Gardening / Flowers, leaves and colours

Pieris’ flowers and new red leaves that appear at the same time.

THE wonderful winter/early spring flowering pieris is an interesting plant for its variety of flowers and leaf colour that comes in many varieties ranging from half a metre tall to three metres plus.

Cedric Bryant.

The special attraction of this plant is the new, bright-red leaves that appear in late winter to early spring. At the same time clusters of white or pink flowers appear resembling strings of pearls, hence its common name, pearl bush.

The Pieris “Christmas Cheer” with pink flowers is a compact shrub suitable for larger containers. In the garden it will grow to two metres, although in a container – with the roots restricted – it will be smaller.

The P. “Forrestii”, named after the famous 19th century plant hunter George Forrest, is also a popular choice that grows to two metres. P. “Sarabande” is distinct with the flowers standing erect rather than more typically hanging down.

They are acid-loving plants, as are 80 per cent of the world’s plants. Other acid lovers for winter/early spring flowering include daphne, rhododendrons, erica, azalea, kalmias and almost all native plants.

Most of these plants originate in the northern part of Asia so frosts and cold (even snow) doesn’t worry them, but our summers do.

As with all plants, ground preparation is absolutely vital and digging a hole in clay just won’t work!

Pick a position for the plant with filtered shade, preferably with summer sun off the plants by mid-morning. Protection from summer’s hot westerly winds is also important.

Good drainage is the starting point as these plants will not tolerate wet feet. If it is not possible to provide this the alternative is to plant on a mound or in a container.

A light crumbly soil with plenty of organic matter worked into the soil is desirable. Regular pruning is not necessary unless a certain shape is desired or the plant becomes very scraggly. Although a light pruning immediately after flowering will be beneficial.

Feed with Maxicrop’s Seaweed Plant Nutrient, especially at planting time, to encourage strong root growth.

Leaves turning yellow between the veins usually indicates a magnesium deficiency. This can be corrected with an application of epsom salts with a heaped tablespoon full to a nine-litre watering can of water.

As with all container-grown plants, only use a saucer if absolutely necessary, and even then fill the saucer with pebbles, sitting the container on top of the pebbles. Otherwise, raise the container off the ground with pot feet.

Jottings…

  • Grow carpet thyme around the plant on top of containers as a living mulch, keeping the roots moist in summer.
  • Dead head flowers on all acid-loving plants to ensure a good showing of flowers.
  • Prune grape vines.
  • The big, bold brazen look of rhododendrons.

    Hard to imagine, but there’s a variety of rhododendron that’s a major environmental weed in the UK, namely Rhododendron ponticum. It’s such a vigorous grower that it smothers everything in its path, destroys native habitats, restricts land use and is costly to remove with its strong root system.

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