By: Sallie Lee
Question: I saw a plant in my neighbor’s yard, a shrub really, with these gorgeous fringy looking blooms in a wonderful deep pink color! It is a knockout, no offense to the roses by that name, full and lush despite the yo-yo weather we’ve experienced since January.
What is it, where does it like to grow, does it come in other colors, and where do I find it? I’ve got a mostly sunny back yard that would be a vision with these plants grouped around it. And does it attract any wildlife or pests?
I’ve included a photo for help identifying it.
Answer: You are yearning after a Loropetalum, or Chinese Fringe tree/shrub, based on the attached photo. Not native to North America but well-behaved in our southern region, this evergreen offering from China and Japan is also lightly fragrant, adding to its other charms!
If its blooms remind you of another late winter/early spring blooming shrub, you’d be in good company as Loropetalum is in the witch-hazel family. This is a tough, relatively pest free and drought tolerant (once established) plant, growing best in acid-to-neutral soil, in sun to partial shade. Reaching around 6’ tall in about three years if favorably sited, dwarf versions are suitable for containers, and a low-growing form (‘Hillier’) spreads out as a suitable ground cover. Loropetalum’s versatility includes the shrub form used as hedge, in mixed borders, or as a single specimen plant. Limbed up (lower branches removed), Chinese fringe becomes a nice small tree!
A new variation on standard Chinese fringe is a burgundy-leaved, pink-flowered form, including such suggestive names as ‘Fire Dance’, ‘Pipa’s Red’, ‘Razzleberri’, and ‘Sizzling Pink’. As with any foliage that leaps from green to a significant color, be cautious when adding to yard, flower bed, or landscape. In many cases, “a little goes a long way” with non-standard colors and designs.
If pruning is necessary, do it in early spring as soon as blooming stops. However if following ‘right plant in right place’ advice, pruning should be limited to damaged or dead branches or twigs. Fertilize lightly using a slow-release product labelled for azaleas and rhododendrons, follow with a layer of organic mulch around roots to conserve moisture and control weeds.
When the ‘fringy’ flowers are gone, the shrub remains a pleasant addition to the landscape or garden sporting small, oval leaves. A few cultivars develop fall color ranging from orange-red to red, but the majority continue with standard green or purplish leaves throughout winter.
Pest problems, as mentioned earlier, are few although root rot can create issues in poorly drained soil. Soil that is too alkaline can result in leaves turning yellow (chlorotic) as well. Site the plant in an appropriate location, allow roots to establish over a 12 – 24 month period, and plan to enjoy your Loropetalum(s). This plant will provide years of beauty in your landscape, even though it doesn’t achieve the 35’ height of a 100 year old specimen in another southern state!
Loropetalum hedge in bloom, courtesy Clemson University
Garden Talk is written by Sallie Lee of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES). She is housed at the C. Beaty Hanna Horticultural and Environmental Center, which is based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. This column includes research based information from land-grant universities around the country, including Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities. Email questions to Sallie at email@example.com or call 205-879-6964 x11. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M University and Auburn University), is an equal opportunity educator and employer. Everyone is welcome!