Loropetalum purple pixie problems

Loropetalum

March 3, 2018

My loropetalum large bush has begun to weep from one of the branches. There are rings of holes around this branch. Is this some type of borer and what should I do? Will it hurt my plant?

I think your plant has been attacked by a sapsucker bird. These birds find a few favorite trees or large bushes and come back year after year. While on a large tree they are more a nuisance than true harm, on a bush or small tree they can do enough feeding that they can actually girdle or kill a limb or two. The sap is coming out of the wounds that they made. Trying to deter them via scare devices is your only option.

April 1, 2016

Can you tell me the name of the plant in our yard in Conway? I had never seen the plant before. The flowers are compound and the flower petals are pink and strap-like. We would like to buy a few more but not sure what to ask for.

The plant in question is a Loropetalum, sometimes called Chinese witchhazel. This plant has numerous varieties and mature size can run the gamut from almost 6 inches high to 20 feet high, so if you are looking for a particular height, read the tags that come with the plant to make sure you get what you are looking for. In addition to the purple foliaged plants with pink flowers, there are also green leafed varieties with white blooms and a few variegated varieties with pink blooms. They do well in full sun to partial shade.

March 26, 2016

I have 5 or so fairly large Loropetalum (5 feet tall though not very wide) as foundation plantings at the rear of my house. Because of water issues they will need to be moved. What is the best procedure to move them? Cut them back then move them? Or move the entire plant?

Move them as soon as possible. Loropetalum plants have been the prettiest I have ever seen them this spring, and most are still in full bloom. The best time to move shrubs is in the dormant season, which we are no longer in. Moving them while they are dormant is preferable, but you don’t have that option any more. The sooner you move them the easier the transition will be. When I was in college they taught us to remove a third of the top-growth when transplanting, but that theory has changed, and now they recommend keeping as much of the foliage as possible to make food for the roots. I would compromise and do what you can. If you are not capable of moving a plant that large, prune to make it manageable and get it replanted quickly. It will probably look sad for a couple of weeks with wilting leaves, but if you keep it watered and mulched, it should recover and begin to grow again. Baby it all summer and don’t forget to water while it is re-establishing a root system.

December 12, 2015

Could you please give me some information about a shrub called Carolina Midnight Loropetalum. I saw it recently in a magazine and I think it might be good for my garden. Will it grow in Cabot, Arkansas?

Loropetalums have become a favorite garden plant in Arkansas. The evergreen dark purple foliage coupled with hot pink fringe flowers in the spring and then sporadically throughout the growing season has made it a popular choice. It also grows in full sun to partial shade and is quite drought tolerant once it is established. There are a multitude of varieties of loropetalum, and mature size can vary quite drastically. The smallest one is Purple Pixie, growing no more than 8 inches to 18 inches in height but spreading. It is slow growing. Carolina Midnight is a taller introduction growing up to 10-15 feet tall at maturity. Choose a variety that will only grow as tall as you need at maturity so you are not required to prune annually. This one is probably a bit tall for a foundation planting, but would make a good screen or hedge. A more moderately sized plant would be Plum Delight at 6-8 feet tall or even shorter Ruby at 3-5 feet tall.

October 2015

Is it too late to trim loropetalum? I have two that are way too tall for their place (next to our deck), and I’d love to trim them back 3 or 4 feet right now. However, if it is too late we’ll just wait until spring.

Loropetalum have set flower buds now for a spring display. If you prune them now, they will not bloom well in the spring—but the past two springs we did not have great blooming due to winter damage. That is another reason I would hesitate to prune this late. Pruning too much now will expose more of the plant to winter damage, should we have a cold one. If possible wait to prune until after bloom in the spring.

September 2012

We have several loropetalums and have thus far have only pruned them when animals have broken limbs. We like the wild, natural look of the bushes, but they are getting a bit out of hand. Can you please give us tips on when and how much to prune them? We do not want to risk pruning at the wrong time and hindering flower production.

Loropetalums are beginning to have some blooms on them right now, but their main bloom period is early spring. Immediately after bloom is when they should be pruned, if needed. Some varieties can get quite large. Many of the early varieties that were supposed to get no larger than 4-5 feet, are small trees now, so prune heavily if they are overgrown. You can also move them to an area where they can grow large, and opt for new varieties that are smaller at maturity.

April 2012

We have a hedge of loropetalum plants across the front of our house. Every spring, after bloom, we trim them back; however, we need to trim again late July, early August which allows for only a few blooms. How severe should these plants be cut back and when?

I think the problem you are having is that when you prune after bloom, you prune to the exact size or height you are looking for, which allows no room for new growth—thus the need to reprune in late summer. For all spring blooming plants, I say no pruning after June 15. These spring bloomers set their flower buds in late summer/early fall. Pruning in late July and August doesn’t allow enough recovery time for new growth, and thus, less flowers. Cut them back after bloom more severely than you think, allowing room for the new seasons growth. Then don’t prune again until next spring, after bloom.

March 2012

We are searching for replacement evergreen trees where dead Leyland Cypress had been removed from our backyard. They had been a screen between our house and a neighbor. We would like to have something that won’t get over 10 to 12 feet in height, that will remain green year-round and that will allow flowering plants between them and the front of the bed and still provide the screen against the chain link fence between houses. The bed is approximately 25 – 30 feet in length and 8 – 15 feet wide. The trees will face the South (our house faces East) so will get at least 6 hours of full sun daily. We would appreciate your suggestions for that space. We have seen so many evergreens labeled “emerald green arborvitae” but according to the information can grow as high as 60 feet and 6 – 8 feet wide. Can those that are said to grow so tall be trimmed back in height as they grow? Thank you for any information to assist us in making our decision.

If all you want is a plant that gets 10-12 feet tall, then choose a plant that has that as its maximum height. Especially if you plant something like the green giant arborvitae that can reach 60 feet tall, you will have to constantly prune, which makes a large hedge a constant work in progress. Some better choices include the Nelly R Stevens holly, cleyera, winter honeysuckle, or even one of the loropetalum varieties. Some varieties grow taller than 12 feet, others much shorter.

February 2012

Can I prune back my loropetalum now? They have really gotten large.

My loropetalum are blooming, and have been off and on since December. Normally, they are an early spring bloomer and should be pruned after they finish flowering. If you think yours have finished blooming, or you don’t mind losing blooms, you can prune them, but I would hold off a month or two.

March 2012

My home in Colony West faces west and the front beds are empty now that all of the original azaleas have passed away. They were planted in 1970 and extended along the 60 foot front of the bed. There are four large Pine trees directly centered in the front and one very large Pine tree at the southern most part of the front of the house. At the north end of the house is a rather large Holly bush (tree), perhaps standing 10 feet tall. Originally, Holly was placed at each end of the front bed to anchor the beds and the Azaleas residing along the length of the bed. I need your recommendation on a plant/tree/shrub selection and your ideas regarding planting, soil addition, etc. I need something hardy that will last. Also, do you think the plants/shrubs/trees sold by the big box stores like are very safe? I think a local nursery would be safer in the long run regarding the viability and health issues of native plants, etc.

You do need a basic grouping of evergreen plants so that you have something that is green year-round, but adding some deciduous plants can give you great color in the summer. While your yard faces west, it sounds like the pine trees shade it from intense sun. If you like azaleas, by all means replace some. There are numerous plants that you can choose from and diversity is good. I like to have something blooming in every season. Possibly sasanqua camellias for winter, azaleas and loropetalums for spring color and Itea and buddleia for summer blooms. Take pictures of your front yard and do a sketch of your yard on graph paper. Take that to your local nursery and they can help you plan how many plants you need and can give you other options. You don’t have to buy everything from a nursery, but if there are specific plants or varieties you want, independent nurseries usually have better selections.

November 2011

We need some suggestions or ideas for an evergreen barrier that will get to 3-4 ft tall in pm sun on the south and west side of our yard. We want to run this about 100 ft long. Water is no problem. Types and spacing ideas would be greatly appreciated.

There are a wide range of plants that stay in the 3-4 foot range including compacta hollies, loropetalum—both green leafed and purple leafed (check variety height), Indian hawthorne, boxwoods and even nandinas. All will take full sun. For a denser hedge, stagger the planting in a zigzag pattern instead of in a straight row.

June 2010

I live in Maumelle and have about ten loropetalum shrubs. They have been planted for four years. I want to move two of them. The two that I need to move are about six feet tall and about six feet across. They are growing into our tulip tree. I could prune one or the other, but I believe I planted them too close together and this will be a recurring problem. Have I waited too long to move them?

I would prefer you wait until fall or early next spring. We had a glorious spring this year but we are heading into our warmest months, and moving a plant now will be stressful to the plant. If you absolutely must move them do so as soon as possible and water, water, water. The plants will wilt daily for probably a good two to three weeks or more until the roots begin to re-establish themselves. As large as the plants are it will be hard for a severed root system to keep up. If you can move them while they are dormant, the roots have a chance to re-establish themselves while the tops are not actively growing.

April 2009

My loropetalum have gotten too large despite trimming each quarter. I did not plant the smaller version and they are too large as foundations plants. Is there a way to trim them that retains their natural flowing look? When I trim them they look like balls!

Actually, I had the same problem with one in my front landscape. Even with severe pruning many Loropetalum chinense, or Chinese witch-hazel plants continued to outgrow their location, and pruning will be an annual chore. While there are methods to prune more naturally, the larger loropetalums will constantly require more and more pruning, if they are needed at a diminutive height. Constant pruning will impact the number of flowers you have. You have a few options. I tree-formed mine, limbing up all the lower branches to expose the main trunk. This allows me to see out my window and gives me a beautiful flowering small tree, which needs little pruning, except to remove interior suckers each year. I was surprised at how beautiful the bark is. Another option would be to move these larger varieties to a location where they can grow at will, and plant some of the true dwarf loropetalum varieties like ‘Purple Pixie’.

May 2008

I have a loropetalum that is eight years old and about nine feet tall and wide. It is planted out in the open yard with full sun. It has done wonderfully over the years and flowers profusely in the spring. It is misshapen and needs to be trimmed badly. When can I trim and how much can I cut back? It has never been trimmed. Thank you for your help.

There are numerous varieties of loropetalums and some of them can get out of control, both in size and width. If pruning is needed, try to do it as soon as possible. Loropetalum, or Fringe flower as it is often called, bloom early in the spring with sporadic displays of flowers throughout the summer. You want to allow plenty of time for the plant to recover so prune as soon after flowering as possible, or no later than late June. You can take it back by more than a half or more if needed, but on average try not to remove more than a third of the plant at one pruning.

July 2010

Is it too late to drastically prune azaleas without interfering with their blooming next spring? Same question about loropetalums.

I prefer to get the pruning done as soon after flowering in the spring as possible on both plants so they can recover and set plenty of flower buds in late August-September. June was so miserably hot that it did not encourage a lot of new growth. Usually July is not a great month for new growth due to heat, humidity and lack of rainfall. It all depends on the summer. Severe pruning is definitely out of the question, but even light pruning is discouraged past mid June, especially if it is really hot. If you can, wait until next spring. If you have to prune do as little as possible and do so ASAP and keep up with water needs.

April 2005

My loropetalums seem to bloom all summer. When should they be trimmed back? They are already in full bloom. Also, what are the white trees blooming now that you see out in the woods when you drive down a highway?

While loropetalums can have scattered blooms throughout the season, their peak bloom is now. They are loaded with blooms. Prune only if needed, after this period of bloom. The trees in the woods could either be wild plums or serviceberry trees. Dogwoods are just beginning.

April 2005

My loropetalums seem to bloom all summer. When should they be trimmed back? They are already in full bloom. Also, what are the white trees blooming now that you see out in the woods when you drive down a highway?

While loropetalums can have scattered blooms throughout the season, their peak bloom is now. They are loaded with blooms. Prune only if needed, after this period of bloom. The trees in the woods could either be wild plums or serviceberry trees. Dogwoods are just beginning.

January 2006

The front of our home faces southwest and receives full afternoon sun in the summer. There is a raised bed that contains a crepe myrtle surrounded by compacta holly. I recently removed a Japanese maple the previous owner had planted in the same bed. Size wise it was dwarfed by the crepe myrtle and temperature wise it baked all summer. I considered another crepe myrtle but wanted something evergreen to provide some winter color / interest and shelter for birds. There is good but not deep soil in the bed and it is irrigated. The plant would be in front of a brick wall that radiates heat from the summer sun. I would like something that would grow to 15 to 20′ and not more than 10-12′ in diameter. I have considered several tree form hollies. Is there a particular variety you would recommend or some other type of ornamental tree / shrub that thrives in full sun and heat?

You were wise to move the Japanese maple. They don’t thrive in afternoon sun, especially during a particularly hot summer. There are several options for you. A multi-trunked yaupon holly can be nice, or the deciduous holly–while not evergreen, the berries give good winter color. A Little Gem southern magnolia is a nice smaller evergreen plant with fantastic white summer blooms. If left unchecked it can grow taller, but it is a slow grower and quite compact when young. A large shrub which if left to grow could become tree-like that is gaining in popularity is the Loropetalum. It is evergreen with purple foliage year-round, loves the sun and has bright pink spring flowers.

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From Green to Purple: How to revive your Loropetalum

Loropetalum, an evergreen shrub of Chinese origin with a lushly weeping character, comes in a vibrant range of foliage colors from a bright lime green to the deepest, darkest of purples. They are easy to grow, tolerate a wide range of soils and landscape conditions, and the ones with purple foliage add a vivid pop of color alongside traditional green foundation plants.

Yet sometimes things don’t go as planned, and your deliciously purple fringe flower may start to turn green. There are a few reasons for this, most, which can be addressed by working the soil or moving the plant to a more appropriate location. Read on to discover what to do if your purple Loropetalum – well – isn’t.

Too much shade
While Loropetalums are amenable to partial shade, the deep shade directly under a tree or on the north side of your home can be a little too dark for the plant to look its best. The purple foliage color is caused by anthocyanin, a pigment that is produced when the plant is in the sun. If you live in a mild coastal climate, give your Loropetalums a half-day of sun, whether in the morning or the afternoon. If you live in a hotter inland climate, morning sun is ideal to give your fringe flower enough time to soak up the sunshine and color up, without causing stress.

Too much intense heat
While it may sound strange that either too much shade or too much heat can cause the same problem, the pigment production in Loropetalum is inhibited by extreme heat, especially in many older varieties, which have not been bred to hold their purple color effectively. If you live in a climate where it gets very hot, plant your Loropetalum on the east side of your home where it will receive just a few hours of direct morning sun. Keep it shaded during the hottest parts of the afternoon, and it should recover from heat stress and color up again.

Soil is too alkaline
Fringe flowers are generally pretty relaxed about soil conditions, and can tolerate a variety of soil types. However, the wrong pH can make it hard for plants to take up the nutrients they need to put on new, healthy growth. Loropetalum varieties all prefer acidic soil with a pH between six and seven. If you do a soil test and find that your soil is alkaline, apply granular sulfur or cottonseed meal, amend the soil with sustainably sourced peat moss, or top dress with a layer of pine needles, whichever is most easily available to you.

Lack of nutrients
Another problem that can cause greening in fringe flowers is a lack of nutrients. Many older varieties of Loropetalum have the deepest purple color in their new growth, and the old foliage gradually becomes more green. If your Loropetalum is experiencing some kind of stress to where it hasn’t been growing actively, consider applying an organic all-purpose fertilizer to stimulate a gentle flush of new growth all over the shrub. The new growth will be a more vivid shade of purple than the older leaves.

Wrong variety
Unfortunately, many older varieties of purple fringe flower weren’t bred to the same exacting standards they are today. Many are purple in spring when the new growth emerges, but gradually turn a dull bronze green as the season goes on.

Try these new varieties
If you are doing everything right for your Loropetalum and it’s still not staying purple, consider trying one of the newer varieties, which has been specifically bred to stay a gorgeously deep purple-black color all season long.

Purple Diamond® Semi-dwarf Loropetalum is a compact shrub to about 4 feet tall, and is so purple that when you transplant it, you may even notice the roots are tinted purple! Because it’s a more moderate grower than older varieties of Loropetalum, it’s easier to fit into your landscape without having to prune.

Purple Pixie® Dwarf Weeping Loropetalum is the only low-growing fringe flower out there, and it’s perfect for cascading down the side of a container or hiding a retaining wall. It reaches about 1 foot tall and 4 feet wide, and also makes a great groundcover in the garden.

Fringe flowers are a relatively trouble-free plant and provide a dramatic weeping form and color in the landscape. By choosing the right varieties, giving them just enough sunshine, and making sure your soil is in balance, you’ll have a long and happy relationship with these stylish, easy-care shrubs.

Loropetalum (Loropetalum chinense), also known as Chinese fringe-flower, is a member of the Witchhazel family (Hamamelidaceae). The genus name, Loropetalum, is derived from the Greek words for strap and petal, and refers to the long, thin petals of its fringe-like blooms. While native to China, Japan and the Himalayas, loropetalum is well-adapted to all regions of South Carolina.

The fringe-like blossoms of Loropetalum chinense provided the inspiration for both the common and genus names.
Joey Williamson, ©2009 HGIC, Clemson Extension

The masses of vibrant, fuchsia-pink blossoms and deep purple leaves of Loropetalum chinense var. rubrum Purple Diamond™ make it easy to understand the increased popularity of this shrub.
Joey Williamson, ©2012 HGIC, Clemson Extension

The green-leafed, white-flowered species was introduced to the U.S. in 1880, but was not generally known until the purple-leafed, pink-flowering forms were introduced in the late 1980s/early 1990s. Since that time, these plants with their masses of blooms from mid-March through mid-April, and scattered blossoms during the rest of the season, have become justifiably very popular.

Mature Height/Spread/Form

Loropetalum chinense is an evergreen shrub that generally grows to a height of 10 to 15 feet with a similar to somewhat smaller width. However, it is capable of greater height as evidenced by the 100-year-old specimens in Aiken that are 35 feet tall. It has a loose, slightly open habit and a roughly rounded to vase-shaped form with a medium-fine texture. The simple, finely toothed to entire (smooth-edged) leaves are 1- to 2½-inches long and arranged alternately on somewhat arching branches. The white to off-white or pink flowers are about one-inch long with petals that are 1/16th-inch wide. Generally, 3 to 6 blooms are clustered at the tips of shoots as well as in leaf axils.

Growth Rate

The growth rate on upright, taller cultivars is medium to fast.

Landscape Use

Loropetalums show excellent versatility in the landscape. They are attractive when grown in clusters or mixed screens as well as foundation plantings, single specimens, espaliers and bonsai. They make attractive hedges, but lose their naturally graceful form if heavily pruned. When limbed up, they form lovely, small trees.

Loropetalum chinense var. rubrum may be planted close to form a hedge.
Joey Williamson, ©2009 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Loropetalum can be an effective groundcover, but may require periodic removal of vertical stems. Low-growing forms are being selected for this purpose.

In full bloom, the many cultivars of the pink-flowering variety are showy eye-catchers. The white-flowers of the species tend to be less visible against the leaves from a distance, but are very attractive when viewed up close. Individually, the purple-leafed forms provide a good contrast to both green and golden foliage plants and are a superior replacement to thorny, red barberry shrubs.

Cultivation

Loropetalums are cold hardy in USDA zones 7-10 and require minimal maintenance. Transplanting easily from containers, their preferred growing conditions include sun to partial shade (especially afternoon shade) and moist, well-drained, acidic soil with plenty of organic matter. They benefit from being mulched. Once established, they are very tolerant of drought conditions. Loropetalums respond well to a light application of slow-release fertilizer in early April and again in mid-May.

Loropetalum chinense may be limbed up to form small trees.
Karen Russ, ©2009 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Planted in the right location, they do not require pruning; however, they tolerate even heavy pruning very well. When necessary, prune in the spring after bloom so as not to reduce flowering the following spring.

Problems

Normally, loropetalums have few serious pest or disease problems. However, root rot can be an issue, especially in poorly drained soils. In addition, leaves may become chlorotic (yellow) in alkaline (pH greater than 7.0) soil. Recently, however, a bacterial gall disease (caused by the bacterium Pseudomonas savastanoi) has been found on loropetalums in SC. Inspect and avoid buying plants with galls. These dark-colored galls on branches may cause branch dieback or plant death. Prune the branches several inches below the galls, and dispose of the prunings. Disinfest the pruners between cuts by dipping in 10% bleach solution, or spray pruners with rubbing alcohol. Loropetalums are relatively deer resistant.

Varieties & Cultivars

Numerous cultivars are available, and new cultivars continue to be released. With the speed of its commercialization, some confusion exists as to how many of the cultivars are, in actuality, different from each other. Regardless, the good news for consumers is that several cultivars are available with plenty of variation in leaf color, flower color and growth form, providing a loropetalum to suit a variety of purposes in sunny to partly shady landscapes. In excessive shade, they may not flower.

Pink-Flowering Forms:

Loropetalum chinense var. rubrum: Depending on the cultivar, this maroon- to red-purple-leafed variety has blossoms that range from pink to fuchsia to reddish pink. Height and width varies by cultivar, of which there are many.

  • ‘Blush’: Along with ‘Burgundy’, it is one of the original two introductions of var. rubrum. Its growth habit is more compact and denser than ‘Burgundy’. New growth is a bronze-red that matures to an olive-green. Flower color is fuchsia pink. There are 5-10 blossoms in a cluster and peak bloom time occurs in April with additional blooms occurring sporadically during the rest of the growing season. It reaches approximately 8 feet tall and wide. It has also been labeled as ‘Razzleberri’ (‘Monraz’).
  • ‘Burgundy’: New leaves are reddish purple, but turn a purplish green to dark olive green as they mature. In autumn, the oldest leaves turn orange-red to red. Clusters of 4-7 hot pink flowers are produced most prolifically in spring and then sporadically throughout the growing season. It reaches a height of 6-10 feet with a similar width.
  • ‘Carolina Midnight’: This is a large, evergreen, upright-growing shrub that may reach 10 to 12 feet tall and 8 to 12 feet wide. The flowers are deep fushia-pink, and the plant has deep purple foliage. It can be grown as a tall hedge with plants spaced 6 feet apart, or it may be limbed up as a small tree. Individual plants in the landscape should be spaced 8 to 12 feet apart.
  • ‘Darkfire’: This mid-sized cultivar has very deep dark foliage that remains purple even during the heat of the summer. Plant size is 5 to 6 feet tall and wide. The flowers are pink.
  • ‘Daruma’: This dwarf cultivar grows to 2 to 5 feet tall and 3 to 5 feet wide. The flowers are bright pink and the foliage is a deep plum color.
  • Ever Red® (‘Chang Nian Hong’): Its leaves are a dark burgundy color that persists through the summer. Its flowers are the reddest of this variety. Mature height is approximately 5 feet tall with a similar width.
  • Jazz Hands® Dwarf Pink (‘Kurenai’, PP#27,750): This dwarf cultivar grows 12 to 26 inches tall by 36 inches wide with a mounding habit. The flowers are very dark pink, and foliage is purple with a cranberry undercurrent. Cultivar introduced by Proven Winners.

Ever Red® (L. chinense var. rubrum ‘Chang Nian Hong’ has dark red flowers.
Joey Williamson, ©2016 HGIC, Clemson Extension

  • Little Rose Dawn™ (‘GriffCRL’ PP#16,615): This cultivar originated as a sport from ‘Ruby’ loropetalum, and is more compact, more spreading, and a profuse bloomer with dark pink flowers. Mature height is approximately 8 to 10 feet tall.
  • Pizazz®: Flowers are plum purple on this 6 to 8 foot tall by 6 to 8 foot wide shrub. New foliage opens a reddish-purple and becomes dark purple at maturity.
  • Plum Delight® (‘Hines Purpleleaf’): This cultivar grows to 6 to 8 feet tall and wide. The flowers are dark pink and the foliage emerges rose-purple and matures bronze-purple.
  • Purple Daydream (‘PPI’ PP#25471): This dwarf cultivar has vibrant pink flowers and dark purple foliage. Grows to 2 to 3 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide.
  • Purple Diamond® (‘Shang-hi’ PP#18331): The leaves of this loropetalum are an intense, deep purple that lasts through the summer and provides an eye-catching contrast to its vibrant pink flowers. Mature height is approximately 4 to 5 feet tall with a similar width.
  • Purple Pixie™ (‘Peack’ PP#18441): As with Purple Diamond™, the leaves are an intense, deep purple, and blooms are a vibrant, hot pink. However, the mature height is 1 to 2 feet with a spread of 4 to 5 feet. New growth tends to be ascending, but over time cascades downward. It is well suited for use as a groundcover, a container plant, or cascading over a wall.

Purple Pixie™ (Loropetalum chinense var. rubrum) is a spreading groundcover with deep purple foliage.
Joey Williamson, ©2012 HGIC, Clemson Extension

  • Red Diamond™ (‘Shang-Red’): This mid-sized cultivar grows to 6 feet tall and 6 feet wide, and has vivid red flowers and dark burgundy foliage.
  • ‘Ruby’: This is a compact shrub that grows to 3 to 5 feet tall and wide. The flowers are bright pink; the foliage begins reddish-burgundy and matures to a hunter green.
  • ‘Zhuzhou Fuchsia’: The leaves of this cultivar are a distinctive blackish maroon color that persists through the summer. It has deep pink blooms, an upright habit and is a good choice for training as a standard (tree form) or espalier. It reaches 10 to 20 feet tall and is the most cold hardy of the pink-flowering forms.

White-Flowering Forms:

  • Carolina Moonlight™ (‘NC1002’ PP#18977): This dense, compact shrub is wider than it is tall, generally reaching 3 to 4 feet tall while spreading 4 to 5 feet. It is a prolific bloomer from late winter to early spring and then flowers sporadically throughout the season.
  • Jazz Hands® Dwarf White (‘Hakuou’, PP#27,751): This smaller cultivar grows 12 to 36 inches tall with a 36-inch spread, and plants have a mounded habit. The flowers are white, and the foliage is green. Cultivar introduced by Proven Winners.
  • Emerald Snow® (‘Shang-White’ PP#21738): This white-flowers cultivar has green foliage, but new growth is lime-green. Grows 4 feet tall by 4 feet wide.
  • Snow Muffin® (‘Snowmound’ PP#11766): It is characterized by dense, procumbent growth habit when young. It develops into a roundish mound as it ages, maintaining its dense growth habit. New leaves are light green, maturing to dark olive green. Its white flowers are abundant from late winter to spring. Mature height is from 1 to 3 feet with a width of 2 to 3 feet.

Note: All cultivated varieties of plants have cultivar names by which they are known and sold. However, a few cultivated plants have both a cultivar name and a trademark name. For these plants, the trademark name is the recognized name for consumers to use in searching for and buying the plants. For trademarked plants, the cultivar name will be either a few letters & numbers or a nonsensical name in single quotes that is completely unimportant for the consumer or landscaper. They are included here simply because they are the official assigned cultivar names. Plant breeders do this so that if someone propagates the plant without permission, they will have to call it by the cultivar name, which no one will recognize.

At long last, this wearying winter is nearing its end, but not before leaving a trail of broken limbs and browned foliage. Ice and heavy snow (and snow again) have snapped branches and even entire trees, but as late winter creeps into spring the pressing issue is figuring what is alive from branches or entire plants that are destined for the compost heap. The primary concerns are evergreens with leaves or needles that are partially or entirely brown, and how can we differentiate the living from the dead? What plants can be salvaged, and what can be done to rejuvenate them this spring?

In some instances there is no quick or simple answer. There will be plants that are best left alone until spring growth (or the lack of) determines what is alive or dead, but we can fairly easily check the viability of branches to make an initial determination. Evergreens with foliage that is completely brown might be alive and well worth salvaging, and even a few shrubs that are dead to the ground can rejuvenate from live roots. The first step is to determine if branches are alive, and this will direct us to the next steps.

The scratch test

The health of many plants can be determined by simply scratching the bark of branches with a fingernail or a knife. Most often, green wood means that a plant is alive, regardless of the state of the foliage, and in most cases plants with live stems will force new growth in the spring to replace browned foliage. Shrubs such as nandinas (Nandina domestica, below) are classified as semi-evergreen, and these routinely turn brown and drop leaves in a cold winter. Even though temperatures were colder than average this winter, the lows were not extreme, and there is no reason to expect that nandinas will suffer any long term damage. New growth in April will replace the dead and browned leaves, and several weeks later there will be no evidence of winter injury. No pruning should be necessary to return nandinas and similar shrubs to good health this spring.

In the photo (below), there is no evidence of green foliage or wood on branches of this ‘Purple Diamond’ loropetalum (Loropetalum chinensis ‘Purple Diamond’). Branch tips were scratched first, and as brown wood was discovered I progressed further to the interior branches. Even if roots are alive it is unlikely that this marginally cold hardy shrub will grow sufficiently to revive within the next few years. I expect that the loropetalum is dead, but in my garden, only a few marginal shrubs appear to have died, including several varieties of gardenia (Gardenia augusta) and loropetalum that were well established through recent mild winters. I figure that I’ll have no choice but to remove these in the coming weeks, and I’ll decide later whether to gamble on replanting the same varieties.

In the next photo (above) a woody shrub has been scratched to reveal green wood. I’ve checked several varieties of daphne (Daphne odora , below, and Daphne x burkwoodi ‘Carol Mackie’), and green under the bark confirms that these shrubs are likely to be fine once new growth commences. It remains questionable whether the daphnes will flower as usual (I suspect they will not), but I’m confident they will survive. I’ve seen the same situation with Southern magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora), Gordlinia (Gordlinia grandiflora), Camellias, and a few hollies (Ilex spp). Each has brown leaves, but live bark, so I expect no long term problem.

Dead branch tips

After scratching branches of several shrubs, I’ve determined that the body of the plant is green, but some branch tips are dead. This isn’t unusual, and the remedy is fairly simple. I typically wait until new growth sprouts, and then I prune dead wood back to the point of the first green leaves. Some shrubs, such as Beautyberry (Callicarpa), Blue Mist shrub (Caryopteris) and Butterfly bush (Buddleia) experience this annually, whether temperatures are above average or below.

Branch tips on soft wooded mophead hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) regularly die back in cold winters, and depending on the variety they might still flower normally in late spring. Older varieties (such as the popular ‘Nikko Blue’) flower on last year’s growth, so if the branch tips die and are pruned, this year’s flower buds are also removed. Recent introductions such as Endless Summer flower on both old and new wood, so these will flower as usual, although perhaps a week later.

What to do

In many cases, the best action will be to do nothing at all until the answers are more clear. Brown leaves will fall off, and new growth will happen in late March or April. Occasionally, crapemyrtles (Lagerstroemia) will not leaf out until early May, but for most trees and shrubs we’ll have a clear picture whether they’re alive or dead in the next six weeks.

If you confirm by scratching bark that branches are dead, there’s no need to wait for spring growth. Prune back to the nearest live branch or lateral growth bud. In the case of gardenias or loropetalums (or other evergreens that were planted late in the autumn and have turned brown), if these are completely brown and scratched wood is dead there is probably no reason to prolong the agony. But, don’t give up on an evergreen just because its foliage is brown. Scratch the bark to make certain. Otherwise, you might be giving up on a plant that would be perfectly healthy a month later.

In fact, there will be much less damage to plants than many people expect. Temperatures were not far below our average lows, and even though the winter was much colder than any in recent memory, this should not be cause for plants to fail to survive. Perennials and deciduous shrubs and trees are unlikely to effected, and I expect that by mid spring there will be little evidence of this brutal winter.

Fertilize, or not?

There should be no reason to provide any extra care for winter damaged shrubs beyond pruning dead wood. If we experience a spring drought, watering will be helpful, but fertilizing should not be necessary. There should be adequate nutrient levels in most soils to support spring growth, and excess fertilizer can damage stressed plants. For plants that appear to be growing vigorously in the spring a mild dose of fertilizer is not likely to hurt, and a topdress of compost will rarely be a problem.

So, for now, sit back and don’t be too concerned by the brown leaves. In a few weeks more typical spring temperatures will return, and you’re likely to see swelling buds and new growth that will assure you that damage from the cold is far less than you expected.

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