Mojave® Red purslane (Portulaca umbraticola). Photo: Proven Winners

With the growing popularity of succulents in recent years, portulaca deserves a place in the landscape. The cheerful flowers on this sun lover come in an array of pastel and vibrant tropical hues, offering weeks of continuous bloom from summer to frost. Heat and drought-tolerant, this virtually carefree plant thrives in high heat and low humidity conditions.

Ornamental portulacas are closely related to common purslane (Portulaca oleracea), an edible weed. They are useful in areas with poor soil where other plants struggle to grow, and is versatile as a ground cover, bedding plant, in containers or hanging baskets. This fast grower can be used to quickly fill in bare spots, and is attractive to bees and butterflies. (See more flowers for bees.)

On this page: Basics | Planting | Care | Choosing the Right Portulaca | Pictures | Landscaping Tips

BASICS

Common names:

Moss rose, Mexican rose, rock rose, sun rose, and purslane.

Zones:

Most are grown as annuals; P. umbraticola is hardy in Zones 10-11

Height/Spread:

Low spreading or trailing habit, 3 to 12 inches tall and 6 to 24 inches wide.

Exposure:

Plants need at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sun. Flowers won’t open in low light conditions.

Bloom time:

Summer to frost.

Flowers:

Grown for its rose-like flowers in bright or pastel hues of white, pink, red, yellow, orange, purple or bicolored. Flowers are single or double, with rounded or ruffly petals. The blooms close at night and remain closed on overcast days.

Foliage:

A trailing, dense ground cover with fleshy leaves up to 1 inch long that occur singularly along brittle red or green stems. Ornamental forms of purslane (P. oleracea) have flat paddle-like leaves, while the leaves of moss rose (P. grandiflora) are more pointed and needle-like. Wingpod purslane (P. umbraticola), which is often confused with P. oleracea, has smaller wider leaves and brightly colored flowers.

Toxicity:

Portulaca contains soluble calcium oxalates, which are toxic to dogs and cats.

PLANTING PORTULACA

Mojave® Tangerine purslane. Photo: Proven Winners

When to plant:

Plant in late spring after all danger of frost is past.

Where to plant:

Grow in a spot that receives at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight in a container or the landscape. Tolerance of sandy soil and salt makes portulaca ideal for beachfront locations.

How to plant:

Make sure soil is loose and well-draining. Dig a hole just wide and deep enough for the root ball and place plants 6 to 12 inches apart. Take care not to disturb the roots. Tamp down soil gently around the base of plants and water moderately.

Growing from seed:

Sow seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before your last frost-free date. Plant in individual cells or biodegradable peat pots to avoid disturbing the roots during transplanting. Use a sterile seed starting mix and gently press seeds into the soil medium. Don’t cover, as seeds need light to germinate. Keep soil evenly moist until germination, in about two weeks. Air temperature should be 65 to 85 degrees F for seeds to germinate. Keep seedlings in a bright window or under grow lights.

After all danger of frost is past, slowly acclimate plants to outdoor conditions before transplanting into the garden. Space 6 to 12 inches apart. Seeds can be directly sown outdoors when soil temperature reaches 65 degrees F.

Some varieties self-sow from year to year, but do not always come true from seed.

PORTULACA CARE

Pruning and deadheading:

Flowers are self-cleaning and need little or no deadheading. Spent flowers can be removed to prevent reseeding. If plants become lanky, cut back by up to half in mid to late summer to reinvigorate. Lightly fertilize after cutting back to stimulate new growth.

Soil:

Portulaca prefers lean sandy or rocky soil that is fast-draining, with a slightly acidic pH between 5.5 and 7.0. If soil is clay, grow in containers rather than attempting to improve the native soil. For containers, use a high quality all-purpose potting mix. Add perlite to improve drainage.

Amendments & fertilizer:

Portulaca needs little to no fertilizer. At the time of planting, apply a balanced slow-release fertilizer to promote new growth. Overfertilizing can result in lush foliar growth at the expense of flowers.

Watering:

Portulaca prefers dry conditions, though will flower best with some moisture. Supplemental watering is generally only needed during a prolonged drought and should be done sparingly, as portulacas are shallow-rooted. Overwatering can cause root rot.

Diseases and pests:

When planted in the right conditions, portulaca is virtually problem-free. Possible pests include aphids, mealybugs, slugs, or snails. Overwatering or excessive humidity can cause powdery mildew, root or crown rot.

Deer resistance

Portulaca is considered deer-resistant, though extreme conditions can result in deer grazing on plants they wouldn’t otherwise.

HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT PORTULACA

For borders and landscapes:

Use compact mounding varieties for edging pathways, at the front of a dry border, in rock gardens, or massed in a bed.

For slopes and hillsides:

Plant spreading or trailing varieties along a bank or slope as a quick-growing groundcover.

For containers:

Use a trailing variety as a “spiller” element by itself or in combination with other plants with similar growing needs. Compact types can be used as a “filler” element in window boxes or other containers.

PORTULACA VARIETIES

Swipe to view slides

Photo: Proven Winners

Mojave® Red Buy now from Proven Winners
Portulaca umbraticola

Habit:

Low spreading habit

Height/Spread:

4 to 8 inches tall, 12 to 16 inches wide

Bloom Time:

Summer to frost

Flower color:

Rose-red petals with a yellow center

Large vibrant single red flowers brighten up any landscape, combining well with many other creeping annuals or perennials. Plant in a container with blue fan flower (Scaevola) and spiky dracaena. Edge a pathway or dry border, alternating Mojave® Red with yellow bidens for a cheerful summer display.

Photo: Proven Winners

Mojave® Tangerine Buy now from Proven Winners
Portulaca umbraticola

Habit:

Low spreading habit

Height/Spread:

4 to 8 inches tall, 12 to 16 inches wide

Bloom Time:

Summer to frost

Flower color:

Tangerine petals with a yellow eye

Large single bright orange flowers light up a dry border or rock garden with prolific bloom, even in the heat of summer. Plant in a sunny window box with bushy lantana and spiky blue salvia. Combine in a rock garden with complementary colored blue and silver plants such as lavender, campanula, and lamb’s ear.

Photo: Bertand Dumont / Millette Photomedia

'Sundial' series
Portulaca grandiflora

Habit:

Low spreading habit

Height/Spread:

4 to 6 inches tall, 6 to 12 inches wide

Bloom Time:

Late spring to frost

Flower color:

White, pink, yellow, orange, and bicolored

One of the most common varieties, flowers come in a rainbow of colors with large blooms 2 inches across. Begins blooming earlier in the season and flowers stay open longer in cooler and cloudy conditions. Available as a mix or individual colors. With a low quick-spreading habit, use to fill in parking strips or the front of a dry border.

Photo: Tim Ludwig / Millette Photomedia

‘Margarita’ series
Portulaca grandiflora

Habit:

Mounding spreading habit

Height/Spread:

6 to 12 inches tall, 8 to 12 inches wide

Bloom Time:

Summer to frost

Flower color:

Hot pink, white, apricot, orange, yellow, and bicolored.

With a taller lush habit, ‘Margarita’ makes an impact in mass plantings along a slope or to quickly add color to a curbside planting. Prolific 1-1/2 inch semi-double flowers open earlier than other varieties, occurring on well-branched plants in a wide range of colors.

Photo: Ball Horticultural Company

Happy Hour™ series
Portulaca grandiflora

Habit:

Compact bushy habit

Height/Spread:

8 to 10 inches tall, 10 to 12 inches wide.

Bloom Time:

Late spring through summer

Flower color:

White, yellow, orange, magenta, or bicolored.

Semi-double flowers grow on full sturdy plants in vivid hues. Blooms better in shorter days and is less susceptible to stem breakage than other varieties. Available as a mix or individual colors. The tidy mounding habit makes this suitable in containers, as pathway edging, or for smaller spaces such as parking strips.

Photo: Ball Horticultural Company

Happy Trails™ series
Portulaca grandiflora

Habit:

Compact bushy habit

Height/Spread:

8 to 10 inches tall, 10 to 12 inches wide

Bloom Time:

Summer through fall

Flower color:

Deep red, orange, scarlet, yellow, hot pink, white, and bicolored.

Semi-double flowers 1-1/2 to 2-1/4 inches wide occur in some of the most brilliant colors of any other series. The mounding compact habit makes this a good choice for containers, mass plantings, and edging for dry borders. Blooms better in shorter days than other varieties.

Photo: Ball Horticultural Company

Porto Grande™
Portulaca grandiflora

Habit:

Low trailing habit

Height/Spread:

4 to 8 inches tall, 14 to 16 inches wide.

Bloom Time:

Late spring to summer

Flower color:

Orange, magenta, yellow, white, red, bicolored.

Large flowers occur in exceptionally vivid colors, including the unique hot pink and yellow striping of ‘Raspberry Lemonade’ (pictured). The low spreading habit makes this a good choice to cascade over rock walls, for hanging baskets, or massed along a slope.

Photo courtesy of PAC Elsner/Westhoff

‘ColorBlast Double Guava’
Portulaca oleracea

Habit:

Low trailing habit

Height/Spread:

4 to 6 inches tall, 16 to 20 inches wide.

Bloom Time:

Late spring to fall

Flower color:

Fuchsia and yellow

Part of the ColorBlast series, the flowers are unlike any other portulaca, with magenta pom-pom-like centers surrounded by five yellow petals. Flowers stay open longer under low-light conditions, with plants that are especially vigorous, drought and heat tolerant.

PORTULACA LANDSCAPING TIPS

Mojave® Red purslane in a border. Photo: Proven Winners

There are many ways to incorporate portulaca into your landscape. Here’s how:

  • Mass a trailing form along the edge of a rock wall and allow to spill over the side for a dramatic cascading effect.
  • Plant several hanging baskets with trailing portulaca and place in a row along the front of a sunny porch for continuous color all summer long.
  • Use a compact form to fill in gaps between stepping stones for a carpet of brilliant color.
  • Plant in a parking strip alongside other low growing waterwise plants such as ‘Angelina’ sedum, creeping thyme, coreopsis, blue fescue, creeping phlox, and ice plant (Delosperma) for a maintenance-free curbside display.
  • Hang a basket of trailing portulaca on a shepherd’s hook and place near a sunny patio or deck to enjoy the flowers up close. Move around the yard for a different look.
  • Use in areas where spring bulbs are grown to cover dying bulb foliage and quickly fill in bare spots. Since portulaca needs little supplemental water, you won’t need to worry about dormant bulbs rotting from too much summer water.
  • Allow to naturalize in a rock garden with spring blooming alpines such as rock cress, thrift, campanula, dianthus, and lewisia to extend color through warmer summer months.
  • Scatter seeds along a slope or hillside to quickly fill in gaps between other plants.

Companion plants:

Portulaca combines well with other sun loving drought-tolerant plants, including catmint, lavender, sedums, agave, ice plant, creeping thyme, dusty miller, agastache, penstemon, and ornamental grasses.

Portulaca alternatives:

Ice plant (Delosperma) has similar cultural needs, with look-alike foliage and flowers that also open during the day and close at night.

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