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Gardening 101: Chinese Fringe Flower

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Gardening 101: Chinese Fringe Flower

March 11, 2020

Chinese Fringe Flower, Loropetalum chinense

While boxwood, pittosporum, and hebe may be hogging the shrub spotlight, loropetalum can put up a fight when it comes to competing for a leading role. In fact, Chinese fringe flower soared from relative obscurity to plant fame (becoming widely available) in less than five years, an incredibly quick ascent for a new plant introduction. The explanation for this insta-success will seem obvious after you meet this evergreen shrub.

As a garden designer, I use loropetalum when I need an evergreen shrub that is charming to look at year round, is not demanding of my time, and infuses the landscape with vibrancy even when out of bloom. (I’m fond of show-offs only when they are plants.)

With handsome, burgundy-colored foliage and bright, fringed flowers in spring, this fast-growing evergreen shrub can fill a hole in a flower border and create a foil for other silvery shrubs or flowering perennials.

Please keep reading to learn whether loropetalum is the best shrub for your garden.

Loropetalum chinense. Photograph by Tatters via Flickr.
Above: Loropetalum chinense. Photograph by Tatters via Flickr.

Loropetalum, native to woodlands of the Himalayas, China, and Japan, is a genus of mainly large evergreen shrubs in the witch hazel family. The resemblance to its cousins is clear when the plant starts pumping out masses of frilly, spidery flowers in early spring or (if you’re horticulturally lucky) sporadically throughout the year.

A white variety of Loropetalum chinense. Photograph by Jean via Flickr.
Above: A white variety of Loropetalum chinense. Photograph by Jean via Flickr.

The plant’s typical white-flowering, green-leafed species (Loropetalum chinense) arrives on the US plant scene in 1880, but remained generally under the radar for a century. But in the 1980s, when eye-catching maroon-leafed, pink-flowering varieties hit the market, loropetalum justifiably became the popular girl.

Today there are cultivars that will grow to a variety of heights (from two to 15 feet), with a range of foliage colors  (olive, bronze, burgundy, and fiery red) and flowers (pink, white, and red).

A variety of loropetalum with attractive, burgundy-colored leaves. Photograph by Faunng&#8
Above: A variety of loropetalum with attractive, burgundy-colored leaves. Photograph by Faunng’s Photos via Flickr.

Loropetalum’s versatility is another fine trademark. The shrub can thrive in mild coastal climates in full sun, yet can accept shadier spots inland. Chinese fringe flower feels at home in most garden designs when the foliage color and loose arching habit is used to its advantage.

Two of my favorite cultivars are L. chinense ‘Ever Red’ (with red flowers that complement wine-rich burgundy foliage, it can grow to six feet high and wide) and ‘Burgundy’ (new foliage emerges reddish-purple then ages to purple-green). This variety quite probably offers the most contrast between the hot-pink flowers and foliage and grows to a mature size of six by 10 feet.

Loropetalum chinense &#8
Above: Loropetalum chinense ‘Ever Red’ is available at Green Acres Nursery & Supply in California.

Cheat Sheet

  • Loropetalum is versatile and adaptable to various landscape designs but especially lovely in woodland, Asian, or cottage gardens.
  • Because some varieties can soar to heights of up to 15 feet, they are the perfect-privacy hedge candidates in zones where they remain evergreen.
  • Chinese fringe flower is attractive when grown as a foundational backdrop, single specimen, or in espalier form.
  • The burgundy-leafed varieties especially stand out when paired with plants with chartreuse foliage.
Loropetalum &#8
Above: Loropetalum ‘Fire Dance’. Photograph by Manuel M.V. via Flickr.

Keep It Alive

  • Plant loropetalums in sun or part shade for best leaf color and flower production.
  • While not minding the occasional trim to control shape and size, this shrub prefers to be pruned in the spring after blooming to avoid compromising next spring’s flowers. Also, avoid overzealous shearing, which reduces the naturally graceful form.
  • Chinese fringe flower is typically deer-proof, but on occasion I have seen marauders develop a taste for it, sadly stripping the leaves off the stems.
  • Loamy, slightly acidic (but well-drained) soil is preferred. Also irrigate occasionally because this plant prefers soil moist but not soggy.
  • While hardy to USDA zone 7, the shrub loses its leaves in northern regions. (Loropetalum freezes to the ground at around 5 degrees Fahrenheit.)

See more growing tips in Chinese Fringe Flower: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design in our curated guides to Shrubs 101. Read more:

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