Growing Tolmieas in Containers- Growing Pick-a-Back Plant or Piggyback Plant

Tolmiea make a great plant in containers
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In this article, we will discuss how to grow Tolmiea menziesii outdoor in containers during the summer months. They are hardy plants and can be grown outdoors as a semi-evergreen perennial with mounds of maple-shaped leaves.

Tolmiea make a great plant in containers
Tolmiea make a great plant in containers

It is a member of the family Saxifragaceae and has the common name of youth on age, pick-a-black plant, piggyback plant and thousand mothers. It occurs naturally in various states of America and is a naturalised plant in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Northern England.

In its natural growing environment, it is a spreading plant growing in the shade under the canopy of trees.

Tolmiea menziesii has hairy, 5 to 7 lobed, toothed, green leaves that can be speckled. Although it is grown for its leaves, it does produce flowers in late spring and early summer. The flowers of tubular purple-green to brown calyxes and four linear or subulate, red-brown petals, twice the length of the sepals, are small and borne on loose racemes.

The plant is noted for growing and reproducing strongly on the base of each leaf, where plantlets grow from the petioles. These plantlets will eventually drop off and fall into the soil and they take root there. Underground the plants produce rhizomes which can be divided to propagate these plants.

The flowers will also produce seeds that can be planted to propagate the plants.


First, choose a container that is large enough for the plant in question. You have two options to either grow it as a sole specimen plant or grow it with other plants such as Fuchsia, Lobelias and Begonia sutherlandii. Whatever container that you use make sure it has plenty of drainage holes as the plant hates its roots living in constant moisture.

They make great alternatives to other perennials in containers
They make great alternatives to other perennials in containers

To the container add a 1cm layer of gravel to aid drainage and on top of this add a good quality multipurpose compost. Dig a hole that is slightly larger than the root ball it came in the original container. Place the plant in the hole at the same level it came in the original container-no shallower or no deeper. Backfill with the growing media and use more multipurpose compost to fill any gaps that remain around the roots of the plant. Firm the plant in and water well to allow the roots to settle.

Grow the containers in partial shade where it will be at its best. The plant does not do well when the harsh midday sun is hitting the leaves. This is one plant that likes its roots in constant moisture. Once the top of the compost starts to feel dry, it is time to water. Never allow the compost to dry out completely and at the same time do not allow the compost to get soggy. The plant likes a forest-type growing environment.

It is a moderately hungry plant, where in early spring an annual dressing of slow-release fertilizer will help. Alternatively, you can feed once a month with a liquid fertilizer at the manufacturer’s recommended dosage.


The flowers are attractive as well
The flowers are attractive as well

Spider mites and aphids can be a problem you are advised to watch out for these pests and treat them when they are observed. Check for the webs of spider mites on plants and colonises of aphids.  If you notice any such problems, treat your plant with a suitable systemic insecticide.

Diseases, on the other hand, tend not to be too much of a problem.  It is a hardy plant and can take temperatures as low as -15 degrees Celsius.


The one variety you are likely to find is Tolmiea menziesii ‘Toffer’s Gold’ which is a mound producing plant with maple-shaped, yellow speckled, green leaves. It produces spikes of tiny-nodding, greenish, tubular flowers in late spring and early summer. A great plant to have as part of your patio container display.


In this article, we have discussed how to grow this delightful foliage plant of Tolmiea menziesii outdoors in containers. I know it is fashionable to grow them indoors but they make excellent outdoor plants.

They tend to be easy to look after, as long as you are prepared to water and feed regularly. They are not commonly found in the garden but if you want a plant that can tolerate shade and be grown in containers, then this is the plant for you.

If you have questions or comments that you want to make on growing Tolmiea in containers, please do so in the comment box below.

Happy Tolmiea growing.


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