Although the invidual flowers are tiny they combine to form showy two inch clusters that cover the plants in late spring and early summer.
Candytuft is what we call a subshrub. It is evergreen, doesn’t die to the ground in winter, and has semi-woody stems near the base, but it only get about a foot (30 cm) tall. Candytuft has alternate dark green oblong to spoon shaped leaves about 1-1.5 in (2.5–4 cm) long. The flowers, appearing in spring and summer, are white and tiny, but borne in profuse flattened clusters about 2 in (5 cm) across. The display is quite showy, with flowers often covering the whole plant, and can look like a drift of pure white snow. Several named cultivars are available. ‘Autumn Snow’ produces a second round of flowers in autumn. ‘Weisser Zerg’, also known as ‘Little Gem’ is a miniature – maxing out in a compact mound just 6 in (15 cm) tall. Many of the cultivars have the word “snow” in their names.
Location Iberis sempervirens is native to southern Europe and the Mediterranean region where it grows in open woodlands and on rocky hillsides, often in crevices on exposed rock outcrops.
Grow candytuft in a moist, but well drained, neutral to alkaline soil. The soil should not be acidic and not too fertile, as excessive nitrogen will cause the plants to become leggy and not as compact. Candytufts should be pruned hard (even mowed) to about a third of their height right after flowering to keep them compact, discourage fruit development, and to maximize the next flowering episode, which could be later in the same growing season.
Light: Candytuft does best in full sun, but can tolerate partial shade, although it will be less floriferous there. Moisture: Candytuft does best in a moist but well drained soil that never completely dries out. Too much dampness will kill it. Hardiness: USDA Zones 4-8. Candytuft is only semi-evergreen, losing some leaves, in cold winter climates and should have some mulch for winter protection in zones 4 and 5. Lay some evergreen boughs (like an old Christmas tree) over the plants to help protect from winter damage.
Propagation: Soft wood cuttings can be rooted in spring; semi-ripe cuttings in summer. Stems often root when they touch the ground and these can be dug up and replanted elsewhere. Seeds should be started in containers before setting out in the garden.
A clump of candytuft spills over a rock where it serves as groundcover combined with
'Blue Pacifica' juniper in a commercial landscape.
Candytuft makes a fine evergreen groundcover. It is hardy and robust and thrives on neglect. Plant them a foot (60 cm) or so from each other. They will spread and sprawl to form an attractive dark, glossy evergreen mat with a blanket of summertime snow as a bonus. They are often used as borders or edging in front of permanent beds, and as foundation plants around buildings. Use candytuft in drifts amongst larger shrubs and perennials for a smooth dark green living carpet. The fine texture of candytuft contrasts nicely with coarser, larger shrubs. In the rock garden, use individual candytufts as specimens, or let them cascade over a stone wall.
The generic name, Iberis, comes from Iberia, the old name for Spain, where most of the species occur. The specific epithet, sempervirens, means “always green” in Latin. The candy in candytuft refers not to a sweet treat, but to the ancient city of Candia (now called Heraklion), on the Greek Island of Crete, where Iberis sempervirens occurs naturally.
It’s kind of hard to believe this little shrub is in the same family as radishes, broccoli and cabbage! There are some 30 species of Iberis, many of which are not subshrubs, but herbaceous annuals. Most are called one kind of candytuft or another.