Plant an Alpine Garden

Late-spring gardening in the South Sound is where “fast and furious” meets “survivor.” The weather has settled, and nurseries explode with color and people. This is the South Sound at its best … bulbs, rhodies, azaleas, cherry trees, and a parade of once-blooming spring-blooming shrubs. But have you considered adding alpine plants to your garden?

Gardening with ‘Miffy’ Alpines

Alpine gardens are not rock gardens. Alpine gardening is for high-altitude plants that tend to grow slowly, low, and mounded. Alpine plants are adapted to harsh conditions like wind and cold that basically stunt their growth. Rock gardens can be anywhere as long as they have heat and sandy soil, a huge difference between the two.

Alpine plants include a wide range of choices, such as small shrubs, dwarf conifers, ornamental grasses, perennials, and annuals. So, basically it’s everything you already grow, just smaller versions.

Alpine plants can be “miffy” plants, ones that are not the very easiest to grow — a little fussy. That’s mostly because we’re used to overwatering and fussing with the plants we grow. The South Sound in late spring is full of color and flash. Alpine gardening can be nuanced and personal — small scale.

Some easy-to-find alpine plants are familiar names. They just have to be the dwarf forms of plants like dianthus, aubrieta, campanula, willows, sedums, thyme — there are plenty of alpines out there to get started.

A Good Starter

Alpine plants like being grown ‘hard’, i.e., grown in soil that is lean, not fertile. A fertile soil would make them grow ‘soft,’ and they wouldn’t survive through any harsh conditions. So, just like every other kind of gardening, soil is everything. Not much alpine soil is needed because alpine roots are not only tough; they are shallow.

Recipe for Alpine Trough

2 parts freshly dug soil

1 part sharp sand

1 part pumice

1 part organic material like coir or a potting mix

If pumice is hard to find, perlite works, too. Perlite has an added advantage. You know how wet the soil is just by looking at the pieces of perlite. It’s white when dry, and gray when wet.

Alpine gardening is not new. Most gardens are growing in home-constructed hypertufa troughs. They are expensive but are made with very inexpensive materials. There are plenty of articles and instructions about how to make troughs, mix your own soil, and get the right plants.

All the Information in One Spot

Hypertufa Containers: Creating and Planting an Alpine Trough Garden by Lori Chips, and she left no stone unturned. (Sorry, had to say it). Chips teaches the mechanics of building hypertufa troughs in every shape possible. She tells you how to fill them with the best soil mix for alpine plants.

Each completed trough in Hypertufa Containers is a miniature landscape filled with dwarf conifer, alpine ground covers spilling over small rocks, and plants small enough to qualify for a fairy garden. Hypertufa Containers can be preordered on

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