Joseph’s coat plant care

Joseph’s Coat is a tender perennial grown for its beautiful foliage. Its striking colors range in warm shades of reds, pinks, yellows, and coppers to cool shades of purples, and greens depending on variety. The leaves may also be found variegated or spotted with contrasting colors. Tiny flowers in the fall are a subtle side note to Joseph’s Coat’s outstanding foliage. This graceful plant is sure to add an eye-catching shock of color to your garden beds or containers.

Joseph’s Coat (Alternanthera) is grown in most regions throughout the U.S. as an annual. It can be grown as a perennial in U.S. Department of Agriculture Hardiness Zones 10 and 11, too. Small varieties are known to grow in mounds and to spread outward as a fast growing ground cover. Larger varieties grow taller and can be used as a hedge.

Joseph’s Coat has a rich history. It has been a gardener’s favorite for centuries. It originated in Central and South America where many varieties still abound. Over time, it made its way into the knot gardens of the Victorian era in Europe. Knot gardens were filled with this aesthetically pleasing beauty. It has been a medicinal go-to plant in Africa and Asia. There many varieties enjoyed here at home in the U.S., too. There is surely at least one cultivar that will win you over for your garden.

How to Grow and Care for Joseph’s Coat

Joseph’s Coat is a tropical plant that loves full sun and warmth. So, be sure to choose the right location for this plant.

If you start with seeds, plant them indoors in late winter. Transplant them to that sunny location after the danger of any frost has passed. Space your plants about 6 inches apart.

You can start Joseph’s Coat with cuttings, too. Take a snip off of the tip of a stem, perhaps when you are pruning during late summer. Place the tip in water until roots begin to take. Transplant your new little start in a sunny location. Or, if you have a short growing season in a cooler region, save yourself the trouble of seeds and fragile transplants. Select a more mature transplant from a nursery or purchase it here.

Supply your Joseph’s Coat plant with rich, organic soil. It will respond well if you feed it a liquid fertilizer, like fish emulsion, every two or three weeks. This plant will require plenty of water, too. An inch of water every week will keep your plant happy.

Joseph’s Coat will grow large and bushy, which if fine for many gardeners. Some gardeners prefer to prune this plant, though. You should only have to prune once during late summer to keep new growth in check.

Joseph’s Coat Pests and Problems

Joseph’s Coat is a pest resistant plant that is easy to maintain. However, it will not tolerate drought well, and it will also drown with soggy feet. Water regularly to maintain the moisture level in the soil around this plant to keep it healthy and strong throughout the growing season.

Joseph’s Coat Varieties to Consider

‘Party Time’ is an undeniably jubilant! This tall variety thrives in shade and boasts a colorful contrast of deep pink and green. This plant is a fun and vibrant accent in your garden. The picture above is this variety.
‘Red Carpet’ is an elegant ground covering variety. It will grow to between 10 and 14 inches tall. It will show its brightest colors in full sun during the spring and the fall.

Want to learn more about growing Joseph’s Coat?

See these resources:
Sharpen up your hedge trimmer and check out this charming modern day knot garden: FAQs about knot gardens YouTube video
Alternanthera from University of Illinois Extension
Joseph’s Coat Enhances Other Colors from NC Cooperative Extension

Creative Commons Flickr photo courtesy of SuperFantastic

Please note that links to Amazon from Gardening Channel are affiliate links.

Care Of Alternanthera Joseph’s Coat: How To Grow Alternanthera Plants

Joseph’s coat plants (Alternanthera spp.) are popular for their colorful foliage that includes several shades of burgundy, red, orange, yellow and lime green. Some species have single-or bi-colored leaves, while others have the entire rainbow of color in a single plant. These frost-tender perennials are grown as annuals and range in size from 2-inch dwarfs to 12-inch mounds of foliage.

The amount of pinching you put into your Alternanthera plant care routine determines the growth habit of the plant. If you pinch out the growth tips regularly, the plants form a neat mound that looks fantastic in formal borders, and you can also use them in knot gardens. They remain attractive but take on a more casual appearance when you leave them alone.

You can make a neat edging for your borders or walkways using Alternanthera. Joseph’s coat used as an edging stays dense if you run over the tops of the plants lightly with a string trimmer. Space edging plants 2 inches apart for dwarf species and 4 inches apart for larger types.

How to Grow Alternanthera

Joseph’s coat plants aren’t picky about the soil as long as it is well-drained and not too rich. The plants grow well in both sun and partial shade, but the colors are more intense in full sun.

Set out bedding plants a couple of weeks after your last expected frost. You probably won’t find seeds for sale since the plants don’t come true from seeds. Landscapers call it chartreuse Alternanthera to avoid confusion with another plant that is sometimes called Joseph’s coat, and you may find them labeled this way at the nursery.

Chartreuse Alternanthera foliage varies with the species and cultivar. There is a good deal of confusion among the species, with some growers calling the same plant A. ficoidea, A. bettzichiana, A. amoena and A. versicolor. Any of these names generally refers to a variety with multicolored leaves. The color mix can lead to a chaotic appearance in some settings. Try these cultivars for a more structured look:

  • ‘Purple Knight’ has deep burgundy foliage.
  • ‘Threadleaf Red’ has narrow, scarlet foliage.
  • ‘Wavy yellow’ has narrow foliage splashed with gold.
  • ‘Broadleaf Red’ has bright green leaves with red stripes.

Alternanthera Plant Care

Water the plants often enough to keep the soil from completely drying out. They generally don’t need additional fertilizer, but if they aren’t growing well, try giving them a shovelful of compost in summer. Cut them back if the mounds start to sprawl or spread open.

The easiest way to carry the plants from one year to the next is to take cuttings just before the first frost. Start the cuttings indoors and grow them in a sunny window until spring.

Alternanthera, Calico Plant, Joseph’s Coat, Parrot Leaf ‘Red Threads’



Water Requirements:

Average Water Needs; Water regularly; do not overwater

Sun Exposure:

Full Sun

Sun to Partial Shade


Grown for foliage



Provides Winter Interest

Foliage Color:



6-12 in. (15-30 cm)


15-18 in. (38-45 cm)


Unknown – Tell us

Where to Grow:

Can be grown as an annual


Unknown – Tell us

Bloom Color:


Bloom Characteristics:

Unknown – Tell us

Bloom Size:

Unknown – Tell us

Bloom Time:

Late Spring/Early Summer

Mid Summer

Late Summer/Early Fall

Mid Fall

Other details:

Unknown – Tell us

Soil pH requirements:

6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)

6.6 to 7.5 (neutral)

7.6 to 7.8 (mildly alkaline)

Patent Information:

Unknown – Tell us

Propagation Methods:

From herbaceous stem cuttings

From softwood cuttings

From seed; direct sow after last frost

Seed Collecting:

N/A: plant does not set seed, flowers are sterile, or plants will not come true from seed


This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

Bartow, Florida

Anderson, South Carolina

Joseph’s Coat ‘Red Threads’

General description

Common Name: Joseph’s coat
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Amaranthaceae
Zone: 10 to 11
Native Range: Mexico, South America
Height: 0.5 to 1 feet
Spread: 0.5 to 1.5 feet
Bloom Time: Seasonal bloomer
Bloom Color: White
Bloom Description: White
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Unknown
Flowers: Flowers not Showy
Leaves: Colorful, Evergreen
Uses: Suitable as Annual

Tropical perennial that is winter hardy to USDA Zone 10 and is grown exclusively for its colorful foliage. Grow in organically rich, consistently moist, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. Best foliage colors are usually developed in full sun, however some bleaching of colors may occur in full sun in hot summer climates. In the St. Louis area, it is typically grown outdoors as an annual (e.g., ground cover, edger or in containers), but may also be grown indoors as a houseplant as long as it is sited in a bright, sunny location and soils are kept moist. Plants may be grown from seed by starting them indoors in late winter and transplanting them outdoors after last frost date. Quality of leaf color may vary considerably and only the best seedlings should be selected for inclusion in the planting. Plant 4-9” apart for ground cover effect. Pinching stems or shearing will keep plants compact and bushy. For those who do not wish to plant seed, some of the more popular varieties are available from nurseries in cell packs or flats. Smaller plants may be potted up and brought inside in winter. In the alternative, tip cuttings may be taken in late summer for overwintering indoors.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Native from Mexico to Argentina, A. ficoidea is a low-growing plant that typically grows on erect to procumbent stems to 6-12” tall. Species plants have elliptic to broad ovate green leaves (to 1” long). However it is the brightly colored cultivars that have become the popular garden plants, featuring green leaves blotched with yellow, orange, red, brown, copper or purple, sometimes with red veining. Foliage of the brighter colored cultivars is suggestive of coleus. White apetulous flowers appear stalkless or on short stalks in small axillary clusters in late fall to winter, but are insignificant. Flowers are usually observed in St. Louis only on houseplants or on container plants brought inside for overwintering. Plants in the genus Alternanthera have a rather large number of descriptive common names, including but not limited to Joseph’s coat, copperleaf, calico plant, bloodleaf, joyweed and parrot leaf, all in reference to the brilliantly colored leaves which provide foliage contrast to gardens and container plantings.

Alternanthera ficoidea bettzickiana Red Thread Calico Plant

Cultural Codes

Some of you grow only indoors, some only in terrariums; many of you have hobby greenhouses; while a growing number of customers live in subtropical or tropical areas of the world. These brief codes are an attempt to suggest whether or not a particular plant will do well in your particular conditions.

  • HP – House Plant, performing adequately in the ordinary home
  • CGH – Cool Greenhouse, for ideal growing conditions; most low temperature plant rooms would also fall within this code
  • TGH – Tropical Greenhouse, for plants needing constant warmth and higher humidity; also would describe growth chamber setup some of you have built in your basements
  • TERR – Terrarium culture is most successful or appropriate
  • HT – Hardy Temperate: winder hardy at least to Zone 7 or to Zone 6
  • HH – Half Hardy, possibly damaged in a prolonged winter, but reliable outdoors in Zone 8
  • HB – Hardy Bulb
  • SSA – Self Sowing Annual
  • y – indicates a plant or groundcover popular in bonsai work
  • h – indicates a bog plant, or an aquatic
  • v – indicates a plant appropriate for terrariums

If an entry has the cluster HP CGH, this means normal house plant culture will be successful if the plant is given a cool CGH moist location; however if the entry has the cluster CGH HP, you would interpret this to suggest that while Cool Greenhouse conditions are needed for total success with this plant, House Plant conditions will be adequate, while not ideal. If the cluster is HH CGH you would interpret this to mean that while in Zone 8 or below this will be winter hardy outdoor, further north it will need considerable mulch, a cold frame, or a Cool Greenhouse to thrive. And so on.


Top Little Ruby™ Alternanthera Wholesale Growers

Little Ruby™ Alternanthera dentata ‘LRU30’

  • Compact, spreading habit
  • Deep burgundy foliage
  • More frost tolerant than the common form

Description: Little Ruby™ Alternanthera is the perfect mounding ground cover with a compact, spreading habit and deep burgundy foliage, making it a real stand out plant in the garden. It is approximately a third the height of the common form. This Alternanthera loves humidity, but can also tolerate frost better than most forms. In very cold climates, it will still need to be in a sheltered position.

Little Ruby™ Alternanthera provides a display of white flowers in spring.

Size: 30-40cm x 60-90cm.

Planting Density: 3–5 plants per m², 2–3 plants per linear metre.

Uses: Ground cover, border plant, and for containers.

Position: Full sun to part shade. Little Ruby™ Alternanthera loves humidity, is heat tolerant and can handle light frost better than other forms.

It will need to be planted in a sheltered position to protect it from heavy frost. In frost-free areas Little Ruby™ Alternanthera can be planted in full sun to part shade. It requires well drained moist soils.

Care: Water as required for 8-13 weeks until established. Plant in a well mulched garden (chunky mulch is recommended). If required use slow release fertiliser in spring.

Provide with adequate water as required. Keep moist in dry weather and protect from heavy frost.

Where it works: Light to moderate frost regions for all states (incl. NT) and all frost free areas.

Some of the top wholesale growers listed below do also sell retail, those marked as Trade Only will not, all others will sell direct to the general public.

Little Ruby™ Alternanthera dentata ‘LRU30’

Emporium/Hotties Range

Plant Description: This Alternanthera has a compact spreading habit, beautiful deep burgundy foliage and is a real stand out plant in any garden.

Height & Width: 30-40cm high x 60-90cm wide.

Foliage: Stunning deep burgundy foliage.

Flowers: White flowers in spring.

Uses: Small garden hedges (also as a ground cover, in containers and as a border plant).

Position & Tolerances: Full sun to part shade. Heat tolerant, and loves humidity. Can tolerate light frost, but will need to be planted in a sheltered position to protect it from heavy frosts.

Soil Type: Requires well drained moist soils.

Best Planting Time: September to April.

Planting Density: 2-3 plants per linear metre (3-5 plants per m²).

Where it thrives: All frost free and light to moderate frost regions for all states including NT.


  • VIC, SA, WA and Southern NSW – Prune early March.
  • Sydney and Central NSW – Prune late March.
  • Northern NSW, QLD and NT – Prune early April.
  • In frost affected areas, if leaf burn occurs over winter, prune affected foliage at the beginning of spring.

Establishment & Extra Care:

  • Water as required for 8-13 weeks until established.
  • Plant in a well mulched garden, a chunky mulch is recommended.
  • Provide adequate water as required, keep moist in dry weather.
  • Protect from heavy frosts.
  • Use slow release fertiliser in spring, if required.
  • In frost affected areas fertilise at the following times:
  • VIC, SA, WA and Southern NSW – Fertilise early March.
  • Sydney and Central NSW – Fertilise late March.
  • Northern NSW, QLD and NT – Fertilise early April.

Purchase Little Ruby™ Alternanthera Online from:

  • Bluedale Plants Online
  • Garden Express
  • Australian Plants Online

Purchase Little Ruby™ Alternanthera Wholesale Purchase Little Ruby™ Alternanthera Retail

Evergreen foliage plants are wonderful in the garden, because they give you stunning colour all year round. Many plants with brilliantly coloured leaves belong to the family Amaranthaceae. They include the popular bloodleaf (Iresine herbstii) with its bright red leaves, and Alternanthera dentata, the plant shown in our segment, which has beautiful burgundy leaves.

Plant details

Common name: Ruby leaf alternanthera

Botanic name: Alternanthera dentata

Description: A low growing perennial herb from the West Indies and Brazil with attractive burgundy leaves. In winter the flowers appear in whitish to creamy clusters, surrounded by small bracts with finely lacerated tips. The plant is mainly grown for its coloured foliage effect and is often trimmed back to remove the flowers.

Best climate: A. dentata does best in the warmer areas of Australia. In cooler zones grow in a sheltered position and protect from frost.


foliage contrast plant silver/burgundy garden colour schemes tall ground cover low hedge deep burgundy leaves provide year round colour

Care: Plant in partial shade to full sun, in moist, well-drained soil. Lightly trim the bush in winter to remove the flowers and encourage dense, compact growth.

Getting started:

Plants in 140mm (5 1/2″) pots cost from $3.80-$6.50. A. dentata also grows readily from cuttings.

Further information

Our segment was filmed at Impact Plants, Poole Close, Empire Bay, NSW, 2257. Phone: (02) 4369 1422.

Joseph’s Coat

Joseph’s Coat

While these plants don’t have the most interesting or showy blooms, they easily make up for it with their stunning, jewel-tone foliage. Joseph’s coat plants make a wonderful accent in any garden setting and can even work well as showy houseplants. With several hundred species available, these plants offer quite a bit of diversity, allowing for many different leaf shapes, sizes, and textures. Plant them in full sun for the best and brightest foliage colors.

genus name
  • Alternanthera
  • Part Sun,
  • Sun
plant type
  • Annual
  • 6 to 12 inches,
  • 1 to 3 feet
  • 6 inches to 2 feet
foliage color
  • Purple/Burgundy
season features
  • Colorful Fall Foliage
special features
  • Low Maintenance,
  • Good for Containers
  • 10,
  • 11
  • Seed,
  • Stem Cuttings

Garden Plans For Joseph’s Coat

Image zoom Image zoom

Colorful Combinations

Many people have long grown foliage plants like coleus to add a splash of color without having to worry about blooms, but sometimes coleus can get a little too large and have unattractive flowers in the summer. If this is the case for you, give Joseph’s coat a try. These tidy plants come in almost the same range of colors as coleus, albeit less patterns, and are just as easy to grow. The plants come in different sizes and with different shapes of leaves—some with thin and narrow threads and others that are wide and oval. Others still have unique crinkled foliage and some have multicolored leaves. No matter the color or texture, all types of Joseph’s coats are easy to grow.

Joseph’s Coat Care Must-Knows

This charming foliage plant puts on quite a display of color with very little input and doesn’t require much maintenance. When planting Joseph’s coats in the ground as bedding plants, place them in well-drained soil. Joseph’s coats don’t like standing water, but they do enjoy consistent moisture. You will quickly find that once they are dry, Joseph’s coats are very quick to wilt, but luckily they pop right back up once they receive some water.

To get the brightest colors out of your Joseph’s coat plants, plant them in full sun. Indoors, give them a bright window with as much direct light as possible. In part shade, the colors may come across as more muted, and the habit of the plants can get a little lanky. If the plants become loose in habit, they are amenable to pinching and shearing to keep them groomed and tidy.

Multipurpose Plants

The fairly tight internodes of Joseph’s coats make them very versatile and allow them to be used in a few different ways. Small-leaf varieties work well at the edges of garden beds, and they can be trained into more formal small hedges making them great for colorful knot gardens. Some of the tiny types also make great additions to terrariums and fairy gardens, as they can be trimmed and maintained at a very small scale. Large-leaf varieties are perfect for the middle of borders, and some have looser habits that work well mingling with other plants like petunias. All of the varied types of Joseph’s coat work well in containers, both inside a house and out. If you are planning on using them in pots, use a well-drained, general-purpose potting mix with slow-release fertilizer.

More Varieties of Joseph’s Coat

Joseph’s coat

Alternanthera ficoidea bears purplish foliage on a spreading low plant perfect for containers.

‘Gail’s Choice’ Joseph’s coat

Alternanthera ‘Gail’s Choice’ offers dark purple-red foliage on an upright plant that can reach 3 feet tall.

Plant Joseph’s Coat With:

Angelonia is also called summer snapdragon, and once you get a good look at it, you’ll know why. It has salvia-like flower spires that reach a foot or 2 high, but they’re studded with fascinating snapdragon-like flowers with beautiful colorations in purple, white, or pink. It’s the perfect plant for adding bright color to hot, sunny spaces. This tough plant blooms all summer long with spirelike spikes of blooms. While all varieties are beautiful, keep an eye out for the sweetly scented selections. While most gardeners treat angelonia as an annual, it is a tough perennial in Zones 9-10. Or if you have a bright, sunny spot indoors, you can keep it flowering all winter.

Dusty miller is a favorite because it looks good with everything. The silvery-white color is a great foil for any type of garden blossom, and the fine-textured foliage creates a beautiful contrast against other green foliage. Dusty miller has earned its place in the garden because it’s delightfully easy to grow, withstanding heat and drought like a champion.

Like so many grasses, fountaingrass is spectacular when backlit by the rising or setting sun. Named for its especially graceful spray of foliage, fountaingrass also sends out beautiful, fuzzy flower plumes in late summer. The white, pink, or red plumes (depending on variety) continue into fall and bring a loose, informal look to plantings. This plant self-seeds freely, sometimes to the point of becoming invasive.

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