Plan the perfect garden with our interactive tool →

How to Care for Alternanthera

Pink alternanthera basking in some sunlight.
Pannarai Nak-im/iStock/GettyImages

Known as Joseph's coat, calico plant, copperleaf and by many other common names, alternanthera (‌Alternanthera‌ spp.‌)‌ is a genus of tropical perennial plants in the Amaranthaceae family that are grown for their strikingly colorful foliage. There are many cultivars available that feature a range of color combinations.

Alternanthera are low-maintenance plants hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture zones 9 to 11.

Types of Alternanthera

One of the most common species of alternanthera is ‌Alternanthera dentata‌, which is native to the West Indies and is hardy in zones 10 and 11. This species has heights of about 3 feet. Species plants have green leaves, but cultivars with purple and burgundy foliage are more commonly available. Purple Knight (‌Alternanthera dentata‌ 'Purple Knight') is a popular cultivar.

Some of the low-growing species and cultivars of alternanthera can be used as ground cover, including ‌Alternanthera‌ ‌ficoidea‌, which has maximum heights of a foot and is hardy in zones 10 and 12. There are multiple cultivars available, including True Yellow (‌Alternanthera‌ ‌ficoidea‌ 'True Yellow'), which has chartreuse-colored foliage. If you are looking for a red alternanthera, Red Carpet (‌Alternanthera‌ ‌ficoidea‌ 'Red Carpet') has crimson-colored leaves.

The Brazilian joyweed (‌Alternanthera brasiliana‌, zones 9 to 11) has greenish purple or purple leaves, but this species has become a noxious weed in some parts of the world, including some regions of the U.S. The Brazilian joyweed produces white flowers, although it rarely blooms when it is cultivated as an annual.

Some delightful Purple Prince joyweed (Alternanthera brasiliana 'Purple Prince') growing at the Chicago Botanical Gardens.
cultivar413, CC 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Alternanthera Plant Culture

While it is technically a perennial, outside of its hardiness range alternanthera is more commonly grown as an annual. This type of plant works well for bedding.

If you are growing alternanthera plants from seed, you may want to start them indoors and transplant them into the garden once the threat of frost has passed.

Alternanthera plants can also be propagated using cuttings taken from the previous year's plants and overwintered indoors. Some cultivars of alternanthera can be found at nurseries in cell packs.

Soil Requirements

Alternanthera plants grow best in well-draining soil that contains organic matter but is not overly fertile. Amending the soil with a balanced fertilizer at planting time is usually all the feeding these plants require, though you can apply fertilizer every other month to enhance established plants.

Light Requirements

The foliage colors are most vibrant when the plants are grown in full sun. However, some shade during the hottest parts of the day is beneficial, as too much sun can cause bleaching of the leaves. If you can provide enough light, many alternanthera plants can also be grown indoors as houseplants.

Alternanthera Plant Care

Alternanthera plants need even moisture to look their best. For optimum results, avoid letting the soil dry out completely. Apply mulch to keep the soil moist and to discourage weed growth.

Alternanthera plants benefit from pinching, which means removing parts of stems to encourage the growth of two stems above the cut. This gives plants a bushier and denser appearance.

While these plants are not prone to many diseases or pest infestations, spider mites can become an issue in dry weather. Caterpillars may also be a concern.

Related Articles

How to Grow Alternanthera or Joseph's Coat
How to Grow Alternanthera or Joseph's Coat
How to Care for Agapanthus Plants
How to Care for Agapanthus Plants
How to Plant Columbine Seeds
How to Plant Columbine Seeds
Shade Plants in Wisconsin
Shade Plants in Wisconsin
Is the Lobelia Plant an Annual or a Perennial?
Is the Lobelia Plant an Annual or a Perennial?
Do Geraniums Need Full Sun All Day?
Do Geraniums Need Full Sun All Day?
How to Care for Celosia
How to Care for Celosia
How to Plant Poppy Seeds
How to Plant Poppy Seeds
How Much Does English Ivy Grow in a Year?
How Much Does English Ivy Grow in a Year?
How to Transplant Black-Eyed Susan
How to Transplant Black-Eyed Susan
How to Care for a Bird of Paradise
How to Care for a Bird of Paradise
Garden Guides
×