The creeping Charlie plant (Plectranthus australis), a low-maintenance plant more commonly called Swedish ivy, is the forgetful gardener's best friend. Creeping Charlie might be grown as a perennial groundcover in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 through 11. In cooler zones, it commonly serves as a houseplant, its scallop-edged leaves cascading 2 to 3 feet down the sides of a planter. Don't confuse this attractive plant for the invasive groundcover weed of the same name.
Soil and Light
Creeping Charlie adapts well to all soil types except heavy clay soil, but it performs its best in fertile loam soil rich in organic matter. Work a few inches of finished compost, leaf mold and manure into a flower bed to increase organic matter for creeping Charlie grown outdoors. Potted plants do well in a blend of equal parts sphagnum peat moss, finished compost and perlite, vermiculite or sand. Plant creeping Charlie no deeper than the top of the root ball to avoid problems with rot around the stem and root crown. Full sun results in stunted plant growth, so choose a spot with dappled sunlight to really make the creeping plant grow. Ideally, creeping Charlie should receive four to five hours of filtered sunlight daily.
This plant won't suffer much in drought conditions, but it grows best in soil with medium moisture. Water the creeping Charlie once or twice weekly to keep the soil moist but not wet. Excess water should flow through the drain hole at the bottom of the container, indicating sufficient watering. Drain any excess water from the planter's catch basin, if applicable. Insert a finger in the soil around the plant to check for soil moisture. If the soil is dry past the first knuckle, the plant needs water. Exercise caution when watering to avoid common fungal problems. As with most houseplants, over-watering is more dangerous than under-watering because plants can easily develop root rot.
Charlie Needs Food
Regular fertilizer application gives creeping Charlie a boost so it grows faster and healthier than without any fertilizer supplement. An all-purpose, balanced fertilizer supplies plants with nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Try a water-soluble fertilizer you can apply as part of a watering routine. Read the fertilizer label carefully to ensure proper mixing instructions. Water-soluble fertilizers for houseplant use typically require mixing at a rate of 1 teaspoon of fertilizer to 1 gallon of water, instead of the 1 tablespoon of fertilizer to 1 gallon of water typically used for outdoor plants. Apply the fertilizer weekly throughout the growing season -- from about May through October -- and cut back to monthly from November through April.
A trim is order when creeping Charlie becomes straggly or overgrown at any point throughout the growing season. Trim back the stems to just before a leaf set if you want to maintain a certain shape or plant size -- this is especially necessary if you have limited space or want to keep cascading stems out of reach of pets or children. A more severe trim might be required if the growth becomes uneven or unattractive. Trim the entire plant back so each stem measures 3 to 4 inches long, and the creeping Charlie will regrow with a much fuller, even appearance. Pinch back stem tips to encourage even fuller growth. Stems are tender enough that you can pinch them with your fingers, but if you prefer to use hand pruners, disinfect them in a solution of diluted bleach with 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. .
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Plectranthus Australis
- University of Vermont Extension: Plectranthus Australis
- National Gardening Association: Pruning Swedish Ivy
- LA Times: Gardening : Getting Hang of Using Plants for Decorating
- University of Texas Aggie Horticulture: Swedish Ivy
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: Plectranthus Australis
- University of Washington Extension: Creeping Charlie Control
A former cake decorator and competitive horticulturist, Amelia Allonsy is most at home in the kitchen or with her hands in the dirt. She received her Bachelor's degree from West Virginia University. Her work has been published in the San Francisco Chronicle and on other websites.