On Gardening: Aucuba is a berry good winter plant

January 19, 2015

The fruit on the aucuba called drupes persist long into winter, giving color and interest to the landscape.

Berry season is a wonderful time of the year, and Iím not talking blackberries or strawberries. I am referring to the landscape plants like the aucuba loaded with large berries called drupes which are like natureís ornaments.

The green and gold variegated aucuba is the most popular in the landscape and truly is almost as colorful as the tropical, psychedelic looking croton. The green aucuba gives an entirely different look. It is so-picturesque in the woodland garden as the large bright red fruit seems to bring everything to life, commanding attention.

If you are like most gardeners you probably didnít even know the aucuba had fruit. Aucuba is like the holly in that there are male and female plants. So if we want those eye-catching bright red berries, we need a little birds and the bees activity going on.

The aucuba comes from the Himalayas, Japan and Korea and is cold hardy from zones 6-10. Meaning much of the country can grow them and the rest can enjoy them as a houseplant. Though I treasure the green selections, the variegated females loaded with the fruit can be very stunning, too.

Place your aucuba plant in shade to partial shade. they abhor full sun. Prepare the soil by incorporating 3 to 4 inches of organic matter, and two pounds of a 5-10-5 fertilizer per 100 square feet of planting area, tilling deeply.

Dig the planting hole two to three times as wide as the rootball but no deeper. When you dig these large holes, you are opening the door to the fastest root expansion and establishment in your bed. Place the plant in the hole and backfill with soil to two-thirds the depth. Tamp the soil and water to settle, add the remaining backfill, repeat the process and apply mulch.

Keep in mind they have the potential of reaching 6 to 10 feet tall and 6 to 8 feet wide. Prune lightly anytime to shape and keep bushy. To generate new canes, remove older ones near the base during the late winter. Occasionally, mealy bugs can be a problem so treat as needed, but don't let this deter you from planting some.

Try planting aucubas boldly in groups in close proximity to fatsia for a tropical look. It is hard to beat a green aucuba with berries when grown as a partner with camellias like Professor Charles S. Sergeant that has dark-red, anemone-type blossoms. In the summer garden grow shade-loving impatiens, begonias, ferns and hostas as companions. Bedding plants work quite well as companions. Grow lilac-colored impatiens in front of the more brightly variegated forms.

Many aucubas are sold generically, but there are about 25 varieties in the trade. This means it is possible for your favorite garden center to locate male and female varieties of both the variegated or green types if they don't have them already. A couple of my favorite green female varieties are Emily Rose and Borealis while Augustifolia and Crassifolia are popular male selections. In the variegated types, look for female selections like Picturata and Subaru and male selections like Mr. Gold Strike and Gold King.

Donít get frustrated if you donít see them at your garden center. The key is to talk to your certified nurseryman about the selections he has in inventory or which ones his supplier might have available. Discuss with him your goals for the landscape. I promise if you include some berry producing aucubas in your woodland garden, you will be thrilled.



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