Monday, November 14, 2011

My love-hate relationship with Pieris japonica

I really hate Pieris japonica, or Andromeda, its common name.  Or at least I thought I did.  It's one of those shrubs you see everywhere in Connecticut.  The landscapers and designers seem to love it, and you even seen it all over in the big box stores.  But its droopy flowers have never seemed that attractive to me, and I've just never been able to understand why so many homeowners succumb to its questionable charms.  That is until I took my 'Broadleaved Evergreens' class at the New York Botanical Garden.  I'm finishing this class up now, and my final is Wednesday -- which I should be studying for instead of writing this post!  But I can justify my laziness by telling myself I'm learning more about at least one plant we studied by writing about it now...hmmm....a pretty sorry defense I know.  Anyway...back to the Pieris japonica and why I'm starting to understand its abundance in local gardens.

First of all and probably most important, it's evergreen.  It also has pretty, glossy, dark green foliage, I have to admit.  But the reason most gardeners, designers and landscapers seem to love it is its unusual drooping flower clusters that emerge in April and persist on the plants all the way into winter and that also give a slight fragrance.  A lot of folks call them Lily-of-the-Valley-like, and I have to admit they do resemble that flower in a smaller form.  But the way the flowers stay on the plant for a long time does give it a bunch of points, and there are many, many cultivars of the straight species that are very interesting.  One of them is the 'Dorothy Wyckoff' that you see in these photos I took just a couple of weeks ago at the NYBG.  A lot of the cultivars are smaller than the straight species and not as leggy, as this 'Dorothy Wycoff' shows very well.  The straight species has white flowers, but many of the cultivars have pink flowers, like this 'Dorothy Wyckoff'.  They look pretty planted as a specimen in a border, but also really stand out planted as a grouping as they are here.

They do have some drawbacks.  If they are planted in too much sun, they are very attractive to lacebugs.  They do best in part-shade with protection from strong winds, just like so many of the broadleaved evergreens.  They can get leaf scorch if in too much sun, and also mites and leaf spots.  BUT, a really positive attribute is they are deer resistant!  A big plus here in Connecticut and most of the Northeast.

The native mountain andromeda, Pieris floribunda, has flower racemes that are erect and not droopy like the Pieris japonica.  These are especially pretty, too, since that droopy flower has always bothered me.  But the Pieris floribunda IS attractive to deer.  Go figure.

The Pieris species is in the Ericaceae family with the rhododendrons and the mountain laurels and also love acidic, organic, well-drained soil.

So after learning more about its fine qualities and seeing the very pretty 'Dorothy Wyckoff' planted in mass at the NYBG, I might just be a Pieris convert.  Those cute little cultivars are a really nice size for most gardens, and I love the pink hues a lot of them have in those cute droopy flowers.


  1. i love pieris! but it really isn't that common in my part of nc. it would probably like cooler weather than we have. there are lots of different cultivars, though, and some do nicely here. i have 'mountain fire' which blooms reliably and has the bright red new leaves in spring. pretty. i hope you do well on your test!

  2. Hi Daricia,
    I'd love to see your 'mountain fire' in bloom -- can you send me or post a picture? Also, are you going to the blogger event in Asheville in May?

  3. I, too have a love/hate relationship with Pieris japonica. We use it a lot here in the Pacific Northwest I think because it's come to be an accepted standard housing/commercial development contractor plant. It grows well in our climate, and here, too, it does best with protection from the west sun. So because it's rather ubiquitous here, I'm not that fond of it.

    But I've discovered a few interesting cultivars that I use often in my own landscape designs mainly because they are smaller, and variegated. They are: 'Flaming Silver'- about 6'tall x 6'wide; 'Bisbee's Dwarf'- about 4'x 3'; 'Little Heath'- about 18"x 24".

    Flaming Silver is particularly wonderful because in spring the new foliage is really bright magenta. I think this new foliar growth is much more beautiful than the flowers!

    Most of the more common Pieris japonicas get quite large here… 8-10' tall and wide is not unheard of, so they are usually pruned into orbs or cubes around here… ugh. So because this shrub really looks it's best with minimal pruning, I like the above cultivars because they fit so nicely into many smaller landscape situations, looking more natural, and creating less work for the gardener. What's not to LOVE about that?! :-)

  4. Beth, I just looked at some images of those cultivars, and I also love 'Flaming Silver'! And that variegated foliage is a big bonus -- I don't always love variegated leaves, but on this Pieris, it looks wonderful! Thank you for the recommendations -- I plan on using them all in designs when I can. So they prune the common ones into cubes, huh? hmmmmm...that must look interesting?!

  5. Well, if your exam is an essay exam, you will ace it! I understand that love/hate relationship with plants. For me here at the Garden Spot it is a Russian Olive tree right at the edge of the patio. It is dirty, dropping blossoms in the spring, olives in the summer, leaves in the fall. It does provide shade for the patio, sweet fragrance, a place for the birds to find bugs, but it still annoys me. With our first heavy storm this fall it has been badly damaged, so it has lost to battle to be here. It will go in the spring. It should never have been allowed to sprout where it did. Sorry tree.

  6. Thank you Ann! That's so funny about your olive tree. I feel the same about Siberian iris. I have a ton in my gardens and they are on their way out. I love them when they are in bloom for that brief period in June, but I hate the mess they leave and all the space they take up in my very small gardens. I think I'll take your lead and rip them out! Any takers??