lawn sprinklers or when it rains. Portulaca is a succulent, which means that it stores water in its leaves and stems to use when it gets a bit thirsty. Because portulaca’s root system is very shallow, too much water could actually drown the roots thus killing the plant.

Speaking of rain – Portulaca will close up during rain or during cloudy days, and sometimes at night too. This occurs more with the single-petal version than it does with the double-flower version.

Annual…but sort of a perennial too!

Another great thing about portulaca is that it nicely reseeds itself, but not invasively. For example, in this picture below, you can see our single-flowered portulaca which I planted in June with some of the double-flowered seedlings that sprouted up from last year’s planting. We love this!

Portulaca - two different types

Spot the seedlings!

It is easy to spot newly sprouted seedlings for two reasons. First, these seedlings don’t begin to sprout until mid-June, so you can happily weed away in the Spring without worrying that you might be pulling up any valuable (that’s what I think of these little guys) new plants. Secondly, when the seedlings do show up, you can tell them apart from other weeds right away because their tiny leaves immediately resemble their full-grown versions.

Portulaca reseeds in such a pleasing way!
A closer look at the portulaca planted in front of our low garden wall

Single or Double? Try both!

The single-version portulaca plant is more of a groundcover, growing out (horizontally) rather than up (vertically). The height is a mere few inches, but the spread can be easily 14 inches or more.

Yellow Portulaca, single petal flowers
Yellow Portulaca, single petal flowers

The double-version (sometimes called semi-double) portulaca grows a bit more vertically, and the flowers resemble tiny roses with their double petals which appear to be very full and fluffy.

Lemon Portulaca, double flower variety
Lemon Portulaca, double flower variety
(in a pot on our patio)

Both types come in a gorgeous array of Summer colors, and there are even some new hybrids that have veining within the flower petals too, such as the Peppermint Portulaca varieties.

Peppermint Portulaca, double flower variety
Peppermint Portulaca
(in a pot on our patio)

Portulaca is the perfect choice for rock gardens, hot and dry spots, hanging baskets and containers. It thrives on neglect, and you’ll look like a professional gardener as the plants keep on blooming all Summer long into the Fall season!

Portulaca: a must for your easy-care Summer garden!
Our garden strip of portulaca, looking from left to right
Portulaca: This plant thrives on neglect!
The same garden strip of portulaca, this time shot from right to left

Have your tried portulaca? Do you love it? Any preference on the single or double varieties? 

August 22, 2013 update: To see even more examples of our Portulaca plants, click on the image below:

Portulaca, Rose Moss, Moss Rose - examples of single and double blooming varieties!

~Laura

Please note: As with many garden plants like azaleas, daylilies and begonias just to name a few, portulaca can be toxic to dogs and cats if swallowed. Please research your plants for toxicity if you have furry family members who enjoy being outside with you. The ASPCA has a great list here.

Comments

  1. Anonymous says

    Neglect I can do! But do the bunnies like this? They are my biggest problem of keeping things growing after my neglect. I would love to try this if they didn’t bother it.

  2. says

    Unfortunately, the single flower plant reminds me too much of a horrendous weed I can’t get rid of, purslane, so I don’t know if I could like them. The double flower one is pretty though.

    • says

      Yes, I’ve heard of the wild form of Portulaca, which as you said is Purslane and can be invasive in some areas of the country. Dealing with any plant (weed or not!) that becomes invasive is a giant pain in the gardener’s behind!

  3. says

    I wonder if this is the same stuff I bought for my backyard around my tree- It looks so similar and I’m embarrassed to say that it has all died- probably the Texas heat, over watering or something. They are beautiful though! thank you for sharing on Show Us Your find! I hope I can try these again next spring.

  4. says

    Thrives on neglect? Sign me up! My poor plants are wishing someone else had taken them home right about now. Thanks for linking up to last month’s Refresh My Nest and I hope you’ll stop by tomorrow for the Best of Summer party!

  5. says

    When we first moved in to our home in Sandy, Utah, I had the darndest time getting anything to grow in our south-facing flower bed, rght next to the cement “porch” in front of our house. I found Portulaca at our local garden shop, and gave it a shot. My mom was horrified when she saw it: “it’s a noxious weed, and you’ll never get rid of it!” Well, of course I didn’t listen to her, and enjoyed the neverending bloom for the next five years, which, by the way, never took over my garden. I’m not sure what she was referring to, but it obviously wasn’t my moss roses. They stopped coming up upthe sixth year. I had amended the soil enough at that point to put in lemon thyme, rock flowers, and ornamental oat grass, and for color I would buy violets every year. I went back to my moss roses this year – they’re so beatiful, and EVERYONE comments on their beauty when they come to my home. Thank you for sharing your story! (& letting me tell much mine!)

    • says

      Thanks so much for your story, Mary Ann! I was told similar things, that it’s a weed and will pop up everywhere. But to me, each time it DOES pop up somewhere new, I’m thrilled! 🙂 So far this year, because of all the rain, the portulaca hasn’t yet fully taken off and spread. But once it does, I look forward to the show…and the compliments from the neighbors too! I’d love to see pictures, so feel free to post them to my Facebook page (link is in the sidebar on the right!)

    • says

      Thanks so much for linking back to my post here on Portulaca, Laura! I hope your readers find the info helpful! It’s such a pretty plant and I’m glad you are enjoying them in your own garden now with your other flowers!

  6. says

    I’m going to try this in my gutter gardens. Nothing has grown successfully there. I’m starting to think that gutter gardens look best on Pintarest. I thought maybe this plant would survive there. Just found some 50% off today…so Portulacas it is!

  7. says

    Hi Laura,
    I love the endless colors of Portulaca, especially double petal variety.I’m thinking of planting a variety of mixed colors in hanging baskets. Do you think it’s hardy enough to grow in desert heat of Arizona? Do they come back after the frost?

  8. says

    Hi Laura, I really love these plants, can they survive indoors during the winter months?,they are so beautiful I hate to see them die off

    • says

      Thanks Dolly! I haven’t personally tried to grow portulaca indoors, mainly because our Winter sun here in southern New Jersey (US) isn’t that strong. From what I’ve read online, for portulaca to grow indoors, it needs to be placed on a very sunny windowsill that remains bright most of the day. It’s worth a try! 🙂