Courtesy Southern Living Plants
The vibrant pink and white blooms of the loropetalum announce spring in Augusta as completely as our famous azaleas and dogwoods. And this relative newcomer from China and Japan is quite at home here, with its preference for well-drained acidic soil and drought tolerance. Add to those qualities insect and disease resistance, a multi-month flowering time and evergreen growth, and you may have described the perfect shrub for the Augusta area.
Though the white flowering species was brought to United States around 1880, it wasn’t until 1989 when the pink flowering variety was introduced that the plant became an overnight sensation in Southern landscapes. Known by its more common pronounceable names of Chinese witch hazel or Chinese fringe, loropetalum prefers moist, well-drained, rich, hummusy, acidic soil, but will easily adapt to less than ideal conditions. While it shows chlorosis or yellowing of leaves in non-acidic soil, this is seldom a problem in Augusta’s naturally acidic soils.
Loropetalums grow best in full sun to partial shade, though some of the bronze-leafed varieties need maximum sun to retain their dark foliage, full, dense shape and ongoing blooms.
Loropetalums are evergreens with traditional types having green foliage. Many newer varieties, however, sport purple, year-round foliage. Some of the pink bloomers can be found under names such as Blush, Burgundy, Sizzlin’ Pink, Pizazz, Razzleberri’ and Ruby.
If left alone to grow, most loropetalum will reach a height of 10 to 15 feet and taller with a similar to somewhat smaller width. Some newer varieties are reported to grow to a manageable height of five feet or less. And Shang-Lo Purple Pixie is supposed to mature at one-and-a-half to two feet tall with a four to five foot spread. Regardless, all loropetalum can be kept at the desired size by pruning, normally required two to three times during the growing season. Be sure not to prune them during late winter so you don’t cut off the spring flowers. As with most flowering shrubs, it’s best to prune just after their main display of blooms in the spring.
Loropetalums show excellent versatility in the landscape. They are attractive grown in clusters or mixed screens as well as foundation plantings or single specimens. Individually, the purple-leaved forms provide appealing contrast to both green and golden foliage plants and are a superior replacement to thorny, red barberries. They also make attractive hedges, but lose their naturally graceful form if heavily pruned. When limbed up, they form lovely, small trees.
Loropetalums are also a great choice for containers or as a subject for espalier or bonsai. They can even be used as a groundcover, but may require periodic removal of vertical stems. Plant low-growing varieties such as Shang-Lo Purple Pixie for this purpose.
You can start your own loropetalum by planting fresh seed or taking semi-ripe soft or firm cuttings in late spring or early summer. Dip the cuttings in rooting hormone and plant them in a light medium. A 3:1 perlite to peat mix works well or you can try a well-drained potting soil. Fertilize with a diluted fertilizer and keep the medium moist until roots appear in about four to six weeks.
Varieties and Cultivars
There are numerous cultivars available and new plants continue to be released. With the speed of its commercialization, there is some confusion regarding the cultivars’ differences. However, the good news for consumers is that there is plenty of variation in leaf color, flower color and growth form, assuring a loropetalum to suit multiple purposes in sunny to partly shady landscapes.
Depending on the cultivar, this maroon- to red-purple-leafed variety has blossoms that range from pink to fuchsia to reddish pink as well as white with pink stripes. Height and width varies by cultivar, of which there are many.
• Burgundy. New leaves are reddish purple, but turn a purplish green to dark olive green as they mature. In autumn, the oldest leaves turn orange-red to red. Clusters of four to seven hot pink flowers are produced most prolifically in spring and then sporadically throughout the growing season. It reaches a height of six to 10 feet with a similar width.
• Blush. Along with Burgundy, it is one of the original two introductions of var. rubrum. Its growth habit is more compact and denser than Burgundy. New growth is a bronze-red that matures to an olive-green. Flower color is fuchsia pink. There are five to 10 blossoms in a cluster and peak bloom time occurs in April with additional blooms appearing sporadically during the rest of the growing season. It reaches approximately eight feet tall and wide. It is also known as Razzleberri’.
• Zhuzhou Fuchsia. The leaves of this cultivar are a distinctive blackish maroon color that continues through the summer. It has deep pink blooms, an upright habit and is a good choice for training as a standard (tree form) or espalier. It reaches 10 to 20 feet tall and is the most cold hardy of the pink-flowering forms.
as subjects for espalier or bonsai.
• Bicolor. The flowers are white with a streak of light pink. Its leaves start off as a dark maroon color that mature to a dark olive green. It reaches a height of five to 10 feet.
• Burgundy Bill Wallace. Bill Wallace originated as a sport on a Burgundy loropetalum. It continues the leaf and flower color of Burgundy, but has a procumbent habit (grows along the ground without rooting), reaching about eight to 12 inches in height and about three to four feet in width. It is particularly suited for cascading over a wall, the side of a container or as a groundcover on a sloping bank.
• Shang-hi Purple Diamond. The leaves of this loropetalum are an intense, deep purple that lasts through the summer and provides an eye-catching contrast to its vibrant pink flowers. Mature height is approximately four to five feet tall with a similar width.
• Shang-lo Purple Pixie. As with Purple Diamond, the leaves are an intense, deep purple and blooms are a vibrant, hot pink. However, its mature height is one to two feet with a spread of four to five feet. New growth tends to be ascending, but over time cascades downward. It is well-suited for use as a groundcover, a container plant or a wall cascade.
• Ever Red Sunset. Leaves maintain a dark burgundy color through the summer. Its flowers are the reddest of this variety. Mature height is approximately six feet tall with a similar width.
• Little Rose Dawn. This cultivar originated as a sprout from Ruby loropetalum and is more compact, more spreading and a profuse bloomer with dark pink flowers. Mature height is approximately eight to 10 feet tall.
• Carolina Moonlight. This dense, compact shrub is wider than it is tall, generally reaching three to four feet while spreading four to five feet. It is a prolific bloomer from late winter to early spring and then flowers sporadically throughout the season.
• Snowmound or Snow Muffin. Characterized by dense, procumbent growth habit when young. It develops into a roundish mound as it ages, maintaining its dense growth habit. New leaves are light green, maturing to dark olive green. Its white flowers are abundant from late winter to spring. Mature height is from one to three feet with a width of two to three feet.