How to grow saxifrage: a practical guide

All about these mountain plant that flowers early in the year

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By Alex

saxifrage

The Saxifrage (or Saxifraga) is an ideal plant for a rock garden, so much so that it even has a name that means precisely “rock-breaking flower”. It can grow in cracks and rock crevices filled with debris. Saxifrage is a hardy and rustic plant suitable even for those who are not good at gardening. Find out everything you need to know about this plant.

What plant is Saxifrage?

This plant, also known as rockfoil, belongs to the Saxifragaceae family, like the gooseberry. It grows wild in alpine and high mountain areas. It is widespread on all continents except Oceania and can be perennial or annual.

It can be grown in pots, in the garden or can be used to fill in gaps in dry stone walls. This ‘rock splitter’ plant has:

  • starry flowers with 5 petals with a deep pink, white or red color
  • deciduous or persistent leaves, leathery in character, rounded, with serrated edge, clustering in rosettes or opposite pairs and are deep green in color
  • sepals clearly visible
  • height not exceeding 50 cm. When grown in the garden, it creates impressive multicolored carpets.

Saxifrage

Saxifrage: a tundra plant

This plant is widespread in temperate climate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, subarctic or alpine areas.

This perennial plant is also typical of the tundra because of its amazing ability to live in contact with clay and stony soil, subject to wide variations in temperature, and strong winds, and to find water and nutrients in even the smallest rocky crevices.

What is the significance of the Saxifrage

The name of these plants comes from the Latin saxum, or ‘stone’ and frango, which means ‘break’. Saxifrage is also called rockfoil, due to its habit of growing in the cracks of the rocks.

Saxifrage or ‘flower of Jehovah’

In Dutch the Hirsuta saxifrage, a variety with white flowers with small red spots on the petals, is also called Jehovablumchen, or ‘Jehovah’s flower’.

In fact, its common name comes from these red spots that appear to compose a ‘tetragrammaton’, or the Hebrew consonants of God’s name, Jehovah.

saxifrage

What are the varieties of Saxifrage

There are more of 400 Saxifrage varieties. Some of these are perennials while others are
annuals. In addition, they are species suitable for growing in pots. Let’s look together at the characteristics of the most popular varieties:

  • Saxifrage stolonifera. It has Asian origins and can be grown in pots. It has a drooping habit and is
    perfect for hanging cache-pots with a high decorative character. The stolonifera variety has almost heart-shaped, dark green leaves with veins on the upper page and pinkish color on the underside
    while the flowers, which bloom in spring on upright fleshy stems, are white mottled with red. Not
    fears cold but wind and direct sun so, as far as exposure is concerned, it is best to choose the
    half-shade. The best substrate is well drained but rich. It resists cold well up to temperatures that
    approach freezing point.
  • Alpine saxifrage or panniculata Miller. This herbaceous perennial plant is 30 cm tall at most, and the fleshy leaves, grouped in rosettes, form a small basal cushion from which rise stems with small white or yellow flowers speckled with purple. It responds well to drought because of the water supply contained in the leaves. It has a special feature: the serrated leaves have white calcareous incrustations clearly visible on the edges.
  • Red saxifrage or oppositifolia. The red variety as its botanical name reminds us is probably one of the most delicate in the Saxifragaceae family. It has opposite, fleshy, oblong-shaped, blue-green leaves while the flowers, which peep out from April to June, are deep pink and red.
  • Saxifrage arendsii. This variety is ideal for creating flowering cushions among the stones of a rock garden. Flowers range from pink to white to red. It prefers dry climates such as those in the mountains.
saxifrage panniculata
Saxifrage panniculata

How to grow Saxifrage in pots

To grow it in pots, the most suitable variety is S. stolonifera. It requires a universal potting soil for flowering plants, remembering to put some grains of expanded clay on the bottom.

As for water, we need to water regularly in spring and summer, leaving the soil always moist, while in winter we can delegate the task to rainfall. We always watch out for water stagnation. Every year before spring it should be repotted with new potting soil.

What is the potting soil for Saxifrage

The ideal substrate for the stonebreaker plant grown in the garden is a limey soil, but very rich in
nutrients. So, before burying it, you will mix some compost and sand to the soil.

The substrate will need to be kept moist at all times, but well drained.

When does the Saxifrage blooms?

It blooms from March to late July, but in the case of the oppositifolia variety, flowering ends earlier, around June.

Exposure

The ideal location is in half shade. Saxifrage prefers bright locations, but not in direct sun.

At the very least, it should not be exposed to direct sunlight during the middle hours of the day. It is also best to avoid locations that are too exposed to wind.

Watering

If the plant is placed in the garden it will need regular watering, at least 3 times a week, but it will be enough to assess the moisture content of the soil, touching the soil. In winter, watering can be thinned or even stopped.

During the flowering period, it is better to fertilize twice a month with a liquid fertilizer if we use watering can or a slow-release granular fertilizer. It is advisable to choose a fertilizer with a high potassium content.

How to reproduce Saxifrage

Usually these herbaceous plants are reproduced by seed, but you can also prepare cuttings or divide the heads. In the first two cases, the plant may take years to flower.

  • Sowing: sow seeds in spring, first in a seedbed, covering the seeds with a sheet of cling film. After a month, the first leaves will sprout, and once some sprouts have emerged, it can be transferred to full soil or potted.
  • Cuttings: around June, the rosettes that do not have flowers are cut off, the lower leaves are stripped off and planted in containers with equal parts peat and sand. They will be left like this until spring, watering regularly. In the following September they can be transferred to pots individually, and after a year they can be planted in full soil.
  • Root division: go to the root of the plant and remove the lateral suckers. They must be placed in a pot with half peat and half sand. To transfer it to the garden you have to wait two years.

Saxifrage

What are the pests of Saxifrage

The most common pests are aphids and mealybugs. To eliminate them, there are some natural remedies.

For example, simply mix a few flakes or drops of Marseille soap, with water and a clove of garlic. Let it macerate for 2 hours.

Once the solution is prepared, spray on the plants. Also, avoid watering the plants on the leaves and go directly for the substrate.

Curiosities about Saxifrage

The plant is also valued in phytotherapy, and is used to dissolve kidney or bladder stones. In fact, we often find it among the ingredients in medicines for the prostate and urinary system. It is also considered a source of vitamin C.

Another curiosity lies in the meaning of the flowers: you give this plant to friends because it represents long-standing friendship.

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