With the delicate, nodding flowers resembling that of lily of the valley, it’s no surprise that pieris is also commonly referred to as the lily of the valley shrub – but it has so much more to deliver than just its gorgeous flowers! The colourful foliage of the variegated varieties is truly at its very best as the new growth emerges in Spring and, as it’s evergreen, it goes on to provide year-round interest – and it’s this combination that surely makes at least one pieris simply a must for every garden!
Most shrubs are fully hardy, all are evergreen and they are available in varieties which offer variegated foliage and different flower colours too. We’ve chosen our favourites which you’ll find below, together with our planting tips.
Pieris ‘Flaming Silver’
Contrasting beautifully with the older foliage, it’s bright red new foliage growth is a truly stunning sight. These new leaves go on to develop creamy white edges and, as they fade into the background, the creamy white buds which have been dormant over the Winter bloom into pretty white flowers in April and May. This is an elegant, compact, slow-growing variety, at home in full sun or partial shade, which adds year-round interest to borders and also looks great in a container.
Pieris ‘Forest Flame’
This variety may not be variegated, but that certainly doesn’t detract from its appeal and it is surely one of the best varieties. It’s fiery red young leaves gradually turn first pink and then creamy-white before taking on the dark green hue of the older foliage. This also produces pretty white blooms throughout April and May and prefers shade from the morning sun to protect the foliage from frost damage.
Pieris japonica ‘Carnaval’
With varying shades of dark and light green throughout the variegation, the foliage of the ‘Carnaval’ is wonderfully distinctive. It’s an upright shrub which also develops creamy buds to display over the Winter before producing pretty white flowers to enjoy through April and May.
Pieris japonica ‘Valley Valentine’
This variety may not have brightly coloured new foliage growth of the other varieties featured, but that doesn’t make it any less worthy of a place amongst our favourites. Of course the glossy, dark, evergreen foliage is a handsome sight, but it’s the unusual colour of the long-flowering blooms, highlighted by the foliage, which sets it apart. Appearing from March to May, the flowers of Valley Valentine are a gorgeous deep pink, almost red colour which make it a variety not to be ignored!
Now that at least one pieris is a must for your garden, you need to know how to make the most of them!
As all varieties are ericaceous (also known as acid-lovers or lime haters!), this means that they don’t grow well in soils with a high pH and which contain lime. In this type of soil, iron and other nutrients are ‘locked up’ and so simply aren’t available for the plants to absorb – this results in yellow leaves, reduced flowering and, eventually, plant death! If you have naturally-occuring acidic soil then great, but don’t worry if you don’t, as these problems are easy to overcome by improving their surroundings…
Soil enrichment and feeding
When planting, make your planting hole several times larger than you normally would and then back-fill the entire area with a mix of ericaceous compost and leaf mould. Special ericaceous plant food is also widely available, which can be used to maintain the required nutrient levels and soil conditions year-round, but is particularly important during the Summer months when the new buds are forming.
Use pots and containers
If you don’t fancy adjusting the surroundings to suit ericaceous plants, then the use of pots and containers filled with ericaceous compost is an excellent way of providing suitable growing conditions. After the first season, simply remember to deeply top-dress your containers with new ericaceous compost or use suitable plant feed to maintain conditions. The other benefit of using pots or containers of course is that they’re portable too, so it’s easy to ensure that your plants are in the best position!
Pieris are happy in full sun or light shade, but prefer to be planted out of direct early morning sunlight, such as east-facing walls. This is because the rapid change in temperature caused when a cold, frosty night is greeted with a sunny day can cause damage to the foliage.
As most ericaceous plants are shallow-rooted, they are prone to drying out in prolonged dry spells, so it is very important to keep the soil moist, particularly during the Summer months when the new buds are forming. Mulching is a great way to help retain moisture, and leaf mould, pine needles and bark chippings are the top mulch choices for ericaceous plants. Tap water, particularly in hard water areas, often contains levels of calcium which reduces soil acidity over time, so it’s always best to use rain water whenever possible which can be harvested using a water butt to ensure a good supply.
Now you’ve gone potty for pieris, come and check our our great range!