How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Lewisia

Looking for a tough plant to fill that sunny spot in the garden? Lewisia is the perfect candidate. Plants in this genus have particular growing requirements, and a little care and attention during planting will help them establish themselves. PNW grower Jerad Bryant breaks down how to grow and care for the two best species for the garden, Lewisia cotyledon and Lewisia columbiana.

Close-up of a flowering Lewisia cotyledon plant in a sunny garden against a blurred background. Lewisia cotyledon presents a striking appearance with its compact rosettes of fleshy, succulent leaves arranged in tight clusters. The leaves are spoon-shaped and smooth-edged. Rising above the foliage are slender stems bearing clusters of vibrant, star-shaped flowers in hues of orange and pink.


Lewisia is a stellar plant in the landscape and nature. With succulent green leaves and colorful flowers from spring to summer, this plant is becoming increasingly popular in rock gardens across the world.

Its native range is alpine areas in the Pacific Northwest, although this perennial can also grow outside of its native range. If you live in an area with a winter chill period, then you can easily grow this plant.

Lewisia History

Close-up of flowering Lewisia cotyledon plants in a sunny garden. Above compact rosettes of fleshy, succulent leaves rise vertical stems with clusters of star-shaped flowers in shades of pink, red, orange, and white.
Embrace Lewisia, a resilient native plant honoring Lewis and Clark.

The Lewisia genus has been thriving in the western United States for generations. It is named after Captain Meriwether Lewis from the famed Lewis and Clark expeditions. Their travels found them traversing through areas where this alpine plant is commonly found. 

Before Lewis stumbled across this plant, the region’s native peoples had been consuming a particular type known scientifically as Lewisia rediviva. This is the original “bitterroot,” the plant with a fleshy taproot that was eaten for its nutritional value

Lewisia rediviva is challenging to grow, but two other species thrive in cultivation and are easily found at nurseries. These native species are Lewisia cotyledon and Lewisia columbiana. Read on to learn how to propagate and care for these two garden-friendly species. 


Lewisia is propagated in two ways: by seed and by division of offsets. Offsets are the little rosettes that grow to the side of the main stem. When they are planted into the soil, they sprout new plants that are genetically identical to the parent plant. 

Growing this plant from seed can be more challenging than offset propagation, but seed offers you more genetic variety in your plant population. For optimal propagation success, start by dividing offsets, and for a more rewarding challenge, try growing plants from seed.

By Offsets

Close-up of a small lewisia plant coming into bud. This sprout has an upright, thin green stem with several oval-shaped, succulent green leaves. A cluster of tiny split buds forms at the top of the stem.
Spring is prime for taking Lewisia cuttings for propagation.

The best time to take cuttings is in spring after new growth occurs. To propagate by offsets, locate the mother plant you would like to take cuttings from. Find a few side growths on the main stem and prune them off as close as possible to the main stem. 

Let the cuts dry, then plant the offsets in a container with sharp drainage. Lewisia does not like wet feet, so the more drainage, the better. Place the plant in dappled shade and water when the soil is dry. After a few weeks of care, your offset should put down roots!  

By Seed

Seed propagation is a bit more difficult than offset propagation, but the difficulties pay off in genetic variability. This PNW native has flower shades of many colors, and seed propagation gives you a chance to see all of the unique flower types. 

Note that their seed requires cold stratification to germinate. This occurs when seeds experience cold temperatures in winter so that they successfully germinate in spring. Do not be alarmed! This is an easy process that we will learn below.

In Pots

Close-up of Lewisia plants in pots. Lewisia plants exhibit a distinctive appearance characterized by their compact rosettes of fleshy, succulent leaves and delicate, star-shaped flowers. The leaves are arranged in a basal rosette and are spoon-shaped, vibrant green. Rising from the center of the rosettes are slender stems bearing clusters of flowers in shades of pink.
Plant multiple Lewisia seeds in well-drained, gritty soil for success.

Plant multiple seeds in pots with gritty soil. The seeds can take from a month to a year to germinate, and planting multiple seeds helps increase your chances of timely germination.

Ensure the soil has great drainage by mixing in fine gravel before planting. For optimal germination, plant seeds during the late fall and early winter seasons. This will allow the seeds to undergo their proper cold stratification period of a month to two months.

For best watering practice, water the soil once it is dry. Lewisia is easily overwatered and overwhelmed with root rot. You can avoid this by watering sparingly during the winter months. In the early spring, when the weather warms up, your seeds should have sprouted in their pots.

In The Garden

Close-up of a blooming little peach Lewisia cotyledon in a sunny garden. The plant produces a small compact rosette of fleshy, succulent green leaves. Rising from the center of each rosette are slender stems bearing clusters of delicate, star-shaped flowers in complementary shades of pastel pink or peach.
Sow seeds outdoors in late fall for optimal spring germination.

Plant seeds outside in the garden during late fall to early winter. Planting early allows the seeds to undergo their proper stratification process. Ensure the soil stays moist like a wrung-out sponge. In areas that receive lots of winter rain, plant in a dry spot. The seeds will germinate into baby plants in early spring.

Lewisia Varieties

Not all Lewisia grows the same! These two species have unique characteristics and growing habits, and they are also readily available at nurseries. Read on to discover which one is best for your garden. 

Lewisia cotyledon “Siskiyou lewisia”

Close-up of colorful flowering Lewisia cotyledon "Siskiyou lewisia" plants among rocks in the garden. The Lewisia cotyledon "Siskiyou lewisia" presents a captivating appearance with its compact rosettes of fleshy, succulent leaves in shades of deep green to grayish-green. From the center of each rosette emerge slender stems bearing clusters of delicate, star-shaped flowers in shades of pink, red, orange, or white.
A rock garden gem with vibrant blooms.

By far the best option for rock garden beginners, Lewisia cotyledon is a charming plant of bright character. Its flowers are candy-striped and range in many varying shades of pink and white. This type is extremely resilient in the garden and will reward growers year after year with its showy nature. 

This species has been bred extensively for the nursery trade, and many different flowering cultivars are now readily available. For deep purplish-reddish hues, look for the ‘Dark Cloud’ variety. ‘Little Plum’ is another unique variety that blooms through the summer when other species are dormant. 

How to Grow

Every plant has its own requirements, and Lewisia is no different. Below are all the specific conditions your plant will need in the garden.


Close-up of male hands planting a flowering Lewisia plant into the soil in a sunny garden. The leaves are oval-shaped, oblong, fleshy, succulent, forming a compact rosette. Above the leaves rise vertical, slender stems with clusters of bright pink, star-shaped flowers.
This Lewisia thrives in rocky, shaded alpine-like conditions.

Lewisia cotyledon will benefit from sharp drainage in an area with some shade. Its natural habitat is growing in cracks of rocks in alpine areas, so the closer you can mimic these conditions in the garden, the more your plant will thrive. Growers in USDA garden zones four through nine will have success growing this plant. 

These plants love having cool roots. Situate your plant so that the roots are kept covered up to the plant’s crown, either with fine gravel or another material with good drainage. This mountain dweller likes part sun more than the others. Plant it in an area that receives direct morning sunlight and some afternoon shade. 


Close-up of Lewisia tweedyi with water droplets. It features succulent rosettes of fleshy, lance-shaped leaves with a glossy texture. The plant produces a vibrant, star-shaped flower atop slender stem in delicate peachy yellow hues.
Lewisia cotyledon prefers a dry culture with occasional watering.

L. cotyledon can take more water than the other species, but it still appreciates a dry culture. Water once the soil is dry in spring and early summer. In summer, when the plant dies back, cut back on watering to once every two weeks. 

In winter L. cotyledon takes another dormancy break and dies back. Do not fret, though! The plant is not dying. These plants are perennials and will die back to conserve energy each summer and winter. Water less often during these periods than during the growing season. Aim to water once every two weeks or less if the soil is still wet.


Close-up of a flowering Lewisia cotyledon plant, also known as Siskiyou lewisia, in a sunny garden with mulched soil. It forms low mounds of evergreen, succulent rosettes adorned with thick, spoon-shaped leaves that range from deep green to gray-green, with a waxy texture. It bears showy, star-shaped flowers on slender stems, boasting bright pink color.
For optimal growth, fertilize sparingly during the growing season.

This type is a low feeder, and fertilizer is generally not needed. If you choose to fertilize, do so during the growing season in early spring and summer. Dilute a liquid all-purpose fertilizer to one-third of its strength and feed around the root area.


Top view of a flowering Lewisia cotyledon plant. It forms dense mats of evergreen, succulent foliage comprised of glossy, spoon-shaped leaves ranging from green to gray-green. It adorns itself with charming, star-shaped flowers in shades of pink with a yellow center.
Prune mature Lewisia for better airflow and moisture control.

Sometimes this species can benefit from pruning, especially when it is grown in areas where air flow is minimal and moisture levels are high. Pruning benefits the plant by allowing more air to reach the plant and keeping the root zone dry.

Only prune mature, healthy plants, as younger lewisia plants rarely need pruning. To prune, simply locate new rosettes growing off of the main stem. Cut the offsets off with sharp pruners, and remove any dead and diseased foliage. 

As we learned above, you can then propagate these offsets into new plants! Simply plant them in pots with sharp drainage and water them when the soil is dry.

Lewisia columbiana “Columbia lewisia”

Close-up of a flowering Lewisia columbiana plant, commonly known as Columbia lewisia, is a stunning perennial herbaceous plant, in a rock garden. It forms compact rosettes of fleshy, lance-shaped leaves with a glossy texture and dark green color. It produces striking, cup-shaped flowers on slender stems, boasting shades of white with pale purple veins and yellow centers.
Tough and delicate beauty for garden zones four-eight.

The second best Lewisia for the garden, Lewisia columbiana is another Pacific Northwest native with little flowers to boot. This one looks more delicate than the rest, but don’t be fooled. This dainty-looking plant is incredibly tough in the landscape, and it will thrive in USDA garden zones four through eight.

How to Grow

Growing L. columbiana is a bit different from its sister L. cotyledon. Learn all the needs this species has below.


Close-up of flowering Lewisia nevadensis plants among rocks in a sunny garden. It forms low clusters of evergreen, succulent rosettes with narrow, lance-shaped leaves, displaying shades of green. It produces dainty, star-shaped flowers in shades of white.
This species thrives in sunny spots with cool roots.

L. columbiana benefits from more sun than its showy sister, L. cotyledon. For this reason, you can treat this species as you would a succulent plant. Situate it in an area in the garden where the roots are kept cool while the leaves receive full sun. A rock garden or a pot with steep drainage is perfect for this plant.


Close-up of blooming Lewis longipetala 'Little Plum' in the rain. It bears abundant clusters of small, trumpet-shaped flowers in a lovely shade of soft plum-pink, each with a delicate white center.
Water L. columbiana sparingly, especially in summer and winter.

Watering L. columbiana is similar to watering L. cotyledon. Water when the root zone is dry during the growing season in spring and early summer. During the summer and wintertime, cut back on watering to once every two weeks or less. 


Close-up of a woman's hand with NPK fertilizers on a blurred background of a pink bag of fertilizers. Fertilizers are granular and consist of many small round balls of a delicate pink hue.
Fertilize Lewisia sparingly only during its active growing season.

L. columbiana will rarely need fertilizer. If the plant appears to be suffering from a nutrient deficiency by showing limited growth and dying leaves during the growing season, you can fertilize with an ultra-diluted solution of general-purpose liquid fertilizer. 

Dilute your solution to one-tenth its strength and water around the root zone. Never fertilize this plant during the summer or winter, as the plant’s dormancy period prevents it from taking in nutrients. 


Close-up of a female gardener deadheading a plant in the garden on a blurred green background. The gardener holds red pruning shears in her hands.
Prune offsets for better airflow.

Pruning for L. columbiana is the same as for L. cotyledon. Prune offsets off of the mature plant stem. Try to focus the pruning around the main crown to ensure good airflow and low moisture levels. 

Common Issues

Close-up of Lewisia growing in a garden next to other plants. Lewisia exhibits rosettes of succulent, lance-shaped leaves of green color. Some litsias have yellowish and brownish spots due to improper watering. The plant produces stunning, bright pink, star-shaped flowers atop slender stems.
Prevent root rot by watering sparingly and checking soil moisture.

The most common issue for these two species is root rot. Avoid overwatering by watering the soil around the plant when it is dry. Water sparingly during the summer and winter dormancy periods. Not sure if you should water? Try the finger test by sticking your finger into the soil and seeing the moisture level. If the soil is wet, do not water. 

Final Thoughts

Lewisia is a stellar choice for anyone wanting to add beneficial native plants to their landscape, especially for gardeners in the Pacific Northwest. This plant is a three-part stunner: it has green succulent leaves, it blooms colorful flowers, and it feeds local wildlife with pollen and nectar. Plant it in a warm, sunny spot with good drainage, and you’ll enjoy perennial blooms year after year. 

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