Alternator cogged – an unpretentious alternative to Coleus-Care

The name “alternantera” may be familiar to aquarists who plant live plants in their aquariums. However, this genus unites many species of plants, many of which are “land” and do not even tolerate stagnant water. In particular, in decorative floriculture, the alternantera toothed variety is beginning to gain popularity. In many respects, it is very similar to Coleus and can be successfully used in flower beds and container compositions. I will tell you about the features of this decorative leafy plant in this article.

Alternator cogged – unpretentious alternative to Coleus. Farmer Heidi Riley

Alternantera cogwheel – botanical reference

In decorative floriculture, only one species of the genus Alternantera is most widespread – alternantera cogwheel (Alternanthera dentata) Is a herb from the Amaranth family, native to the West Indies and Brazil. Forms erect, spreading bushes from 30 to 60 centimeters in height, is characterized by rapid growth.

The leaves are linear-lanceolate, in the species plant they are green (up to 3,5 cm long), but the most popular garden plants are varieties with purple and purple leaves. Small white flowers appear in late autumn. Flowering can usually only be observed on indoor or container plants brought into the wintering room. Flowering does not represent any particular decorative value, therefore the plant is grown exclusively for its colorful foliage.

This is a tropical perennial, winter-hardy only in zone 7 of the USDA, therefore, in the middle lane and to the north, it is grown only as an annual or as an indoor flower.

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Alternantera cogged "Little Ruby" ('Little Ruby')Alternantera toothed “Little Ruby” (‘Little Ruby’). Farmer Alpine Nurseries
Alternantera toothed "Purple Knight" ('Purple Knight')Alternantera toothed “Purple Knight” (‘Purple Knight’). Farmer Lyudmila Svetlitskaya

Popular varieties of alternantera

Currently on sale you can find seeds or seedlings of only two varieties of alternantera toothed:

Alternantera cogged “Little Ruby” (‘Little Ruby’) – forms compact bushes with a height of 30 to 40 centimeters, a bush can grow up to 60 centimeters wide. Due to its strong branching and ability to grow quickly, this variety is ideal as a ground cover plant in flower gardens. This alternantera can tolerate frost better than most other varieties, however, in the middle lane, it also does not overwinter outdoors. The foliage is maroon with a bright ruby ​​red seamy side.

Alternantera cogwheel “Purple Knight” (‘Purple Knight’) Is a taller variety, reaching a height of 35 to 50 centimeters. The foliage is dark purple and can appear almost black from a distance, the underside of the leaves is purple. In good light and hot weather, the shade deepens and becomes richer. In width, this cultivar does not grow as intensively as the aforementioned variety, and in one season the bush reaches an average width of 20-30 centimeters. Therefore, the altenantera “Violet Knight” is more suitable as a bright vertical accent in the company of other annuals in container compositions.

Read also our article Arrangements for containers and hanging baskets: “Lilac Dawn”.

In partial shade, Alternantera develops well, but loses its rich colorIn partial shade, Alternantera develops well, but loses its rich color. Farmer Lyudmila Svetlitskaya

Alternantera care recommendations

Alternantera is an easy-care plant that prefers full sun, but will also thrive in slightly shaded areas (at least 4 hours of full sun per day). The ideal soil for alternantera is well-drained, but always water-intensive, moderately fertile. The plant tolerates heat well and withstands short periods of drought, but it is best to provide it with regular watering and keep the soil moderately moist, without allowing the soil to dry out too much. Stagnant water is also detrimental to this flower, so containers for alternantera must have drainage holes.

The plant branches well by itself, but in order to maintain a compact, neat appearance, it is recommended to regularly pinch off the tips of young shoots, and with the help of garden shears, you can also give the alternantera the necessary geometric shape, for example, a sphere. In the open field, you can fertilize once every few months, and when planting in containers – every few weeks during the entire growing season.

Alternantera is rarely affected by diseases and pests. Most of the problems that can arise when growing this plant can be prevented by choosing the right planting site and carrying out minimal maintenance. The plant will grow slowly and may develop root rot if the area is not drained well enough.

Pinching or trimming regularly throughout the growing season will help prevent stretching. Caterpillars and slugs can sometimes be attracted to the foliage of alternantera, but these pests are usually few and far between and can be harvested by hand.

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Read also our article 5 of the best decorative leafy ampels for landscaping balconies and terraces.

Reproduction of alternantera toothed

Alternantera toothed can propagate by seeds or cuttings. Growing this plant from seeds is easy enough. Seeds should be sown indoors about four to five weeks before being outdoors. The seeds are buried in the nutrient substrate by about 1-2 millimeters, at room temperature the seedlings appear quite quickly after 3-5 days, light is not required for germination.

Young seedlings need to be pinched several times for better tillering. It will be possible to take the plants out into the open air or transplant them into the open ground when the night temperatures regularly exceed 15 degrees Celsius. For vegetative propagation, you can take cuttings in late autumn and root them in a wet mixture of sand and perlite (or vermiculite). Also, with container growing, you can bring the entire mother bush for wintering in room conditions, and root cuttings in mid-spring.

Most often, Alternantera acts as a complete analogue of Coleus in container compositions.Most often, the alternantera acts as a complete analogue of the Coleus in container compositions. Farmer Lyudmila Svetlitskaya

Alternantera in landscape design

If grown in the open field as an annual bed, it is mainly a valuable ground cover plant (planting rate of 3-5 plants per 1 m², or 2-3 plants per running meter). In this case, it is used in the foreground or middle ground of a flower garden, or as a border plant along the paths.

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Petunias, marigolds, snapdragons (dwarf varieties), ageratum and many other flowers, especially with flowers of light colors, which will be emphasized by the maroon foliage of this plant, can become successful neighbors of alternantera. The spectacular foliage of alternantera looks especially attractive when the plants are planted in groups.

As a container annual, this plant can be used as a salt, for example, trimmed like a ball or shaped like a small tree. But, in general, most often it acts as a complete analogue of Coleus in container compositions. In this case, alternantera is placed in the center of the pots, surrounded by shorter bushy plants, or planted as a background plant in the background.

Also, alternantera can be an attractive and unpretentious houseplant that will decorate window sills all year round.

Alternantera delighted me with its rich foliage until late autumn, ideally combined with all the floral inhabitants of the balconyAlternantera delighted me with its rich foliage until late autumn, ideally combined with all the floral inhabitants of the balcony. Farmer Lyudmila Svetlitskaya

Alternantera – personal impressions

I got acquainted with Alternantera when I was looking for a bright ornamental deciduous plant for my container compositions from the annuals, which decorate my balcony every year. To be frank, I initially imagined this plant as a creeping rug, because I did not quite correctly interpret the word “ground cover”. And the photographs presented on the website of the online store created the false impression that her bushes were really creeping along the ground.

In fact, the term “ground cover plant” refers not only to creeping low-growing species, but applies to almost any plant that grows well and forms lush bushes, under which no land is visible and the growth of weeds is suppressed. Therefore, due to the high degree of branching, Alternantera is still a true ground cover, despite its considerable height of about 50 centimeters.

I sowed seeds of the “Purple Knight” variety for seedlings in March and was very surprised how quickly the seeds germinated, because the seedlings appeared literally on the third day from sowing. The cotyledons and stems of the seedlings have the same purple-purple color as the adult plant. At the beginning, the alternantera develops relatively slowly, but further growth accelerates. At the seedling age, Alternantera has shown itself to be an absolutely problem-free plant.

Alternantera delighted me with its rich foliage until late autumn, ideally combined with all the floral inhabitants of the balcony. In October, even with freezing temperatures of minus 5, she remained one of the few survivors who continued to decorate this corner. I did not know about the need for pinching, so the bushes grew quite slender and did not have a spherical shape, although they branched out quite well on their own.

The care was the same as for all annual plants – top dressing, watering in hot weather. By the way, several times in extreme heat I could not water the alternantera in time and the flower dropped the leaves very much and seemed to practically die. But immersing the container in a container of water for several hours solved the problem, and the alternantera was completely restored, as if nothing had happened. I definitely recommend growing this flower, which is not yet very popular with us.

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Anna Evans

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