Alternanthera Plants Guide: How to Care for “Joseph’s Coat” or “Joyweed”

Our Guide to Alternanthera - Everything you will ever need to know! Tips for growing and caring for “Joseph’s Coat” or “Joyweed”
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Alternanthera is a genus that contains about 80 to 200 spectacular species of flowering plants in the Amaranthaceae family. While most plants from this genus are native to the tropical areas of the Americas, some others occur in many regions of Australia, Africa, and Asia. They come with various common names, such as Joseph’s Coat, Joyweed, Copperleaf, Calico Plant, Parrot Leaf, and Bloodleaf.

Prized for their vibrant and attractive foliage, Joseph’s Coat plants have become pretty popular ornamentals worldwide. These buddies are gorgeous outdoor additions to beds, borders, cottage gardens, city gardens, and even aquatic gardens. Likewise, they make for great ornamental potted plants, adding a lovely dash of colour to any dull spot from your house.

About Alternanthera Plants

  • Some species of Alternanthera plants are noxious weeds, degrading their native habitat in a short time. A well-known cultivar of this type is the aquatic Aligator weed, which clogs waterways, increases flooding, and slows shipping.
  • They are frost-tender plants that do well in full sunlight to partial shade. These plants prefer rich, well-draining soils and need lots of water to grow properly.
  • Joseph’s Coat plants bring hundreds of superb varieties into the spotlight. The most interesting cultivars include ‘Firebug’, ‘Gali’s Choice’, ‘Little Ruby’, ‘Partytime’, ‘Purple Knight’, ‘Ruby Leaf’, ‘Snow on the Mountain’, and ‘Wavy Yellow’.
  • In some parts of Asia and Africa, native people consume the leaves of both A. sessilis and A. philoxeroides species as vegetables in various culinary recipes. Some of these recipes are salads, sauces, soups, and relish.
  • The A. sessilis cultivars play a big part in traditional medicine. Many folks use these plants as an excellent treatment for issues like stomach disorders, headache, vertigo, neuralgia, hernia, snakebites, bronchitis, asthma, hepatitis, bleeding, and others.
  • Joseph’s Coat plants will look absolutely fabulous as companion plants to other charming species including Begonia, Cordyline, Caladium, Impatiens Balsamina, Petunia, or Coleus.
  • They are not toxic to humans or animals if touched or ingested, so you can grow them safely around your curious kids and pets.
Purple Prince Joyweed
Purple Prince Joyweed

Alternanthera Plants Features: An Overview

  • Depending on the species, Alternanthera plants can be either subshrubs or herbs. While most species are terrestrial plants, some of the well-known species are aquatic.
  • Joseph’s Coat plants can take numerous forms, ranging from floating to erect to prostrate. They are annuals or perennials that can reach up to 3 feet (90 cm) in height and 1 to 3 feet (30-90 cm) in width.
  • The leaves of Alternanthera plants can be either ovate, lanceolate, elliptic, rounded, or obtuse in shape. They may present soft hairs or slightly dentate margins and grow oppositely arranged on branched stems.
  • The colours of their stunning foliage usually vary from one species to another. Alternanthera can appear in many shades of green, silver, pink, yellow, red, copper, purple, or burgundy. Some specimens can also present variegated foliage or leaves with colourful spots.
  • Joseph’s coat plants generally bloom from autumn through winter. During this season, they exhibit insignificant sessile inflorescences with clusters of adorable, tiny, and white flowers.
  • Once their blooming period has ended, Alternanthera plants bear fruits where blossoms once were. They are small, dry, bladder-like, yellow-brownish, and single-seeded fruits called utricles.

Growing Alternanthera Plants

As long as you can simulate their natural habitat at home, growing and caring for Alternanthera plants is a piece of cake. These plants are as low-demanding as most exotic plants, adding long-lasting interest in warmer areas worldwide. In northern climates, however, they will shine best as annual ornamentals. Now let’s see what these beauties truly need!

When it comes to light, Joseph’s Coat plants can do well in a wide range of conditions. These plants grow in hot and sunny environments, so they usually prefer locations with lots of sunlight. Still, they can also tolerate some dappled light to partial shade, but they may grow somewhat leggy and lose their vibrant colours with time. In general, their foliage will remain shiny and bright-coloured only under full sunlight exposure.

Alternanthera, Red Thread, Joseph’s Coat, Live Plant

Temperature-wise, Alternanthera species thrive in warm climates and cannot withstand freezing conditions. Because of this, you can grow these plants outdoors as perennials only in the USDA zones 10 to 11. However, they can do just fine as annuals in almost any other USDA zone out there. If you are the happy owner of dwarf specimens, it gets even better! You can grow your plants in pots and bring them inside once the weather gets cooler, usually in fall.

Although Joseph’s Coat plants are typically carefree regarding pests and diseases, some intruders might bother them once in a while. The most common pests that consider these plants attractive include spider mites, caterpillars, and slugs. In case of infestation, you can just handpick the pests and forget all of these ever happened. If you want to get rid of caterpillars naturally, you must use a mix of insecticidal soap and water on your plants.

Planting Alternanthera Plants

In terms of growing medium, Alternanthera plants will have the time of their life in a fertile substrate that is rich in nutrients and organic matter. This particular type of soil will provide your plants with the nutrients needed and with the ideal drainage they require. They generally perform best in slightly acidic to neutral soils.

Make sure you plant your companions in well-draining soil and, for potted plants, look for containers that have drainage holes at the bottom. If you want to grow your Alternanthera plants in the garden, do not forget to amend the soil with plenty of compost or organic matter before planting.

In case you manage to plant your Joseph’s Coat plants in rich soil, they will not need any supplemental fertilizing. In general, too much fertilizer can burn these plants and eventually kill them. In poor soil, however, your plants will require some little extra help from their beloved owner. The ideal fertilizer for them is a balanced liquid fertilizer, such as a fish emulsion.

For optimal results, feed your potted Alternanthera plants once every two or three weeks during the summer months. For outdoor in-ground specimens, it is more than enough to fertilize these plants once every two months.

In summer, regular pruning is highly recommended. Pruning will prevent your Joseph’s Coat plants from becoming all leggy and messy. This process consists of removing all unhealthy leaves or branches to make room for new ones to show up. You can also trim some healthy stems off your plants to use them as propagation material.

Alternanthera dentata
Alternanthera dentata

Watering Alternanthera Plants

Alternanthera plants are native to humid areas, so they are big lovers of moisture. What keeps these plants in their best shape is, of course, a regular watering routine. However, soggy conditions or waterlogging can result in root rot and will kill your beloved plants with time. But do not worry, gardener! We have everything you need to avoid this from happening!

In general, Joseph’s Coat plants require at least an inch (2.5 cm) of water to grow healthy and happy. Because of this, you should allow the top layer of soil to dry out completely before watering your plants again.  In addition, we recommend you add a layer of mulch to your garden-grown plants to better maintain the moisture in the soil.

Whether you grow these plants indoors or outdoors, you must water them less often in winter. During this season, they can do just fine with a nice touch of water whenever the top 2-3 inches (5-7.5 cm) of soil feels dry to the touch.

Joseph’s Coat plants can also suffer if you happen to under-water them. When these plants receive less water than needed, they will typically begin to wilt. Do not panic, though! Your buddies will bring their vitality back once you provide them with a good drink.

Propagating Alternanthera Plants

The foliage of Alternanthera plants is so eye-catching that it is almost impossible to resist it! Because of this, it is more than obvious that you want to keep these plants by your side for as long as possible. Well, we come along with great news! You can propagate your beautiful plants through cuttings or division very easy and the results will be according to your expectations.

The best time to take cuttings from your Joseph’s Coat plants is in spring or late summer. For optimal results, the cuttings must have about two inches (5 cm) in length. Once you have the cuttings, you should place them in water until new roots begin to show up. When the cuttings develop their roots properly, you can plant them in moist soil and care for them as for the mother plants.

To propagate your Joseph’s Coat plants through division, you must first equip yourself with a good old spade. Once you have it, you must dig your plants out of the soil and divide their roots into two or three sections. Make sure that each root section has at least one stem emerging from it. After this step, you can transplant the sections into their permanent locations and care for them as usual.

Do not forget to plant some of your baby Alternanthera plants in pots! They can make for cute gifts for your plant-lovers family members or friends, so you cannot miss the opportunity to surprise them!

In Conclusion

Joseph’s Coat plants are one of our favorite ornamentals, so we would be more than pleased to know about your experience with them! It does not matter if you are the owner of these beauties already or you are thinking about getting one in the future. Just share your thoughts with us in the comment section!


Miruna is an experienced content writer with a passion for gardening. She is the proud owner of an outdoor rose garden and an indoor collection of tiny succulents. She bought her first succulent 10 years ago - an adorable Echeveria Setosa. Now she owns more than 100 succulents and cacti of different colors, shapes, and sizes. Miruna is a versatile writer and, as you might have guessed, her favorite topic is gardening. Contact

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