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SKIMMIA

A WONDERFUL WINTER SHADE PLANTSarcococca

Handsome dark green leaves; showy white spring flowers and attractive bright red berries combine to make skimmia an ideal plant for the winter shade garden. Because there are several varieties which have varying growth habits, skimmia's are especially nice plants for borders, foundation plantings, spot color in the landscape or to use in containers.

Skimmia has a compact, bushy growth habit and the dark green foliage provides an excellent background for the showy flowers and berries. Cut branches with berries are sometimes used as a substitute for holly, during the holiday season. The cut branches can also be used in flower arrangements, with berries or flowers or as a filler.

LOCATION

An evergreen, the plant should be grown in full shade or part sun and shade, yet probably 90 percent of the plants growing in gardens around the northwest are situated in full sun. The foliage of such plants is often an off-color yellow-green which destroys their beauty. If you have a skimmia planted in the wrong location in your garden, right now during the dormant season is a good time to move it to a more suitable spot.

Choose a spot in the shade garden where the soil is well drained. I think you will find that the best display is achieved when three or more plants are clustered together. Offset the plants in a diamond pattern so they will provide a nice spot of color.

PLANTING

Like Rhododendrons, Azaleas and camellias it's important to plant Skimmia right at ground level. If the plants are set too deeply into the soil they will not flower. So be sure the top of the root ball is level with soil surface. Then be careful not to cover over the root ball with bark, sawdust or other mulching materials.

As you prepare the planting hole it is a good practice to mix peat moss; compost or processed manure with your existing soil. Remember planting time is the only time you can get organic humus right into the root zone, and by properly preparing the soil, it will encourage better top growth and a healthier plant.

FEEDING

Although Skimmia does not require heavy feeding, it will benefit from an occasional application

of a rhododendron type fertilizer. When to feed, can be determined by the appearance of the foliage, if the plant is bright healthy green, delay fertilization. However, if growth is stunted or foliage is an off-color green, then feeding should take place. The best time to feed skimmia is in late winter or late spring. Apply according to label instructions, and be sure to water-in the fertilizer, after application.

PRUNING

Skimmia is one of those plants that has a neat compact habit-of-growth and seldom needs pruning of any kind. If you find that a plant does require trimming, the winter dormant season is a good time to do it. Trimming at that time provides cut branches for holiday decorating. The spring months of March, April or May are also ideal for pruning. Simply prune back any leggy growth, to create a nice symmetrical habit of growth.

VARIETIES

The two varieties generally grown here are japonica and reevesiana. So here are a few things you should know about each one:

Skimmia japonica. This variety needs a male pollinizer in order to set berries. Male plants are slightly larger than female plants, attaining heights of up to five feet at maturity. They have much large flower cluster too.

Female plants bear berries when a male pollinizing plant is present. Flowers in the early stages of bloom may be tinged pink, but soon open white and are fragrant. Oval shaped leaves are two to four inches long. In addition to the red berried varieties, there is one that produces white berries.

Skimmia reevesiana. A very attractive dwarf variety that seldom attains a height of over two feet, and a width of two to three feet. The major benefit of this variety is that it is self-pollinating, so only one plant is needed set berries. Fragrant white flowers are followed by the late fall and early winter red berries.

In the past, some nursery firms and specialty growers have developed other varieties under their own trade names. If you choose one, just be sure to find-out if it needs a pollinizer to set berries.

PROBLEMS

If you have a plant in your garden that is not bearing berries, one of the following could be the cause:

1) The plant is a 'Male' non-bearing variety.

2) The plant is a 'Female' that needs a pollinizing plant nearby.

3) The plant is planted too deeply, and needs to be raised in the soil. Remember the plant must flower, before it can set berries.

Here in the northwest Skimmia is also susceptible to spider mite damage. This is most often noticed by a white or yellow discoloration of the leaves. If this occurs I suggest you take a magnifying glass and look for the miniature spider-mites on the under-sides of the leaves. This pest can usually be controlled by an environmentally friendly, refined oil spray.

PROPAGATION

New plants are often started by tip cuttings. The cuttings are started in a greenhouse in either mid-summer or during the winter dormant season months of November thru February. Used a starting media of 50% fresh water sand and 50% peat moss. Keep rooting media temperatures at approximately 70 degrees.

Skimmia is an ideal evergreen to add to the garden for bright winter color. The leaves, flowers and berries are attractive in the garden, plus the cut branches can be used to brighten up the home.

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