Coastal LeucothoeLeucothoe axillaris
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Outdoor Growing zone
Full Sun, Partial Sun
The Coastal Leucothoe is a native plant of the southeast that is ideal for shady, damp parts of your garden. It forms a low mound of arching stems, reaching no more than 3 feet tall, but covering up to 5 feet wide. The glossy green leaves are bronzy-red in spring, turning purple tones in winter. In May clusters of bell-shaped flowers sprout from the branches, similar to mountain laurel or Japanese Pieris. Grow it with acid-loving plants are a groundcover beneath trees or on banks, and beside streams, ponds and lakes.
The Coastal Leucothoe grows well in most light conditions, from sun to shade, if the soil is damp. It grows best in acid soils that are rich in organic matter, and damp to wet, but not stagnant. It has no significant pests or diseases, deer don’t eat it, and it resists salt spray in coastal areas, but not brackish water. No trimming or particular attention is needed for this easy-care plant.
Despite the growing interest in our native shrubs, you could be forgiven for not knowing the Coastal Leucothoe, even though it is a terrific choice for shady spots on damp to wet acid soil, such as along streams or in low-lying parts of the garden. This is an attractive plant that resembles the more well-known mountain laurel, or the Japanese Pieris. It has attractive clusters of hanging white bells in spring, and handsome glossy foliage that is bronzy red in spring and purple in winter. It forms a dense ground cover in beds, and turns those awkward, wet corners into attractive parts of your garden.
You would also be forgiven for not knowing how to pronounce this name. (It is Leu-ko-thó-ē, with the final ‘e’ pronounced separate from the ‘o’). Leucothoë was the mythological daughter of a Babylonian king, who killed her for attracting the attention of the god Apollo, so it’s certainly a better name than ‘coastal dog-hobble’, which along with ‘dog-laurel’ are the usual alternatives.
The Coastal Leucothoe is a spreading evergreen shrub, growing 2 to 3 feet tall, and spreading to cover an area up to 5 feet across. The stems rise up and then spread outwards, creating an open, vase-like shape. The leaves are smooth and glossy, slender ovals about 3 inches long. Young leaves are an attractive bronzy-red color, turning to a rich dark-green as they mature. The leaves often turn bronzy-purple during the winter months. In May long arching to hanging clusters of flowers grow from the base of the leaves along the upper parts of the stems. The pure-white flowers are like tiny hanging bells, each one just one-third of an inch in length, but with many blooms in each cluster, making an attractive spring display. Clusters of dry seed-pods develop in September and October. They are curious hanging clusters of a reddish-brown color.
If you garden on acid soil, then the Coastal Leucothoe is a terrific choice for shady areas, on flat ground or slopes, where it makes a valuable ground-cover in front of larger shrubs. It is especially useful in wet ground. It is an excellent companion for acid-loving plants like camellias, azaleas, mountain laurel and rhododendrons. Place plants 2 to 3 feet apart to develop a continuous cover. It could also be grown around a pond, along a stream or at a lake-front property. Since it is a native plant it is an ideal choice for natural and wild gardening, with minimal maintenance.
This plant is borderline hardy in zone 5, if planted in a sheltered spot and given a deep protective winter mulch. It is perfectly hardy in warmer zones, from zone 6 to zone 9 – climates similar to its native habitats.
You can grow the Coastal Leucothoe in full sun if the ground is always moist, but it generally grows better in partial shade, with protection from drying sunlight. It tolerates considerable shade, even full shade, but not the very deep shade beneath large, dense evergreens. It should be planted in acid soils with a pH value below 6.0, and rich in organic material. Add plenty of lime-free compost to the soil when preparing planting areas, and mulch in fall with more. The soil should be kept moist, and this plant tolerates all but the wettest soils. It isn’t very drought resistant, but it does tolerate coastal salt-spray well. It will not grow in brackish or salty water.
Very little maintenance is needed for the Coastal Leucothoe. It should be watered if needed to avoid dryness, and it could be trimmed after flowering, but that usually isn’t needed. Remove any dead branches in spring. It is generally free of pests or diseases and normally not eaten by deer.
The Coastal Leucothoe, Leucothoe axillaris, is also called coastal dog-hobble or swamp dog-laurel. It is in the same plant family (Ericaceae) as Japanese Pieris and mountain laurel (Kalmia), similar shrubs with more spectacular flowering. It grows in low-lying coastal areas, along flood plains, by streams and in damp woods. It can be found all the way from Virginia and North Carolina to Florida and around the coast into Louisiana.
This unique and interesting native plant is not very often available in nurseries, so we are pleased to be able to offer it. We’re confident that it will be a big hit with our clients, so order now while our limited supply remains available.