FOLIAGE A RAINBOW OF COLOR IN THE GARDEN
Foliage, flowers, texture and shape all play an important part in choosing any plant for the garden. Here in the Pacific Northwest we are very fortunate to have several plants that feature all of these characteristics and the 'Rainbow' leucothoe is one of those plants. This evergreen is easy to grow and quite versatile as a garden shrub. At the Hume household it's a favorite because of its versatility in the garden, excellent variegated leaves and white spring flowers, which are ideal to cut for floral arrangements.
We have two plants in our garden and I doubt that they will ever reach full height at maturity, because my wife is constantly cutting branches so she can use the greens as fillers in arrangements. What makes the leaves so desirable is the showy combination of leaf variegation, which is in shades of green, pink, cream, and bronze. The bronze becomes even more noticeable in the autumn. In the garden the attractive leaves tend to add a bright spot of leaf color when used among other evergreen and deciduous plants.
Flowers appear in drooping clusters along the branch and are somewhat similar to the flowers of the Lily-of-the-valley perennial or Pieris shrub.
Unfortunately leucothoe catesbaei 'Rainbow', is not very well known so it is often over-looked by both homeowners and professional landscapers. It can be used very successfully in several parts of the garden, but is most effective when used in a spot where there is an evergreen background. Since this variety generally grows about four to five feet high, it makes an ideal plant to use in borders, foundation plantings or in combination shrub plantings. I have one growing against a fence in a semi-sunny spot and the other is growing in full sun, but it is surrounded by other shrubs. I must admit, if we get one or two really hot summer days the sun may burn the leaves a little. So a semi-sunny location, with protection from the hot mid-day sun is the best spot to plant them.
All varieties of leucothoe often have a tendency to grow a little spindly, so pruning will help create a bushier neater appearing plant. So to cut back some of the branches for flower arranging is really beneficial in properly shaping the plant. Pruning can be done at any time, but is most beneficial in creating a bushy plant, if it is done in March, April or early May, as the new growth begins in springtime.
Plant leucothoe in a spot where the soil is well drained. If you have clay or hardpan type soil, plants should be planted on a burme (raised soil) to help provide better drainage. If a mulch of bark is used at the base of the plant, be certain to use it very sparingly under the plant, as this is one plant that likes to be planted shallow like rhododendrons, camellias, azaleas and heather.
SOIL PREPARATION FOR PLANTING
I am a great believer in properly preparing the soil for planting. So here's my recommendations: Mix generous amounts of peat moss; compost (if available) or you can usually buy it by the bag, or well rotted manure (processed is all right too) with your existing soil. Be sure to keep the mix about two-thirds of the existing soil and only one-third of the additives.
Prepare the planting hole about twice as wide and deep as the root ball. Place the plant at the same depth as it was previously planted. Then puddle thoroughly with water, unless the soil is already quite wet.
Container grown plants can be transplanted into the garden at anytime, as long as the ground is not frozen.
This plant family requires an acid soil, so the plants should be fed with a rhododendron type fertilizer. They are not heavy feeders, so fertilize them as needed. You can tell when the plants need feeding by the color and health of the leaves. Late winter or late spring are the two best times to feed them. If you use a dry type granular fertilizer, be certain to water-it-in, immediately after application so there is no chance of the fertilizer burning the surface roots of the plant. Do not spread the fertilizer up under the plant, apply it from the drip-line outward. Read and follow label instructions.
If you have an established plant in the garden that needs to be relocated, the best time to move it would be during the winter dormant season months of November through February. Follow the same transplanting procedures you would when planting out a new plant.
New plants can be started from cuttings or by separating underground stems that often develop. Remove the underground stems in the late fall or winter. The best time to take cuttings is during the months of July and August, or November through February. Take tip cuttings only about four inches long.
Use vermiculite or sand and peat moss as the starting medium.
Each year, leucothoe 'Rainbow' becomes a little easier to find. However, if you cannot find it at your favorite garden outlet, simply ask them if they can order one for you. Many major northwest growers are now featuring this plant in their selection.
INSECTS AND DISEASES
We have never experienced any problems with these plants in the last twenty years that we have had them in our gardens. However, I am told that spidermites occasionally can be a problem. If this occurs simply use an environmentally friendly product like horticultural refined-oil to help keep them under control. Read