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  May 20, 2009

Quick Links:   Culture   Cultivated Varieties  Pruning   References 

Feature Article - for release the week of May 24, 2009

Dan Culbert - Extension Horticulture Agent

Razzle them with Chinese Fringe Bush

Is there a ‘Razzleberri’ in your future?  Gardeners throughout the southeast have noticed a new immigrant moving in our Florida Yards which makes a lovely addition to any landscape.  This new resident in our landscape brings many questions on how to best make it perform at its optimum.  

I’ve been asked to find out the “proper” way it should be pruned.  Since my personal experience with this shrub is limited, I’ve asked a few of my colleagues to share what they know about this Witch Hazel relative.  Horticulturalists know today’s plant as Loropetalum, while others may call it Chinese Witch Hazel or Fringe Flower. 

A native of China, Japan and the Himalayas, Loropetalum is capable of growing to ten feet tall - or more.  They are often maintained at heights of 5 to 6 feet with a rounded canopy, but new shorter varieties have become popular.  In the spring, green hairy leaves emerge with the delicate flowers which fill the evergreen canopy for about two weeks. 

Loropetalum is an upright, vase-shaped plant with a spreading shape.  It has a moderate growth rate which can be used as a screening plant, hedge, or border.  When colorful cultivars are selected, it is a good accent plant for homes and commercial properties.

Smaller, dwarf types are better suited for planting in front of shrub borders.  Placing several together will make a dramatic statement especially when the delicate flowers are in bloom.  When selecting larger sized varieties, give them plenty of room.

Fringe bushes prefer acid soil pH, but here where the pH is high, nutrient deficiencies may be overcome with regular applications of minor elements and lots of mulch.  Nassau County Agent Becky Jordi recommends that this plant prefers well drained soils - wet conditions can cause problems.  Cold is not going to be a problem in hardiness zones 8-10, which includes all of the Sunshine State.  Choose mostly sunny locations, but partial shade with dappled light will also produce good results, especially in South Florida. 

 

Loropetalum chinense var. chinense, the White Chinese fringe-flower.  Photo: NC State Arboretum

 

Loropetalum chinensis rubrum is a  subspecies that comes with brilliantly colored flowers, and often have attractive colored foliage as well.  Photo: UF/IFAS

This dazzling spring display is not an Azalea, but a Florida-Friendly plant called Loropetalum. Photo: Terry DelValle, UF/IFAS Duval Co. A close look at the flowers shows it has long petals which give away its other names, Chinese Witch Hazel or Fringe Flower. Photo: Terry DelValle, UF/IFAS Duval Co.

From White to Dazzling pink

The “normal” types come with green foliage with either pink or white flowers, but the newer selections are varieties with purple foliage and pink flowers.  Loropetalum flower heavy in the spring, but may continue to flowering throughout the year.  In South Florida, flowers show up in late winter and sporadically throughout the year.

In Arkansas, Extension Horticulture specialist Jim Robbins reports that the Chinese Fringe tree has hit the market hard in the last decade.  The push right now is to introduce smaller, more dwarf types.

Razzleberri is another name for one of the colored flowered types of Loropetalum.   Loropetalum chinensis rubrum ‘Monraz’ is from Japan and has raspberry-red flowers. In North Florida, it blooms in early spring along with the dogwoods.  However, the bloom period is longer than the azaleas and it has that additional burgundy leaf color. 

Here are a few other cultivars:

·        ‘Burgundy’ (a.k.a. Sizzling Pink) has burgundy foliage/pink flowers with heights up to 14’ tall.

·        ‘Plum Delight™ 'a.k.a. ‘Hines Purpleleaf' or ‘Pizzazz’) is another burgundy foliage/pink flowered form.

·        ‘Blush’ is 4-6’ tall and 4-5’ wide, with green leaves/pink flowers.

True dwarf forms include ‘Purple Pixie’, ‘Snow Mound’ and ‘Chang’s Ruby’. 

Ruby’ is another variety usually kept 3-5’ tall, although it can get much taller.  A word of caution with this one: several large scale plantings of ‘Ruby’ have not performed well in Central Florida.  So far, researchers have not come up with definitive causes or cure.  Lake County Agent Juanita Popenoe says growers have seen problems with copper deficiency and salt injury in ‘Ruby.’   If you already have this variety, copper sprays may help and avoid using reclaimed water.  If you can, choose another cultivar to avoid these problems

"Ruby" is supposed to be a dwarf type of Loropetalum, but this colorful screen is over 10 foot tall, planted outside the Leon County office in Tallahassee.  Photo: Dave Marshall, UF/IFAS Leon Co.  This planting of 'Ruby' in the Orlando area does not look very desirable.  UF/IFAS researchers determined that it was lacking copper. Photo: UF/IFAS.

Pruning

This plant needs little pruning except to shape as desired.  Taller varieties can be limbed up to resemble a small decorative tree.  New prostrate forms like ‘Purple Pixie’ can cascade down walls, but the most common ones can get to be 6-8 feet tall and leggy if not pruned.  

Jacksonville/Duval County Agent Terry DelValle says to treat them like azaleas since they bloom in the spring on last year's growth.  So, the best time to prune would be just after spring bloom.  Otherwise, prune anytime to shape up a stray branch here or there.  Leon County Agent Dave Marshall concurs with the after-bloom pruning time. But he adds the following observation:  if planted in the right place, they don't have to be pruned.  Their office in Tallahassee has a Loropetalum hedge out front, about 8 years old, ten feet tall, thick, and has never been pruned.

Carol Bailey suggests that pruning be done only by hand and only remove the obvious problems, such as deadwood, crossing branches etc. Alachua County Horticulture Agent Wendy Wilber observes that Loropetalum do not respond well to regular frequent shearing. “Constant overpruning of this plant results in ‘meatballing’ or ‘boxing’ into unnatural shapes and sizes. Usually when there is 'failure to thrive' or other issues, it is because they have been pruned too severely”.  Ms. Wilber was recently in Savannah where she saw an amazing 12-15 foot tall Loropetalum in full bloom in some of the downtown squares. “I saw a graceful well formed patio tree in full bloom.  I think we should encourage folks not to over prune these lovely big shrubs.”

 

plant habit, spring flowering, sheared Here's an example of an excessively trimmed Loropetalum.  Florida Extension agents concur that  continued treatment of this kind may cause an early decline of this landscape plant.   Photo© Oregon State University, 1999-2009

 

Contact the author for links to other examples of over pruned Loropetalums. 

Thanks to Dave Marshall, Wendy Wilbur, Juanita Popenoe, Becky Jordi, Carol Cloud Bailey and Terry DelValle for helping with this column.  Pictures and references are available online at: http://okeechobee.ifas.ufl.eduIf you need additional information on Loropetalum, please contact your local Cooperative Extension Service office.  Local residents can email us at okeechobee@ufl.edu  or call us at 863-763-6469 or visit our Okeechobee County Master Gardeners from 1 to 3 PM on Tuesday afternoons.  Have a Safe & Happy Memorial Day and, Go Gators!

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 References

Breen, Patrick. Landscape Plants: Images, Identification, and Information Volume 2.  Corvallis: Dept. of Horticulture, Orange State University, April 27, 2009. http://oregonstate.edu/dept/ldplants/2plants.htm#lochr 

Carson, Janet. Shrubs - Loropetalum (Chinese Witch Hazel).  Little Rock: University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, Hoe & Garden page.  11/14/2007.  http://www.arhomeandgarden.org/_archive/askjanet/shrubs/loropetalum.htm  or http://hortrefdesk.uaex.edu/findqanda.asp?catsel=18&catnamesel=Shrubs&subsel=301&subnamesel=Loropetalum

Gilman, Edward F.   Loropetalum chinensis Chinese Fringe Bush [FPS-355].  Gainesville:  UF/IFAS Extension Service, May, 2007. contains a list of available cultivars.  http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/woody/Pages/lorchi/lorchin.html

ibid. Loropetalum chinensis Fringebush (Landscape Plant website).  Gainesville:  UF/IFAS Environmental Hort Department, May 29, 2008 http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/woody/Pages/lorchi/lorchin.html 

Green Jeans, Mrs.”  Loropetalum chinense Feature Article.  Memphis: Absolute Wonder website, April 2005.  Contains a list of available cultivars:  http://www.absolutewonder.com/loropetalum.html

Howe, Robyn and Williams, Dave.  Loropetalum: A Southern Alternative.  Alabama Cooperative Extension System, March 4, 2007. http://www.aces.edu/dept/extcomm/specialty/loropetalum.html  

Loropetalum Pruning. (California Gardening Web), April 14, 2008.  http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/load/calif/msg0419093216260.html  

Naylor, Cheryl.  Loropetalum, New Competition for Our Azaleas.  UF/IFAS Leon County Extension Service, March 2004. http://leon.ifas.ufl.edu/News_Columns/2004/030904a-ss.pdf

Shober, Amy L. and Leibee, Gary Strategies to Control Loropetalum Decline in Central Florida [SL-255].  Gainesville: UF/IFAS Extension Service, October 2007.  http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/SS477