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Gardening 101: Lily-of-the-Valley Shrub

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Gardening 101: Lily-of-the-Valley Shrub

May 6, 2020

Lily-of-the-Valley Shrub, Pieris japonica

Is your garden challenged with limiting shade and marauding deer? And do you like plants that are low-maintenance, evergreen, colorful, and won’t be devoured by said Bambi?  If you enthusiastically raised your hand, then I have the plant solution for you: Pieris. This non fussy, versatile shrub is always at the top of my list when designing a shady garden because, thankfully, it’s always up for a good challenge.

Read on to learn more about this problem-solving plant:

Photograph of Pieris japonica &#8
Above: Photograph of Pieris japonica ‘Temple Bells’ is by James Gaither via Flickr.

Native to eastern China, Taiwan, and Japan, where it grows in mountain thickets, Pieris japonica is a slow-growing evergreen shrub, or—-after a very, very long time—a potentially small tree that grows from about 9 to 13 feet tall and 8 feet wide. The name Pieris is derived from Pierides, an alternative name for Muses (the goddess of the arts), and japonica translates as “from Japan.” Looking into the common name, Lily of the Valley was named after Convallaria because the drooping clusters of white bells look similar.

A 5-gallon pot of Pieris Japonica &#8
Above: A 5-gallon pot of Pieris Japonica ‘Compacta’ is $120.99 at Shrub Bucket.

Hardy in Zones 5 to 8, this shrub is notable for its glossy dark green leaves that morph to a bronze-green, then reddish as the new growth appears. This changing color display adds to the year-round interest. Then, as the icing on the cake, attractive clustered floral buds appear in autumn and winter and then mature into showy white, urn-shaped drooping clusters in early spring.

Oh wait, maybe icing isn’t the best word as the leaves and nectar of Pieris are highly toxic and may be fatal if eaten by humans, cats, and dogs.  Let’s instead say the charming buds and blooms are the ribbon on the present.

Cheat Sheet

A large number of cultivars exist and some are hybrids listed as P. floribunda. Among my favorites is &#8
Above: A large number of cultivars exist and some are hybrids listed as P. floribunda. Among my favorites is ‘Variegata’, pictured above, which has burnished red new growth that develops to cream-edged foliage adorned with white flowers. It grows 3 to 5 feet tall. Other favorites include ‘Cavatine,’ ‘Christmas Cheer,’ and ‘Valley Valentine.’ A 2.5-inch pot is $7.99 at Hirt’s Gardens.
  • Perfect as a foundation or understory shrub, or as a stately specimen. Also looks lovely grouped to make a unique hedge.
  • Looks at home in a variety of garden themes from Zen, to cottage, to modern and even tropical. A woodland setting, however, is where you will mostly find them.
  • Pieris is known for attracting bees due to its nectar/pollen rich flowers.
  • Cut flowering branches and use in arrangements. The blooms will trickle down a vase in the most charming way.

Keep It Alive

Above: Depending on the cultivar, the flowers can vary in color. ‘Valley Valentine’ has bright pink blooms; ‘Dorothy Wyckoff’ has pale pink ones. A 2-gallon pot of each is $40.99 at Shrub Bucket.
  • Plant Pieris in a variety of light exposures from partly sunny to deep shade (though you will sacrifice blooms in dimly lit spots). Also appreciates a sheltered spot out of the wind.
  • Thrives in moist, acidic and well draining soil and will love you more if you fertilize it. If malnourished, it will produce yellow leaves. Tip: Mulch annually with well-rotted pine needles.
  • To ensure bright new growth and a compact habit, prune back just after flowering. I have even dramatically pruned back some of these beauties to rejuvenate straggly old growth and they have sprung back nicely.

For more shrubs you should consider, see:

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