Few shrubs can match Japanese Andromeda, particularly in elegance and beauty all the year ’round. It is not only an evergreen but has theatrical blooms of a clear waxy white that are fragrant.
Japanese Andromeda is superlative in so many ways, it’s amazing that it is not planted everywhere.
There are many points in common between this species, Pieris japonica, from the mountains of Japan and our wild, native andromeda shrub of the southern Alleghenies. But to my mind, our native plant falls short in the comparison.
Broad, Informal Mound Like Shrub
Japanese Andromeda makes a broad, informal mound-like shrub, often called the – lily of the valley shrub. Its leaves are from 1-1/2 to 2 inches long, elliptic and finely scalloped or toothed. They are of a rich, lustrous green with an underpart that’s also lustrous but of a lighter green like the midrib above. As in many plants of the Heath family, to which it belongs, the leaves are crowded toward the tip of the new growth.
Leaves remain on the branchlets for more than four years. This unusual persistence gives the shrub its typically dense, well-furnished appearance. One variety has white-margined leaves. While very dramatic, such horticultural sophistication presents difficulties in that only a very conventional setting seems suitable.
Flower Buds in Clusters
Flower buds form in clusters at the tips of the shoots during the summer and remain exposed for the next seven months as a noticeable sign of spring. In March or April, the buds open into urn-shaped flowers.
Although the individual blooms are small, one-third of an inch long, the branch of flowers is often 6 inches or more in length and the mass effect of the hanging panicles is very showy. These early blossoms with their delicate, penetrating perfume always seem a great blessing for the first industrious bees.
Despite their delicate appearance, the flowers have a wonderful sturdiness and last for five weeks or more, often through mid-spring. Such a record cannot be touched by the andromeda’s relatives, the azaleas and rhododendrons, nor by more than a few of the usual garden subjects.
Wherever rhododendrons thrive, andromedas will grow easily. For best results, their fibrous and rather shallow roots need porous soil with a fairly even supply of moisture. They should be protected against cutting winds.
If planted where there is little natural moisture, a 5- to 8-inch mulch, a coarse acid compost or a cover of partially rotted leaves is recommended.
When propagated from cuttings or layers, growth is a little faster than when started from seeds. Once established in congenial surroundings, andromedas make strong growth.
Cultivated plants rarely grow taller than 7 or 8 feet and are, therefore, ideal for many situations. In their native land, many develop into magnificent little trees 10 to 15 feet tall with twisted, sinewy trunks.
As they should always be transplanted with the ball of roots as little disturbed as possible, it follows that moving may be done at any season except the active growing season of early summer. Spring and early autumn are preferable.
For example 4 Japanese Andromedas could be featured at the entrance of a property.
The number could be varied from two to five, depending on the space and funds available. As these shrubs are attractive and flower in their smallest stage, plants as little as 1 to 2 feet high may be used.
In this case, it is of importance that soil preparation and allotment of space provide for future growth so that the plantings will not have to be remade just as the feature subjects are reaching a good size.
From the start, if surrounded by a ground cover, these shrubs present a finished effect. During the first few years, while the other plants are filling out, Periwinkle (Vinca minor) will make a fine groundcover and edging and will serve as a means of uniting plantings on each side of the driveway.
Periwinkle’s blue flowers appear at the same time as the fragrant andromeda and will make an exquisite-background for spring-flowering bulbs – not many bulbs, nor many kinds – just a few clumps of snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis or the larger Galanthus elwesi) – With perhaps two or three dozen of the white or very pale short-trumpet daffodils.
Complete the picture two Japanese cherries, one on either side of the driveway. There is no need to dwell on their unique beauty in the spring or their display of pink and copper foliage in autumn.
They furnish a light pattern of shade in which andromedas give the best results in most situations. Sargent Cherry (Prunus sargenti) would be the hardy type favored in this grouping but any of the varieties of moderately upright growth such as Kwanzan, Shirofugen or Asagi would be good.
Because plantings near entrances often meet hazards, this grouping by the driveway could be faced with a protective boundary of Box Barberry (Barberis thunbergi minor).
The typical form of Japanese Barberry could be used in the-same way but eventually would require shearing to keep it within bounds.
Andromedas are often selected for foundation plantings because of their evergreen leaves and freedom from plant pests and diseases.
If used near buildings, it is important to make sure that their soil continues at the proper proportion of acidity, for andromedas are acid-loving plants.
Limy materials from walls may impregnate soil near buildings and must be counteracted by a yearly dressing of a commercial acid fertilizer or a very light scattering of such compounds as ammonium, ferrous sulphate or Epsom salts.
In warm, mild climates, camellias and a number of other broad!eaved evergreens may be used in much the same combination as shown here for Japanese Andromeda.
The very handsome Taiwan Andromeda (Pieris taiwanensis) may be considered. It is similar to the Japanese Andromeda except that the established plant shows a more spreading growth at the base and seems lower and more mounded in habit.