Now that most of our gardens have finally gone to bed for the winter, it’s nice to have a few things in the yard that still throw off a little color. In December, my leucothoe shrubs take on a reddish, bronzy cast that looks particularly good in the first snowfall of the year.
The most common varieties in our area are Leucothoe axillaris, which is known as coastal leucothoe, and Leucothoe fontanesiana, which goes by the common name of drooping leucothoe. Both are slow-growing evergreen shrubs native to the southeastern United States. When fully mature, they reach a height and width of 3 to 6 feet.
The shiny, dark-green leaves are 2 to 3 inches long, and new leaves often emerge as reddish.
In late spring, you’re rewarded with clusters of white flowers that last for several weeks.
In hot and humid summers, leucothoe shrubs are susceptible to powdery mildew and various leaf-spot diseases. The leaves will also burn in the hot sun of summer, so give these low-growing shrubs a cool, shady spot in your garden, perhaps on the edge of a wooded area.
In the wild, leucothoe grows on dry slopes near water but not in the water. In the garden, give it humus-rich and acidic soil in a spot with good drainage. Do not overwater it, but you might give it a long drink of acid-loving plant food in the spring and summer.
Individual plants are not particularly attractive, so try massing them in a wide-open shady area. Leucothoe also makes a good substitute for the overused boxwood — or try planting it with pieris, which has a similar growth habit.
And like pieris, leucothoe is mostly deer resistant, except in the dead of winter when all bets are off when it comes to hungry deer.
(from our photo library)