It seems as though it would have been almost impossible to carry out the wonderful designs in carpet bedding had we not had these little plants to serve us. Carpet bedding came into its greatest popularity shortly after the introduction of the alternanthera, some thirty years ago. It may be that their great fitness for that style of bedding helped to make it popular. Certain it is that alternantheras owe their popularity to carpet bedding. Nothing troubles the alternantheras but cold weather. They are all tropical plants, growing freely in our warm summer months, but only just existing in the greenhouse during winter in a temperature of 60 degrees.
They are propagated by divisions or cuttings. In the former method the plants are lifted from the beds after the first slight frost, and after their tops are shortened and trimmed up they are stored away in a few inches of soil in flats. After the first good watering they are best kept rather dry till the following April, when they can be torn to pieces and either potted singly or again planted in flats and started growing in a warm, light house, or what is better, a hotbed. Where very large quantities are needed the old plants are generally depended upon. Where only a few thousand are needed I prefer the cuttings.
Prepare some flats two inches deep and any convenient size, in which have one inch of light soil and one inch of sand. About the middle of August take off the cuttings from the plants outside and put them thickly in the sand. In a few days in the greenhouse they will be rooted and can be kept on any bench or stood out of doors till cold weather arrives. In the flats they will winter well and are little trouble. Keep them rather dry during the dark days and away from cold and damp. When potted off in April and placed in a hotbed they make splendid little plants by bedding out time. They root and thrive like the proverbial "weed" if kept warm.
There is no trouble in wintering any of them except the one that is the most valuable, which is known in many places as A. paronychioides major, but which I feel sure is A. paronychioides magnifica, which is much the highest colored of all. In elaborate bedding room is found for most of the cultivated varieties. If you cannot give them a temperature of 60 degrees during the winter the next best thing is to give the flats a light, dry position and be sparing of water till the warm days of spring arrive.
The most useful are A. paronychioides magnifica, almost scarlet when well colored, but not such a robust grower as the others; A. versicolor, bright rosy pink and bronze green; A. spathulata, reddish pink and brown shaded with bronze and green; A. amabilis, rose color and orange; A. amoena, orange red and purple; A. tricolor, dark green edge, center of leaf rose striped with purple veins and orange; A. paronychioides au-rea nana, the best of the yellow or golden leaved sorts.
In very warm rainy seasons they grow so fast that the beautiful markings of the leaves do not show at their best. They should never be planted in a very rich soil. Their great adaptability for carpet bedding is because they can be sheared to any sharp line and can be kept very dwarf.