Most shrubs have a certain season where they are most attractive. Loropetalum (Loropetalum chinense) is one that can be pretty during any season. We have one at school near our greenhouses that has a few blooms and many buds right now.
Sometimes called Chinese fringe flower, this semi-evergreen shrub is in the witch hazel family. Most witch hazels bloom in late fall and early winter, but this one usually shows most color in late winter and early spring. A flush of mild winter weather can extend that season.
In summer, this shrub can still bloom profusely. If it is planted in a sheltered location and soils are kept moist but not wet, Loropetalum will thrive. Proper pruning can be a key to its general health and blooming frequency and duration.
In general, if this shrub is planted in a location where it has room to grow, it requires little pruning. Pruning can affect how profusely Loropetalums bloom, but these are tough plants. Their overall health won’t suffer. However, if you prune them in the fall you can expect very little flowering the following spring.
Historically, the biggest problem with fringe flowers was that they outgrew their place in the landscape. Many could attain 15 feet or more. It was easy to overcome, but the shrubs would look butchered for a couple months. In recent years, horticulturalists have developed new dwarf cultivars. This has been a great innovation. Two examples are ‘snow muffin’ and ‘snow dance’. Both grow to only about two feet tall. Numerous other cultivars in the four to six-foot range are now available.
Some fringe flowers have reddish to purplish leaves, while others have bluish-green foliage. Leaf color can also vary depending upon the quantity of shade plants receive. Too much light can wash out the natural hue. Too much shade can cause plants to lose the pigment too. Flower color can vary from the typical pink to a deep red. Some even have white flowers.
Fringe flowers have dense foliage consisting of many small leaves. Because of this, many songbirds are attracted to them for nests.
Another drawback to Lorapetalum occurs during harsh winters. These plants will lose their leaves when temperatures dip into the teens or single digits consistently. Unless winter weather is extremely severe, these plants will recover. They simply won’t have any leaves until spring. This happened around here about four or five years ago. It is common with abelias too.
One nice thing about incorporating fringe flowers into the landscape is that deer usually leave them alone. Generally, deer don’t like wild witch hazel plants either. Maybe it has something to do with the antiseptic nature of the foliage. Loropetalum leaf and stem preparations can be used topically just like witch hazel can, though they’re probably not as effective.
This is a shrub I like very much. It’s tough to kill, has nice color even when it isn’t blooming, and it’s likely to flower at any time. It’s also not invasive. I’ve never known it to spread seeds into adjacent places. Birds don’t seem to eat the seeds either.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.