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Skimmia; Your Next Evergreen Shrub

Skimmia is a genus of evergreen shrubs in the Rutaceae family, native to East Asia and the Himalayas.

These compact, mound-forming plants are prized for their glossy, aromatic leaves, attractive flower clusters, and bright red berries.

Skimmia shrubs are dioecious, meaning there are separate male and female plants. To produce berries, you need both male and female plants in proximity.

Skimmia was first brought to Europe in the late 18th century, where it quickly gained popularity among gardeners for its ornamental value and low-maintenance nature. The plant’s name derives from the Japanese word “miyama shikimi,” reflecting its Asian origins.

Table of Contents

Best Soil for Skimmia

For skimmia to thrive, it’s essential to provide the right type of soil. Skimmia plants prefer well-drained, acidic to neutral soil with a pH level between 5.5 and 6.5.

The soil should be rich in organic matter, which helps retain moisture while ensuring good drainage.

  1. Soil Composition: Use a mixture of garden soil, peat, and compost to create a fertile and well-draining soil blend.
  2. pH Testing: Test the soil pH using a soil testing kit. If the pH is too high, you can lower it by adding sulfur or peat moss.
  3. Amendments: Incorporate organic matter such as compost or leaf mold to improve soil structure and fertility.
  4. Temperature: Skimmia is hardy in USDA zones 6 to 9, tolerating temperatures as low as -10°F (-23°C). In colder regions, a layer of mulch can help protect the roots during harsh winters.
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Where to Grow Skimmia

Choosing the right location for planting skimmia is crucial for its growth and development. Skimmia thrives in partial to full shade, making it an excellent choice for shaded areas of your garden.

  • Light Conditions: Skimmia prefers dappled shade or morning sun with afternoon shade. Too much direct sunlight can scorch the leaves and reduce the plant’s overall vigor.
  • Shelter: Plant skimmia in a sheltered location protected from harsh winds, which can cause leaf damage and adversely affect flowering and berry production.
  • Companion Planting: Skimmia pairs well with other shade-loving plants such as hostas, ferns, and azaleas. These companions create a harmonious and visually appealing garden bed.

How to Plant Skimmia

Proper planting techniques are essential for establishing a healthy skimmia plant.

  • Timing: The best time to plant skimmia is in the spring or fall when temperatures are mild.
  • Digging the Hole: Dig a hole twice as wide and slightly deeper than the root ball.
  • Planting Depth: Place the skimmia in the hole at the same depth it was growing in its nursery container. Adjust the depth so the top of the root ball is level with the surrounding soil.
  • Backfilling: Fill the hole with the prepared soil mix, gently firming it around the roots to eliminate air pockets.
  • Watering: Water the plant thoroughly after planting to help settle the soil and establish good root-to-soil contact.

How to Prune Skimmia

Pruning skimmia is essential for maintaining its shape, promoting healthy growth, and encouraging flowering and berry production.

  • Timing: The best time to prune skimmia is in late winter or early spring before new growth begins.
  • Tools: Use sharp, clean pruning shears to make precise cuts.
  • Shaping: Remove any dead, damaged, or diseased branches. Lightly trim the plant to maintain its desired shape and size.
  • Flowering Stems: Avoid cutting back flowering stems too severely, as this can reduce the number of flowers and berries produced.

Watering & Feeding Skimmia

Proper watering and feeding are essential for the health and vitality of skimmia plants.

  • Watering: Keep the soil consistently moist, especially during dry periods. Water the plant deeply and infrequently to encourage deep root growth. Avoid waterlogging, as skimmia is susceptible to root rot.
  • Mulching: Apply a layer of organic mulch around the base of the plant to retain moisture and regulate soil temperature.
  • Feeding: Feed skimmia with a balanced, slow-release fertilizer in the spring. Alternatively, use an ericaceous (acid-loving) plant fertilizer to provide the necessary nutrients without altering soil pH.

Propagating Skimmia

Propagating skimmia allows you to create new plants from cuttings or seeds.

  • Cuttings: Take semi-hardwood cuttings in late summer. Dip the cut ends in rooting hormone and plant them in a well-draining potting mix. Keep the cuttings moist and provide indirect light until roots develop.
  • Seeds: Collect seeds from ripe berries in the fall. Clean the seeds and sow them in a seed tray filled with a suitable seed-starting mix. Keep the tray in a cool, shaded area and maintain consistent moisture. Germination may take several months.
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Common Skimmia Pests & Diseases

Skimmia is generally a hardy plant but can be susceptible to certain pests and diseases.

Pests

Scale Insects: These small, sap-sucking insects can cause leaf yellowing and stunted growth. Treat with horticultural oil or insecticidal soap.
Red Spider Mites: These tiny pests can cause stippling and discoloration of leaves. Increase humidity around the plant and use miticides if necessary.

Diseases

Root Rot: Caused by overwatering and poorly-drained soil. Prevent by ensuring proper drainage and avoiding excessive watering.
Leaf Spot: Fungal infection that causes dark spots on leaves. Remove affected leaves and apply a fungicide if needed.

Nutrient Deficiencies

Yellowing leaves can indicate iron chlorosis, often caused by alkaline soil. Apply an iron supplement or soil acidifier to correct the pH and restore healthy foliage.

Skimmia Varieties

Several skimmia varieties offer different characteristics in terms of size, foliage color, and berry production.

  • Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’: Known for its red-tinted flower buds that open to white flowers, followed by red berries.
  • Skimmia japonica ‘Fragrant Cloud’: Features highly fragrant white flowers and red berries.
  • Skimmia japonica ‘Kew Green’: Noted for its bright green flowers and compact growth habit.
  • Skimmia japonica ‘Nymans’: A male variety with attractive red flower buds and glossy green leaves.
  • Skimmia reevesiana ‘Reeves Red’: Self-fertile variety producing both flowers and berries without the need for a male pollinator, ideal for smaller gardens.

Lesser-Known Tips for Growing Skimmia

Beyond the basics, here are some additional tips to help you grow a thriving skimmia plant:

  • Companion Planting: Skimmia thrives when planted alongside other acid-loving plants such as rhododendrons, camellias, and pieris. These plants share similar soil and light requirements, creating a harmonious and visually appealing garden bed.

  • Winter Protection: While skimmia is generally hardy, providing some winter protection can help prevent frost damage. Mulch around the base of the plant to insulate the roots, and consider using burlap or frost cloth to cover the plant during extreme cold snaps.

  • Encouraging Berry Production: To ensure a good crop of berries, plant both male and female skimmia varieties close together. Male plants provide the necessary pollen for female plants to produce berries. For example, Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’ (male) can be paired with Skimmia japonica ‘Nymans’ (female) for optimal berry production.

  • Container Growing: Skimmia can be successfully grown in containers, making it a versatile choice for patios, balconies, and small gardens. Use a well-draining, acidic potting mix and choose a container with adequate drainage holes. Water regularly and feed with a slow-release fertilizer to keep the plant healthy and vibrant.
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Planting Skimmia Shrubs

Skimmia shrubs are a versatile and beautiful addition to any garden, offering year-round interest with minimal maintenance. By understanding their specific needs and providing the right care, you can enjoy the enduring beauty of these remarkable plants for years to come.

Are you ready to add Skimmia to your garden?

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