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How to Grow Alternanthera or Joseph's Coat

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Alternanthera (Alternanthera ficoidea) is a colorful, easy-to-grow plant with long, pointy leaves and a compact growing habit. It is a tender perennial treated as an annual. Often called either Joseph's coat, copperleaf or calico plant, the plant comes in a wide variety of colors, including red, green, yellow, purple and orange. Some types have multicolored leaves. Alternanthera is well suited to borders, because the foliage can set off flowers with white, yellow, or pink blooms, depending on the variety. The plant reaches up to 3 feet tall. It can be used to fill garden spaces that are temporarily empty and it does well in containers as an accent to flowering plants.

Clear a space for the Joseph's coat plant in your garden. The bright colorful foliage looks best in full sun. Like most plants, it needs well-drained soil with sufficient nutrients.

Work compost into the garden bed before planting, especially if the soil is spent from a previous planting.

Start the alternanthera seeds start indoors 10 to 12 weeks before last frost date. If that is not an option, many garden centers offer transplants for sale. It can also be propagated by cuttings from established plants.

Plant the Joseph's coat seeds outdoors. Make sure all danger of frost has passed. Space them anywhere between 4 to 12 inches apart. They should be closer together if you want them to look dense.

Make the plant bushier by pinching back the tips on the young plants with your fingertips. This stimulates new growth along the sides of the stems and looks more lush than just one main stem.

Water the alternanthera plant regularly and do not allow it to dry out.


Take cuttings from an established alternanthera in the fall, before frost damages the plant. The cuttings of Joseph's coat root easily. Stick the cuttings in a glass of water to root and use them as plants in the following spring.

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