With its evergreen leaves and fragrant, white spring blossoms, the grape heather is an elegant ornamental wood that is in the spotlight on the garden stage all year round. Its most beautiful varieties inspire as soon as they shoot with their bronze-violet play of colors, which, after subtle summer green, leads to a furious firework of colors in autumn and lasts through winter. You don’t need to have extensive experience as a gardener to enjoy these floral displays. Our care tips show how easy it is to cultivate Leucothoe in beds and tubs. A handpicked selection introduces you to the most magnificent hybrids.
Table of Contents
- Heather family (Ericaceae)
- Genus of grape heather (Leucothoe)
- Native to North America and East Asia
- Evergreen and deciduous flowering shrubs
- Persistent and hardy
- Formation of runners depending on the type and variety
- Height and width of growth 80 cm to 100 cm
- White flowers in panicles or racemes from May to June
- Elongated-lanceolate, leathery leaves
- Depending on the variety, with colored shoots and spectacular autumn colors
- Globular, flattened capsule fruits with 1 mm small seeds
Within the genus, botanists differentiate between a total of 7 species, from which a large number of decorative hybrids have emerged, which have established themselves as popular ornamental shrubs in gardens and parks around the world.
The following hybrids have retained the natural charm of the wild species and boast beautiful leaf colors and shapes:
Here the curved grape heather (Leucothoe fontanesiana) was available as a parent, recognizable by the slightly overhanging flower stems. The young leaves are bright red at the start of the season and turn dark green in summer. From autumn onwards, Zeblid brags about its red leaves, which retain their charisma well into winter.
- Height: 80 to 100 cm
This variety was inspired by the colorful grape heather (Leucothoe walteri), recognizable by the white, cream or reddish variegated leaves along red shoots. When the garden is gray-on-gray in winter, Rainbow brings color into play and lets you forget the dreariness in the bed and on the balcony.
- Height: 100 to 130 cm
Tip : All grape heather varieties are as wide as they are tall. You take this into account by reserving a space of one square meter in the bed for large hybrids. This value can be halved for cultivars that remain small.
The compact, small-stature cultivar stays modestly in the background with its subtle green in spring and summer. From autumn, Cury Red will make a big splash in the bed and on the balcony, when its curled and twisted leaves are wrapped in a touch of purple and red. The variety retains its romantic look through the winter, until the round of fresh green leaves opens again in spring.
- Height: 30 to 45 cm
Carinella If you are
looking for a runners -forming ground cover with a breathtaking attitude, you will find what you are looking for in this cultivar of axillary heather (Leucothoe axillaris). Carinella starts the garden year with an extravagant, rich red bud. In summer, she is modest with a green dress of leaves and innocent, white bell blossoms. In autumn, she again brings out the floral vamp by putting on a bright red to purple-colored dress of leaves.
- Height: 80 to 120 cm
How this variety got its name is impressively demonstrated by the floral jewel in autumn. At this time the narrow, up to 8 cm long leaves take on a deep red color. Until then, it is not boring with the ornamental wood in the bed and on the balcony, because from May to June wonderfully fragrant bells bloom over the shiny green leaves.
- Height: 40 to 50 cm
Although the magnificent varieties convince with their individual attributes, they all pull together in terms of cultivation. The following care tips show what the decorative shrubs in beds and tubs place special value on.
The grape heather likes to leave a place in full sunshine to other plants in the garden. Your preference for moderate lighting conditions requires a location with these framework conditions:
- Partially shaded location, preferably with mild sun in the early morning hours
- In the shade, the abundance of flowers and the color of the leaves fall short of expectations
- Moist, humus soil with good drainage
- An acidic pH of 4.5 to 5.5
Its preference for low-light, moist locations qualifies the grape heather as the ideal ornamental shrub on the grave and as a conspicuous underplanting of conifers or bog plants such as rhododendrons.
Tip : Use commercially available bog bed or rhododendron soil as a substrate for cultivation in the tub. This acidic special potting soil meets all the requirements for grape heather to develop vitally and healthily.
Water your grape heather abundantly and regularly, because the ornamental wood can hardly endure even brief drought. During warm summer days, please check every morning whether the substrate is dry. In pot culture it may be necessary to water the plant every day. However, waterlogging must not occur, as in this case the roots will rot. Only use collected rainwater or decalcified tap water so that the pH value in the soil does not skyrocket.
The nutritional requirements of grape heather are low to moderate. In the bed, organic fertilization with acidic deciduous or coniferous compost stimulates growth in April. Repeat this fertilization at monthly intervals until September. Work the organic material very lightly into the soil as the roots are just below the surface of the earth. Then pour in soft water. If there is no acidic compost available in the garden, the application of slow release fertilizer twice in April and June covers the need.
Maintain grape heather in the bucket, apply a liquid fertilizer for bog plants every 4 weeks from April to September and pour in plenty of water.
Tip : shower the earth repeatedly with comfrey manure in August and September. This organic liquid fertilizer is rich in potassium and strengthens the frost resistance within the plant cells.
The more colorful the play of colors of the leaves, the less winter hardiness of Leucothoe. It therefore makes sense to take these precautions before winter sets in:
- Before the first frost, mulch the soil in the bed 5-6 cm high with leaves, straw or coniferous twigs
- Spread a shading net in winter-sunny locations
- Place the bucket on a wooden block and cover with fleece or foil
Since a grape heather continues to evaporate water in winter, water on frost-free days if there is no snow.
The best date for pruning is immediately after flowering. If you shorten shoots that are too long to the desired length in June, the grape heather will still have enough time to sprout again for its autumn leaves. Theoretically, a cut in early spring is also possible. However, this choice of date is impaired by a possible failure of the flower. If you use the scissors in January / February, the frost-sensitive branches can freeze back considerably. At this early point in the year, however, nothing speaks against a thorough thinning out by removing all old, dead branches close to the ground.
If the enchanting grape heather has cast a spell on you, you can simply pull in more trees over the course of the summer. To do this, cut off rooted, semi-woody runners. First plant them in a small pot with potting soil. In the partially shaded, protected location, keep the substrate slightly moist while the cuttings diligently expand their root system. Care for the young plants throughout the winter in a bright, frost-free room. By next spring, the offshoots have turned into strong Leucothoe and can be planted out.
In mild winter locations, put the rooted runners into the bedding soil at the protected location so that you can spare the young plants the strenuous relocation. In this case, extensive winter protection in the form of fleece or a film tunnel is indispensable, as young grape heather only has to develop its frost resistance over the years.
With the grape heather, an ornamental wood has found its way into your green realm, which attracts everyone’s attention all year round on both sides of the garden fence. In every season, a Leucothoe surprises with an interplay of colors, paired with a fragrant bloom in May and June. Reason enough to choose your personal favorites for beds and pots from our hand-picked selection of varieties. The maintenance is very easy. As long as the root area is not dry and a supply of nutrients is available from April to September, the flowering shrub is satisfied. If you like, you can cut back too long shoots immediately after flowering. Since the most beautiful varieties are not completely hardy, a thick layer of leaves keeps freezing frost in the bed at a distance.