Loropetalum: A Southern Alternative


Here in the South, evergreen shrub blooms are abundant. And while we all love the bright colors of azaleas, the majesty of magnolias, the classic beauty of camellias, and the heady fragrance of gardenias, sometimes our fancy turns to something different.

It's times like these we turn to the undeservedly unsung talents of shrubs such as Loropetalum chinense, commonly called Chinese witch hazel or simply loropetalum.

Loropetalum is a highly versatile plant that is beautiful and practical. Among most common selections, the deep green leaves measure 1 to 2 inches. The quality and size selections available (ranging from 3-4 feet tall and 10-15 feet wide) make this plant suitable for a variety of uses in your garden.

Selections such as 'Blush' and 'Burgundy' boast rich bronze-red to red-purple new foliage that matures to a deep olive- or purple-green. As winter approaches, the leaves turn a brilliant orange-red. The blooms of these and other similar selections appear sporadically throughout the growing season and range in color from soft pink to vibrant fuschia.

Loropetalum can be used in sunny sites as an accent or in deeply shaded sites as a backdrop for shade-loving perennials. It is fast-growing, easily transplantable and has no serious pest or disease problems.

In most cases, pruning is only necessary when the size becomes a problem. To prune, remove single branches with hand clippers just after flowering. Pruning will detract from the plant's graceful natural form, so take care to prune only as necessary.

In areas of Northern Alabama where temperatures fall below 10 F, gardeners should consider planting loropetalum in a sheltered site or in containers that can be easily moved inside during harsh weather.

SOURCE: Robyn Howe, Student, AU Landscape Horticulture, and Dr. Dave Williams Extension horticulturist, Alabama Cooperative Extension System (334) 844-3032.