A WONDERFUL WINTER SHADE PLANT
It can be a challenge to find interesting flowering plants to include in the winter garden. However, there are quite a few that are especially nice because they offer one or two special features. Winter flowering Heathers; sasanqua Camellias; Viburnum tinus and Witch hazels are just a few of these. Personally I think one of the most over-looked winter flowering plants is the Sarcococca. This is a plant that has three distinct attributes, it not only flowers during the winter, it has great fragrance, and it grows in the shade.
There are two varieties of Sarcococca that are commonly grown here in the Northwest: S. hookerana humilis, a low-spreader that seldom grows over 12 to 18 inches high and 3 to 5 feet wide and S. ruscifolia, a taller plant that grows about 3 feet high and wide.
Humilis fits in well as a ground cover plant, in rockeries low borders or foundation plantings. While the taller ruscifolia is a natural for entryways, containers or foundation planting.
Both should be placed where the intense fragrance of the flowers and the beauty of the foliage can be enjoyed to the fullest. The flowers, although quite small, standout above the dark glossy green leaves. Small round black fruit often forms after the plants have flowered.
Flowers generally open in January and, depending upon the weather, may still be blooming in early March. Although the flowers are rather small and insignificant to look at, their intense fragrance more than compensates.
I cannot stress enough the importance of planting them near the entryway or other areas where foot-traffic is heavy, so the intense fragrance and beauty of the dark glossy green foliage can be enjoyed to the fullest. I have them planted in containers right at our entry area in the shade of the entry, under the over-hang of our home.
The plants do especially well in a shady spot, a north, east or similar exposure. If given proper watering and feeding attention, they will even do well in the shade under tall trees, or at the base of evergreen shrubs.
Growth and flowers are at their best when Sarcococca is planted in well-drained soil, rich in organic humus. The addition of generous amounts of compost, peat moss or processed manure mixed with the existing soil, at planting time is very beneficial in the eventual growth of the plants.
As a rule, if the soil is properly prepared at planting time, the plants will require little if any feeding. However, if there is a need to fertilize them, it is best done in mid-February or early June. Use a rhododendron type fertilizer, following label instructions to the letter. If it is a dry granular fertilizer, be certain to water-in immediately after application.
INSECTS AND DISEASES
Sarcococca is seldom bothered by insects or diseases. Occasionally spider mites or aphids can be a nuisance. If the leaves of your plant turn an off-color green or whitish color, take a leaf sample to the Certified Nurseryperson at your nearby garden center or nursery and have them make an on the spot diagnosis of what is causing the condition and what to do to correct it.
USES IN THE LANDSCAPE
Sarcococca is an easy-going companion plant for camellias, rhododendrons, azaleas and other shade-loving plants. They are most effective when planted in groups of three or more plants. This also intensifies the fragrance when the plants are in bloom.
The apartment dweller or mobile-home owner will find sarcococca ideal for containers where-ever it's shady. Occasionally you will even find sarcococca grown as a houseplant. Its requirements indoors are the same whether grown outside or indoors. However, as with all houseplants it will need additional humidity indoors.
Its unusual flowering time; heady fragrance and attractive glossy green leaves make the sarcococca a fine antidote for the rainy-winter-day blues.