This Month in the Garden: Shade Loving Evergreen Leucothoe For Your Garden

Feature Plant Leucothoe axillaris

Welcome to This Month in the Garden! Today, the focus is on Leucothoe, an excellent and often over-looked low maintenance shrub for all season interest. Leucothoe axillaris, also known as Coast Leucothoe or Dog-hobble is a low-growing, blooming, evergreen shrub which is native to the southeastern United States from the state of Virginia southward. Leucothoe is hardy in USDA hardiness zones 5-8, prefers a moderately moist yet well-drained soil with a pH of approximately 4.5-6.0 (slightly acidic) and a partially to fully shaded location. Leucothoe can also be grown in an area with sun, providing there is sufficient irrigation.

Leucothoe axillaris Springtime Blooms

Leucothoe has many favorable attributes. It is characterized by its spreading vase-like shape and thick shiny, dark green foliage. Additionally, clusters of slightly fragrant, heather-like, white flowers appear on the plant in mid-spring. Seasonal interest is provided by foliage that changes in color from light green with pinkish tips in spring to a deeper green in summer, followed by a purplish-bronze hue in winter. Leucothoe axillaris grows to a mature height and width of 2-4 feet tall by 3-5 feet wide.
Leucothoe axillaris  Summertime Foliage
Leucothoe is relatively low maintenance and is not prone to any serious pests or disease problems. Leucothoe can be slightly borderline in some areas of zone 5 where winter winds are harsh and should be kept in a somewhat sheltered location. Since it is a broad-leaved evergreen, I would recommend spraying Leucothoe in late autumn in colder climates with anti-desiccant to prevent any possible winter drying. Leucothoe requires little to no pruning. If you desire to prune your Leucothoe to maintain a more compact shape, do so after flowering.  

Leucothoe axillaris Wintertime Foliage

There are several varieties of Leucothoe to choose from besides ‘Axillaris’, including Leucothoe ‘Rainbow’(zones 4-8 and 3-4 feet tall) Leucothoe fontanesiana or ‘Nana’ Dwarf Drooping Leucothoe (zones 5-8 and 2-3 feet tall) and Leucothoe fontanesiana or ‘Zeblid’ Scarletta (zones 5-8, 18-24 inches tall). Each of these shrubs serve nicely grouped in a rock garden, border or woodland garden, as an under-planting or for naturalizing. 

Leucothoe axillaris in Shade Garden

Excellent companion plants for Leucothoe include ‎other shade loving species such as Hakonechloa (Japanese Forest Grass), Variegated Hosta, Sweet Flag, Sedge, Variegted Boxwood, species of Ilex (Holly), Rhododendron and Taxas (Yew). In the photograph above, Leucothoe axillaris (center) is combined with Variegated Boxwood (Right), golden Japanese Forest Grass (Left) along with low spreading Repandens Yew and Variegated Hosta (Far Left Backdrop) for all season interest in the landscape.

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~As Always…Happy Gardening!~

Author: [email protected] Guide to Northeastern Gardening, © Copyright 2018. All rights reserved.