AN ATTRACTIVE SPRING FLOWERING SHRUB
Spring is one of the most beautiful times in the northwest garden. Now as the spring bulbs, and early flowering trees and shrubs burst into bloom, there is one of several broadleaf shrubs that really stands out, and that is the Lily-of-the-Valley shrub, Pieris japonica, sometimes referred to as 'Andromeda'. It's showy cascading white, pink or red flowers and colorful new growth, provides a rich show of color along with the rhododendrons, camellias and other spring flowering shrubs.
The showy cascading flowers are followed by colorful new foliage growth, which varies by variety, from bronze, brilliant pink to scarlet. Then as the new evergreen leaves mature, they turn bright dark green. The flower buds develop in late autumn, covering the plant until they burst into bloom in earliest spring.
In recent years there has been the introduction of several new varieties. Some of which have a more compact growth habit and do not grow as tall as the standard variety of Pieris japonica. Others feature new growth in brilliant shades of white, pink, red and scarlet. All are named varieties.
USES IN THE LANDSCAPE
Lily-of-the-Valley shrub has almost unlimited uses in the landscape. They are often used in plantings of rhododendrons, azaleas, and camellias. However, the plants are very showy in shrub borders or when used as foundation shrubs around the home. At our home we have them in mixed shrub plantings with quince, forsythia and spirea. Then we base planted them with the spring flowering tulips, daffodils and hyacinths. In another spot we have Pieris planted with Viburnum tinus (laurestinus) and the two flower beautifully at the same time. In this planting these two shrubs are base planted with early flowering rhododendrons and azaleas, creating quite a spring floral display. They are also very attractive when base planted with the colorful winter flowering heather.
Pieris shrubs grow and flower best when planted in full sun or partial sun and shade. They will grow in full shade, but generally do not flower as well and the new foliage growth is usually not as brilliant. Be sure to provide good drainage for the plants. The soil in which they are grown should contain a high content of organic humus. This can be added at planting time, in the form of peat moss, compost or processed (bagged well-rotted) manure.
A FEW OF MY FAVORITE VARIETIES
Pieris 'Forest Flame': New growth is brilliant scarlet red, often mixed with lighter shell pink leaves. I think the new foliage growth which appears after the white flowers, is as attractive as the flowers. This one is a cross between the japonica and forrestii types. Grows up to 6 to 8 feet.
Pieris 'Japonica': Lily-of-the-valley shrub. By far the most common one. Cascading white flowers are followed by pink to bronze new growth. Ultimate growth can be up to ten feet, unless pruned.
Pieris japonica 'Mountain Fire': Brilliant red new foliage growth, turns dark green with maturity. Drooping clusters of showy white spring flowers. Grows up to 6 feet tall.
Pieris japonica 'Valley Rose': This one has pastel pink flowers, with new bronze leaf growth. May grow to 5 feet at maturity. Dark green leaves year-round.
Pieris japonica 'Valley Valentine': Attractive red flowers, are followed by colorful new foliage growth. Grows up to 7 feet tall and wide.
Pieris japonica 'Variegata': This one is best known for the attractive leaves that are green with white margins. Drooping flower clusters are white. Ultimate growth is about 5 feet.
Pieris japonica 'Crispa': The difference in this variety is that the leaves are wavy or crinkled and quite unusual. Flowers, new growth, etc. are similar to P. japonica.
Pieris forrestii: Often called the 'Chinese Pieris'. White flowers tend to be large than the P. japonica varieties. Plants also grow taller, up to 10 feet with similar spread. Foliage is usually brighter red to scarlet.
Pieris floribunda: Sometimes referred to as the 'Mountain Pieris'. Flowers stand upright on this one. Flowers are smaller than most types of Pieris, but very showy because of their upright growth. Slow growing to 6 or 7 feet. Leaves a dark dull green, making an excellent background for the pure white flowers.
Keep in mind these are my favorites. There are probably close to 2 dozen or more varieties and you may find some you like even better. Needless to say, they all merit consideration for use in the northwest landscape.
FEEDING LILY-OF-THE-VALLEY SHRUBS
These plants are not heavy feeders. But should yellowing foliage or stunted growth indicate a need for feeding, use a 'Rhododendron' type fertilizer to feed them. The best times for feeding are in mid-February or mid-May. Apply the fertilizer at the drip line of the plant and water-in thoroughly.
PRUNING IF NEEDED
If the plants need to be shaped or reduced in size, the best time to prune them is immediately after they have finished flowering. It's also a good practice to pick-off the old spent flowers, as this not only improves the appearance of the plants it also reverts the energy of the plant to new growth and the development of next years flowers.
MOVING OR PLANTING
Container grown plants can be planted at any time throughout the year. The winter months of November, December, January, February and early March are best for transplanting established plants in your garden. When planting or transplanting be certain to set the top of the root ball right at soil level. Planting too deeply can reduce eventual flowering.
The Pieris are nice plants to add to the garden for early spring color.