Several years ago my class of 6th graders and I noticed a raised brick planter behind the cafeteria. It was in a highly visible area where buses loaded and unloaded and where parents came to pick up their children at all hours of the day. The planter was filled with weeds. It had not held any flowers or anything attractive for years. We decided to do something about this eyesore.
(Editor's note: This article was originally published on June 11, 2009. your commets are wlcome, but please be aware that authros of previously published articles maynot be able to respond to your questions.)
The planter was in full sun and no supplemental irrigation was available. We knew we would have to water the plants by hand if nature didn't intervene and send rain. What was needed was a spot of color during the summer and fall that needed to be watered very little and that required minimal care. It would have to survive on its own during the summer since we wouldn't be there to care for it. Anyway, the children and I were busy learning about singular and possessive nouns and other matters of great importance, so we had little time for such pleasurable pursuits as flower gardening.
Portulaca is a flowering annual that blooms throughout the summer. One-inch, roselike flowers of pink, white, yellow, orange, purple, scarlet, and combinations of these open in the bright light of day. Some varieties remain closed at night or on cloudy days. Inch-long leaves are somewhat succulent and cylindrical.
Portulaca was a perfect choice for the planter. We planted the plants about 8 inches apart, and they filled in and made a solid mass of color within a month or so. The plants were watered every day after lunch until they became established. Then they were left to fend for themselves.
Plants are easily started by seeds. Scatter seeds on the soil surface and make sure they have good contact with the soil. Keep damp until seeds germinate. Expect germination in 10-14 days. New plants can also be started from cuttings.
Several species of portulaca are in the trade. Portulaca umbraticolais the popular purslane that is grown in hanging baskets and gardens. It has broader, more succulent leaves than moss rose. P. oleracea,sometimes called pigweed, wild portulaca, little hogweed, and pusley, is the not-so-popular, weedy purslane that infests gardens and disturbed areas in most of the United States. Although it is edible and has medicinal applications, it is seldom planted in the garden. If a crop is wanted for adding to the salad, it should be planted in a container.
Few plants are as well-suited to hanging baskets and containers in hot, sunny, sandy areas as portulaca. Rock gardens are also ideal places for these plants. They are an excellent annual groundcover, and they were a good choice for the raised-bed planter at school. For the rest of the school year and during the next one until Jack Frost came calling, the flowers were enjoyed by everyone who came within viewing distance of the planter.
If you have a hot, sunny area and need a spot of color, you might choose portulaca. It is readily available in spring at almost any garden center. You will discover, and Dave's gardeners agree, that moss rose does not need a lot of fussy care. Plant it, and if you forget to water or fertilize, don't worry overmuch. It will most likely do just fine without you.
AT A GLANCE
Family:Portulacaceae (Purslane family)
Other names:Rose moss, portulaca
Water Use Zone:Low
Size:5 inches by 2 feet
Thanks to Delirious_kat, gardengrrl, and chicochi3 for their images of Portulaca.
About Marie Harrison
Serving as a board member for Valparaiso Garden Club, the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs and the Deep South Region, and National Garden Clubs takes a chunk of my time and attention. Being a Master Flower Show Judge, a Floral Design Instructor, instructor of horticulture for National Garden Clubs, and a University of Florida Master Gardener crowds a bit more into my busy days. In addition to these activities, I contribute regularly to Florida Gardening magazine and other publications. I am author of four gardening books, all published by Pineapple Press, Sarasota, Florida. Read about them and visit me at www.mariesgardenanddesign.com.