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Rhaphiolepis: an Evergreen Shrub With Reliable Blooms

April 14, 2001|U.C. MASTER GARDENERS

Question: I'm looking for a pretty evergreen shrub that has a compact growth habit and attractive blooms. Is there any particular plant you would suggest?

J.E., Irvine

Answer: Rhaphiolepis is a good choice. Among the most widely planted garden shrubs, these plants have attractive glossy leaves and compact growth habits, and they provide reliable blooms from late fall or mid-winter through late spring.

They are available at most nurseries and home and garden centers and can be grown in the ground as well as containers.

A member of the rose family, rhaphiolepis forms fragrant pink or white blossoms on terminal clusters. The blooms are followed by blue-black, cherry-size fruits that hang on most of the year. New leaves often appear in tones of bronze and red.

The plant retains a neat growth appearance and drops inconspicuously, so it is rarely messy looking. It is easy to grow, thriving in full sun or partial shade in any soil.

All three major types of rhaphiolepis are relatively slow-growing. R. indica, which is also known as India hawthorn, has white flowers tinged with pink and grows 4 to 5 feet high. Within this species there are varieties that grow even lower, including 'Ballerina,' which reaches just 2 feet high and 4 feet wide.

Another major type of rhaphiolepis is R. umbellata, which has more rounded, leathery leaves and grows somewhat taller--averaging 4 to 6 feet tall and sometimes reaching 10 feet.

R. delacouri is a pink-flowered hybrid of R. indica and R. umbellata. It generally reaches 5 to 6 feet and blooms with small pink flowers October through May.

Rhaphiolepis plants are tough and easy to grow. They can withstand adverse environmental factors under which many other plants would die, including salt air, compacted soil, heavy foot traffic and regular shearing. They are also not picky about watering, tolerating anything from drought to frequent lawn watering.

Although they are easy to grow, rhaphiolepis need some specific attention for the best growth. Keep the following tips in mind:

* Give rhaphiolepis extra food and water during hot summer months. Mulch to preserve moisture and keep the roots cool and foliar feed with a water-soluble nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer.

* Rhaphiolepis rarely require pruning, but benefit from some trimming once or twice a year. Remove dead or wounded twigs and branches. It is best to reach down inside the shrub to clip limbs one at a time so that the outer foliage covers the removal damage.

You can pinch side branches to create upright growth or you can encourage spreading by shortening the verticals. For an open structure, let the plant grow naturally.

* Watch for leaf spotting. This problem is caused by a fungus and is not life-threatening, but it can be unsightly if it becomes widespread. To control, remove and destroy the affected leaves and spray the plant with a fungicide. If not caused by cool, wet weather, leaf spotting is often brought on by overhead watering, which should be avoided.

Written by University of California Master Gardener Pat Whatley of Laguna Hills.

* Have a problem in your yard? University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) Master Gardeners are here to help. These trained and certified horticultural volunteers are dedicated to extending research-based, scientifically accurate information to the public about home horticulture and pest management. They are involved with a variety of outreach programs, including the UCCE Master Garden hotline, which provides answers to specific questions. You can reach the hotline at (714) 708-1646 or send an e-mail to ucmastergardeners@yahoo.com. Calls and e-mail are picked up daily and are generally returned within two or three days. Please include your name and city of residence.

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