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Saxifraga Plant Care – Tips For Growing Rockfoil Flowers

Saxifraga Plant Care – Tips For Growing Rockfoil Flowers


By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

Saxifraga is a genus of plants found almost everywhere on earth. Typically, the plants form mounds or creeping mats and produce tiny flowers. There are approximately 480 species of the plant, and plant enthusiasts and breeders are introducing more each year. A very common and easy-to-grow variety is rockfoil. Information on how to grow rockfoil plants will allow you an easy entry into this diverse and attractive group of plants.

Rockfoil Saxifraga Information

A commonplace form of Saxifraga is mossy rockfoil. There are many types of rockfoil, but mossy rockfoil is readily available in nurseries and garden centers. The mossy varieties are in the section of Saxifraga called hypnoides. The plant is an excellent ground cover, forming a thick tenacious carpet over rocks and under trees.

Rockfoil produces its thickest and most lush foliage in spring. The bright green crinkly leaves pack tightly together and carpet rocks, pavers and lightly shaded nooks. In spring, tiny cupped flowers appear on slender stalks held above the body of the plant. The wiry stalks are tinged pink to purple and support blooms of salmon, pink, purple, white and other hues. The rockfoil flowers last into the early part of summer.

Once the flowers die back, the plant is exposed to drying air and sun without their shading protection. This often causes the plant to die in the center. Fill in the center with a light dusting of sandy grit to help the plant hold moisture and prevent core mortality. This is important rockfoil Saxifraga information to preserve the beauty of your plant.

The perennial plant needs moist shade and is hardy in USDA plant hardiness zones 5 to 7 in temperate regions. Growing rockfoil requires cool sites which mimic its alpine native ranges.

How to Grow Rockfoil Plants

Mossy rockfoil has no special needs, provided you give it a location with some shelter from wind and hot sun. The plants require moist soil, especially in spring when they are growing the most.

You can plant this Saxifraga from seed but for faster plants, divide a mature clump. Seeds require cold stratification for germination and can take two to three years to bloom. Growing rockfoil from divisions helps prevent the center die out and gives you more of these alpine plants for your garden.

This species needs a moist rich loam for best performance. Mix in a little compost with existing soil at planting time.

Saxifraga Plant Care

Mulch around the plants to conserve moisture and help prevent weeds from growing up into the center of the plant as it spreads. Water twice per week in summer. In colder zones, mulch over the plant lightly to protect the roots from freezes, but pull away the mulch in early spring. This allows the new growth to burst out without having to push through the layer of mulch.

Mossy rockfoil needs no pruning and has no staking or manual cultivation needs. As with any plant, watch for pests and disease with Saxifraga care and maintenance. It is prey to several species of insect and prone to rots and rust. Combat these by avoiding overhead watering when the plant can’t dry out quickly and with a fungicide or baking soda spray.

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The Saxifraga is an arctic perennial plant. These plants are also called Saxifragas or rockfoils. The name saxifrage comes from Latin and means “stone-breaker”. The reason for this name is that the Saxifraga was known in ancient times as a remedy for kidney stones. This plant is a member of the Saxifragaceae family, consisting of various flowering plants, herbs, shrubs, and small trees.

So, what does the Saxifraga look like? There are over 440 different varieties, each with its own unique features. Generally speaking, they have small, simple or palmate lobes and green leaves. They are a flowering plant with 5-petalled flowers that are usually white, red, pink, or yellow. Their flowers are either round or star-shaped. They form a compact cushion or mat, and they flower from spring to early summer.


Rockfoil

The name Saxifraga means "rock breaker." Members of this genus of plants are generally found sprouting out of narrow crevices in rocky outcrops throughout the Northern Hemisphere. There are more than 300 species, many of which are in cultivation. Although the genus is widely grown, no one species could be said to be common. Most sources of rock garden plants offer several different ones.

Description of rockfoil: Most rockfoils are cushion-forming perennials with silvery or succulent foliage growing as clusters of small rosettes. In many cultivated forms the leaves are variegated yellow or white. The flower stalks are held well above the low-growing foliage and bear numerous flowers in shades of white, pink, purple, or yellow. Ease of care: Moderately easily.

Growing rockfoil: Most do best in gritty, well-drained soil and in sun or partial shade. Strawberry geranium (S. stolonmifera) differs from the others in requiring rich, moist soil.

Propagating rockfoil: By layering, cuttings, or seed.

Uses for rockfoil: These plants are good choices for planting in rock gardens, even where little soil exists: cracks, crevices, paving, screes, and the like. Strawberry geranium is better used as a woodland plant or a houseplant.

Rockfoil related species: London-pride (S. umbrosa) bears rosettes of green, shiny, tongue-shaped leaves and clusters of pink flowers. S. x urbium is similar with larger, toothed leaves. It is also called London-pride. Jungfrau rockfoil (S. Cotyledon) has spoon-shaped, pubescent leaves with white flowers veined in red. The least typical of the rockfoils is strawberry geranium (S. stolonifera). Its needs and uses are quite different, and it bears leaves quite unlike the others: round with silver veining and a red reverse. It also produces long stolons with plantlets at the tip.

Scientific name of rockfoil:Saxifraga species


Saxifrage, Rockfoil (Saxifraga arendsii)

Features

The arendsii species forms a dense carpet of low growing, deeply lobed foliage. Delicate, saucer-like blooms float above the foliage as spring gives way to summer. Perfect for softening and bringing color to dry, sandy or rocky areas.

Perfectly sized for rock gardens and border fronts. Tumbles beautifully over rocks, slopes, and banks. Makes a good small scale groundcover.

Plant Feed

Slow release feed in spring.

Watering

Allow soil to dry between thorough waterings.

Basic Care Summary

Does best in light, well-drained soil. Allow soil to dry between thorough waterings. Provide shade in very hot weather. Protect from excessive winter moisture.

Planting Instructions

Perennials can be planted anytime from spring through fall.

Prepare the garden by breaking up the existing soil (use a hoe, spade, or power tiller) to a depth of 12-16” (30-40cm). Add organic matter such as manure, peat moss or garden compost until the soil is loose and easy to work. Organic ingredients improve drainage, add nutrients, and encourage earthworms and other organisms that help keep soil healthy. Give plants an extra boost by adding a granulated starter fertilizer or all-purpose feed that encourages blooming (for example fertilizers labeled 5-10-5).

Check the plant label for suggested spacing and the mature height of the plant. Position plants so that taller plants are in the center or background of the landscape design and shorter plants in the foreground. To remove the plant from the container, gently brace the base of the plant, tip it sideways and tap the outside of the pot to loosen. Rotate the container and continue to tap, loosening the soil until the plant pulls smoothly from the pot.

Dig the hole up to two times larger than the root ball and deep enough that the plant will be at the same level in the ground as the soil level in the container. Grasping the plant at the top of the root ball, use your finger to lightly rake the roots apart. This is especially important if the roots are dense and have filled up the container. Set the plant in the hole.

Push the soil gently around the roots filling in empty space around the root ball. Firm the soil down around the plant by hand, tamping with the flat side of a small trowel, or even by pressing down on the soil by foot. The soil covering the planting hole should be even with the surrounding soil, or up to one inch higher than the top of the root ball. New plantings should be watered daily for a couple of weeks to get them well established.

Plan ahead, for plants that get tall and require staking or support cages. It’s best to install cages early in the spring, or at planting time, before the foliage gets bushy. Vining plants require vertical space to grow, so provide a trellis, fence, wall or other structure that allows the plant to grow freely and spread.

Finish up with a 2” (5cm) layer of mulch such as shredded bark or compost to make the garden look tidy, reduce weeds, and retain soil moisture.

Watering Instructions

New plantings should be watered daily for a couple of weeks. After that, depending on the weather and soil type, watering may be adjusted to every two or three days. Clay soils hold moisture longer than sandy soils, so expect to water more frequently in sandy settings.

Different plants have different water needs. Some plants prefer staying on the dry side, others, like to be consistently moist. Refer to the plant label to check a plant’s specific requirements.

Ideally water should only be applied to the root zone - an area roughly 6-12” (15-30cm) from the base of the plant, not the entire plant. A soaker hose is a great investment for keeping plants healthy and reducing water lost through evaporation. Hand watering using a watering wand with a sprinkler head attached is also a good way to control watering. If the garden area is large, and a sprinkler is necessary, try to water in the morning so that plant foliage has time to dry through the day. Moist foliage encourages disease and mold that can weaken or damage plants.

Thoroughly soaking the ground up to 8” (20 cm) every few days is better than watering a little bit daily. Deep watering encourages roots to grow further into the ground resulting in a sturdier plant with more drought tolerance.

To check for soil moisture, use your finger or a small trowel to dig in and examine the soil. If the first 2-4” (5-10cm) of soil is dry, it is time to water.

Fertilizing Instructions

Incorporate fertilizer into the soil when preparing beds for new plants. Established plants should be fed in early spring, then again halfway through the growing season. Avoid applying fertilizer late in the growing season. This stimulates new growth that can be easily damaged by early frosts.

Fertilizers are available in many forms: granulated, slow-release, liquid feeds, organic or synthetic. Determine which application method is best for the situation and select a product with a nutritional balance designed to encourage blooming (such as 5-10-5).

Reduce the need to fertilize in general by applying a 1-2” (3-5cm) layer of mulch or compost annually. As mulch breaks down it supplies nutrients to the plants and improves the overall soil condition at the same time.

Pruning Instructions

Depending on the flowering habit, snip off faded blooms individually, or wait until the blooming period is over and remove entire flower stalk down to the base of the plant. Removing old flower stems keeps the plant’s energy focused on vigorous growth instead of seed production. Foliage can be pruned freely through the season to remove damaged or discolored leaves, or to maintain plant size.

Do not prune plants after September 1st. Pruning stimulates tender new growth that will damage easily when the first frosts arrive. Perennial plants need time to prepare for winter, or “harden off”. Once plants have died to the ground they are easy to clean up by simply cutting back to about 4” (10cm) above the ground.

The flowering plumes and foliage of ornamental grasses create a beautiful feature in the winter landscape. Leave the entire plant for the winter and cut it back to the ground in early spring, just before new growth starts.

Perennials should be dug up and divided every 3-4 years. This stimulates healthy new growth, encourages future blooming, and provides new plants to expand the garden or share with gardening friends.


Rockfoil Hybrid (Saxifraga Hybrid)

Features

Saxifraga Hybrids are generally chosen for their drought tolerance and low, mounding growth habits. They tend to have small leaves that become obscured by an abundance of blooms during flowering. Perfect for bringing color to challenging areas.

Perfectly sized for rock gardens and border fronts. Tumbles beautifully over rocks, slopes, and banks. Makes a good small scale groundcover.

Plant Feed

Slow release feed in spring.

Watering

Allow soil to dry between thorough waterings.

Basic Care Summary

Does best in light, well-drained soil. Allow soil to dry between thorough waterings. Provide shade in very hot weather. Protect from excessive winter moisture.

Planting Instructions

Perennials can be planted anytime from spring through fall.

Prepare the garden by breaking up the existing soil (use a hoe, spade, or power tiller) to a depth of 12-16” (30-40cm). Add organic matter such as manure, peat moss or garden compost until the soil is loose and easy to work. Organic ingredients improve drainage, add nutrients, and encourage earthworms and other organisms that help keep soil healthy. Give plants an extra boost by adding a granulated starter fertilizer or all-purpose feed that encourages blooming (for example fertilizers labeled 5-10-5).

Check the plant label for suggested spacing and the mature height of the plant. Position plants so that taller plants are in the center or background of the landscape design and shorter plants in the foreground. To remove the plant from the container, gently brace the base of the plant, tip it sideways and tap the outside of the pot to loosen. Rotate the container and continue to tap, loosening the soil until the plant pulls smoothly from the pot.

Dig the hole up to two times larger than the root ball and deep enough that the plant will be at the same level in the ground as the soil level in the container. Grasping the plant at the top of the root ball, use your finger to lightly rake the roots apart. This is especially important if the roots are dense and have filled up the container. Set the plant in the hole.

Push the soil gently around the roots filling in empty space around the root ball. Firm the soil down around the plant by hand, tamping with the flat side of a small trowel, or even by pressing down on the soil by foot. The soil covering the planting hole should be even with the surrounding soil, or up to one inch higher than the top of the root ball. New plantings should be watered daily for a couple of weeks to get them well established.

Plan ahead, for plants that get tall and require staking or support cages. It’s best to install cages early in the spring, or at planting time, before the foliage gets bushy. Vining plants require vertical space to grow, so provide a trellis, fence, wall or other structure that allows the plant to grow freely and spread.

Finish up with a 2” (5cm) layer of mulch such as shredded bark or compost to make the garden look tidy, reduce weeds, and retain soil moisture.

Watering Instructions

New plantings should be watered daily for a couple of weeks. After that, depending on the weather and soil type, watering may be adjusted to every two or three days. Clay soils hold moisture longer than sandy soils, so expect to water more frequently in sandy settings.

Different plants have different water needs. Some plants prefer staying on the dry side, others, like to be consistently moist. Refer to the plant label to check a plant’s specific requirements.

Ideally water should only be applied to the root zone - an area roughly 6-12” (15-30cm) from the base of the plant, not the entire plant. A soaker hose is a great investment for keeping plants healthy and reducing water lost through evaporation. Hand watering using a watering wand with a sprinkler head attached is also a good way to control watering. If the garden area is large, and a sprinkler is necessary, try to water in the morning so that plant foliage has time to dry through the day. Moist foliage encourages disease and mold that can weaken or damage plants.

Thoroughly soaking the ground up to 8” (20 cm) every few days is better than watering a little bit daily. Deep watering encourages roots to grow further into the ground resulting in a sturdier plant with more drought tolerance.

To check for soil moisture, use your finger or a small trowel to dig in and examine the soil. If the first 2-4” (5-10cm) of soil is dry, it is time to water.

Fertilizing Instructions

Incorporate fertilizer into the soil when preparing beds for new plants. Established plants should be fed in early spring, then again halfway through the growing season. Avoid applying fertilizer late in the growing season. This stimulates new growth that can be easily damaged by early frosts.

Fertilizers are available in many forms: granulated, slow-release, liquid feeds, organic or synthetic. Determine which application method is best for the situation and select a product with a nutritional balance designed to encourage blooming (such as 5-10-5).

Reduce the need to fertilize in general by applying a 1-2” (3-5cm) layer of mulch or compost annually. As mulch breaks down it supplies nutrients to the plants and improves the overall soil condition at the same time.

Pruning Instructions

Depending on the flowering habit, snip off faded blooms individually, or wait until the blooming period is over and remove entire flower stalk down to the base of the plant. Removing old flower stems keeps the plant’s energy focused on vigorous growth instead of seed production. Foliage can be pruned freely through the season to remove damaged or discolored leaves, or to maintain plant size.

Do not prune plants after September 1st. Pruning stimulates tender new growth that will damage easily when the first frosts arrive. Perennial plants need time to prepare for winter, or “harden off”. Once plants have died to the ground they are easy to clean up by simply cutting back to about 4” (10cm) above the ground.

The flowering plumes and foliage of ornamental grasses create a beautiful feature in the winter landscape. Leave the entire plant for the winter and cut it back to the ground in early spring, just before new growth starts.

Perennials should be dug up and divided every 3-4 years. This stimulates healthy new growth, encourages future blooming, and provides new plants to expand the garden or share with gardening friends.


Saxifraga Species, Mossy Saxifrage, Rockfoil

Category:

Water Requirements:

Requires consistently moist soil do not let dry out between waterings

Sun Exposure:

Foliage:

Foliage Color:

Height:

Spacing:

Hardiness:

USDA Zone 5a: to -28.8 °C (-20 °F)

USDA Zone 5b: to -26.1 °C (-15 °F)

USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 °C (-10 °F)

USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 °C (-5 °F)

USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 °C (0 °F)

USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 °C (5 °F)

USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 °C (10 °F)

USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 °C (15 °F)

USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 °C (20 °F)

USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 °C (25 °F)

Where to Grow:

Can be grown as an annual

Danger:

Bloom Color:

Bloom Characteristics:

Bloom Size:

Bloom Time:

Other details:

Soil pH requirements:

Patent Information:

Propagation Methods:

Seed Collecting:

Regional

This plant is said to grow outdoors in the following regions:

Elizabeth City, North Carolina

Gardeners' Notes:

On Aug 1, 2010, delil72 from Monmouth Beach, NJ wrote:

This is a really adorable little plant - perfect carpet like look and really pretty shell-pink flowers - however - it REALLY resents the heat and will definitely not tolerate it or being dry. I planted it in spring and tried to keep it well watered over this brutally hot summer but I'm afraid it died anyway.

On Mar 21, 2005, jamie68 from Vancouver, WA (Zone 8b) wrote:

This plant is one of many Saxafraga I have in my Rock garden, it is one of the most consistent boomers out there!! Lovely blooms fade with age from deep/ dark pink/red to light pink, giving a multi-colored bloom effect at any one time. Very easy to grow as well.


A Very Diverse Genus of Plants

The Saxifrages, or Rockfoils, are such an enormous genus of plants in the northern and temperate world, and so many species in gardens have lately been added to, in the shape of numerous hybrids, that for these and various reasons it is impossible that any garden, generally speaking, could grow so many kinds. As the best and rarer kinds can only be grown in rock gardens, their shortness of bloom excluding them from the flower garden, the result is that only a limited number can be grown with profit.