Beautiful evergreen shrubs that grow in shade are usually just green – attractive enough, but not very exciting. To bring more beauty we need to look to a select group of plants that bloom in shade as well. High on the list of this elite group is the Pieris, or Japanese andromeda, a wonderful evergreen shrub with graceful perfumed flowers in late winter, which create a gorgeous effect. There are several varieties of this plant, but most grow large, and for smaller gardens, or for containers, the Temple Bells Pieris is the top choice. This variety has proved successful in the humid south, where other forms can develop problems, and it grows well in all mild states, thriving in areas with warm winters and moist summers.
The Temple Bells Pieris grows into a mounding shrub, reaching about 4 feet wide and 4 feet across after some years. The evergreen foliage is very attractive, and always looks great when the plant is not in flower. The leathery leaves are oval, 2 to 3 inches long, with a glossy, deep green surface, and they have an interesting, very fine serrated edge, but they are not spiny. The plant has multiple stems and branches, with a deep brown, peeling bark, but this only becomes visible on very old plants – young plants naturally remain as a dense mound of foliage to the ground. By late fall the flower buds are already visible, like tiny fingers crowning the tips of the branches. These buds are extremely attractive, and over winter they slowly expand.
By late winter or early spring, depending on when things begin to warm up for you, the Temple Bells Pieris will be blooming. Each flower head consists of many long spikes of flowers, and each spike looks a lot like a spray of lily-of-the-valley, although these plants are not related to each other in any way at all. There may be 30 or more flowers in each spike, and many spikes in each flower cluster, making a large, showy head of blooms. The spikes arch over, giving a weeping effect to the flowering, and looking spectacular in your garden. The individual flowers look like hanging bells, and they release a wonderful sweet perfume. The base of the flowers and the stems are cream, and the petals are pure white. Flowering lasts for up to a month, and the attractive buds add several more months to the interest, during the garden quiet of winter, when they are most appreciated.
Growing Temple Bells Pieris
Grow the Temple Bells Pieris in partial shade. It looks lovely in a woodland garden, or an Asian-style garden, in shady beds under trees, or on the north side of your home. Some morning sun is appreciated in cooler zones, and the light dappled shade from deciduous trees all day is excellent, especially in summer. It grows best in moist, acidic soil that is rich in organic material. The pH should be between 4.5 and 6.5, and if you or your neighbors are growing azaleas, rhododendrons or camellias successfully, then you can grow this plant too. Enrich the soil when planting with lime-free compost, peat moss, rotted leaves or pine needles, and mulch with similar materials in spring or fall, to conserve moisture and feed your plants. In spring, after flowering, use a blended fertilizer recommended for acid-loving flowering plants. This plant is usually free of pests and diseases, if grown in good conditions, and deer leave it strictly alone. No pruning or trimming is needed, but if you remove the flower spikes once they fade, without removing any leafy parts, this will encourage richer flowering in the following year.
If you don’t have suitable soil in your garden, you can to grow the Temple Bells Pieris by applying chelated iron in spring and fall, if your soil is neutral. An easier solution is to grow it in a planter, trough or large pot. You can create a lovely planter for a shady patio using this plant along with Encore Azaleas and one or more of our selection of camellia bushes. All of them with thrive if you fill the planter with soil blended for acid-loving plants, and feed them regularly with liquid fertilizer for acid-loving plants. Make sure your planter has drainage holes, and water as soon as the surface becomes a little dry. Combining these plants will give you blooms for many months of the year.
History and Origins of Temple Bells Pieris
The Japanese andromeda, Pieris japonica, is a native shrub from Japan, Taiwan and eastern China. It grows in mountain forests among giant trees and ferns. Wild plants can be small shrubs or small trees, and a lot of size variation exists. The name ‘andromeda’ comes from an earlier name once used by botanists. It is also often called Lily-of-the-valley shrub. We don’t know the origin of this plant, but we might speculate that it came from the Japanese islands of Ryukyu, which include Okinawa. Sometimes this plant is sold as ‘Pieris ryukyuensis’, a species that does not in fact exist at all, but it may have been given that name by a nursery to indicate its origins. It is also sometimes offered with the even more fanciful name of ‘Crabiodendron yunnanense’, which would suggest an origin in Yunnan province in China. Wherever it comes from – and we may never know – this plant is a great garden choice, especially in warmer zones, and we know our stock will soon be gone – so order now and raise your garden’s profile while you still have the chance.