Japanese pieris is a rounded and compact evergreen shrub with something to offer the gardener in every season. In late winter or early spring it produces sweetly scented white or pink flowers in showy pendulous clusters. The flowers are bell-shaped (like blueberry or lily-of-the-valley flowers), about a quarter inch long, and produced in 6" hanging or semi-erect panicles clustered at the branch tips. The fruits are little dry capsules hanging like a string of beads. Even the flower buds, pink in color and hanging in long clusters from summer through winter, are attractive. Japanese pieris gets 8-12' tall and 6-10' wide, with short branches and a dense mass of foliage. The leaves are elliptical, 2-3" long with toothed margins. They start out coppery red and mature to bright glossy green. This is a very popular flowering shrub with more than 40 named cultivars and several hybrids listed. 'Blush' produces pretty pink buds that open to pink-blushed flowers, gradually turning all white. 'Christmas Cheer' has rosy pink flowers. 'Debutante' is compact and smaller, to 3' tall and 3' wide. 'Little Heath' is even smaller, to 2', and has smaller leaves with silvery margins. Smaller yet is 'Bonsai', at 12" tall and suitable for rock gardens, containers and as a bonsai subject. 'Flamingo' has deep pink flowers. 'Daisen' has red flowers. 'White Cascade' has white flowers in larger clusters, to 7" long.
Japanese pieris is native to Japan, Taiwan and eastern China.
Like many of the plants in the heath or blueberry family, Japanese pieris requires a peaty, acidic soil. It has pretty much the same cultural requirements as camellias and sasanqua camellias. Mulch heavily with pine needles and/or leaves. Japanese pieris blooms on the previous season's growth, so you should not prune in winter because the flower buds have already formed; instead, prune soon after blooming. If the fruits are allowed to develop there may be fewer flowers the following year, so cut off spent flowers right away, and Japanese pieris will produce more flowers the next year. Light: Grow Japanese pieris in light shade in the south; partial shade further north. Moisture: Japanese pieris needs a well drained but slightly moisture-retentive soil. It is likely to die if the soil dries out too much and surely will succumb to soggy soil. In warm climates especially, Japanese pieris needs regular watering. Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 - 8. Japanese pieris is often damaged by late frosts, but it recovers. Propagation: Propagate Japanese pieris from greenwood tip cuttings taken in spring or from semi-hardwood cuttings in summer. Cuttings are slow to take root and bottom heat is recommended.
Japanese pieris is a pretty little broad-leaf evergreen shrub that goes well in a semi-shady shrub border or in an informal hedge. It is often grown in the woodland garden. With shiny evergreen foliage, showy flowers, and even showy flower buds, Japanese pieris makes a good specimen shrub for the light shade under large oaks or pines. The smaller cultivars are suitable for container growth, and the smallest ones are used for bonsai.
There are seven species of Pieris in eastern Asia and eastern North America. One of the most interesting is climbing heath (P. phillyreifolius) from the SE U.S. This woody shrub sends leafless stems up underneath the bark of trees such as baldcypress, Atlantic white cedar, and longleaf pine. Every few feet a branch with leaves and (in season) flowers or fruit emerges from the tree's bark. It is surprising indeed to see blueberry-like leaves and flowers growing right out of a cypress trunk!
The foliage of Japanese pieris is toxic to livestock and probably people as well.
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