On Gardening: Plant a little sunshine with this hot shrub

August 18, 2014
The golden yellow foliage of the Sunshine ligustrum have the ability to light up the garden with color, commanding attention from all who pass by. Here they are in a tropical setting with bananas, SunPatiens and salvias.

If you have been hoping to light up your garden with dazzling foliage, then you need a little Sunshine. Actually a little is good but a lot of Sunshine is better. The Sunshine I am referring to is one of the hottest shrubs anywhere and that is the Sunshine ligustrum

You may be thinking, holy privet, this guy recommending a ligustrum? Yes, indeed, I am. Though I have sneezed uncontrollably in the spring, and I have pulled unwanted privet seedlings by what seemed like a truckload, I can say this is a jewel of a plant.

Sunshine produces brilliant yellow to gold foliage acting as though it were a lantern, lighting up the garden. It is slower growing than typical ligustrum and has the ability to reach 3 to 4 feet tall and around 4 feet wide. But it also can be sheared to a glowing hedge.

Colorful foliage and moderate growth alone would not be enough to persuade you grow this privet, because you may be leery of its rowdy invasive cousins. Sunshine is different in that it is sterile, therefore producing no seeds. It has been tested for years.

Sunshine is cold hardy from zones 6-10 meaning that a large part of the country can relish in its beauty. Select a site with plenty of sun to reach the full color potential. While it is not particularly picky on soil it makes no sense to stick this beauty in cement clay-like conditions.

Make soil improvement a part of every gardening project you do. At the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens we have areas with a lot of sand so we work in organic matter like composted cotton burr or something similar to help increase the fertility. In other areas we have something we call muck, which is horrendous and drains poorly. Our staff works tirelessly improving these conditions as well.

We planted three gallon shrubs in our garden, digging the hole about twice as wide as the rootball. This shrub is like azaleas and camellias, for which it is recommended that you plant slightly high, about 1 to 2 inches above the soil surface. Once you do this and have added your backfill, then use a good layer of mulch in the bed covering the top of the root zone.

If you are planting as a colorful hedge you will need to shear or trim a little, about three times a year. Strive to make your top narrower, tapering outward, allowing the sunlight to reach the bottom leaves. A quick internet search will allow you to see glorious photos of serpentine plantings as well as unbelievable knot or maze-like gardens.

They also make terrific accent planting where you might just use an odd numbered grouping or cluster. While they really stand out against a background of dark green plant material, think also about blues and violets. Plant several of them in front of a Shoal Creek vitex and you will have a stunning partnership.

We have ours in a garden with blood-leaf bananas, SunPatiens, Indigo Spires salvia and the new Amistad salvia with dark-violet blooms and black calyces. We finished our layering with several scaevola, the purple fan flower that also does its part to show off Sunshine’s golden leaves.

Warning, since Sunshine is such a hot shrub you will want to grab yours as soon as you see them. This is one of those plants that tend to disappear quickly