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A SHRUB FOR SHADE - Leucothoe fontanesiana

Anne K Moore
Photographs Anne K Moore


Shade rules many a backyard. If you need to hide a structure or want to create a garden room, finding the right shrub for the job can be daunting. There is not much to choose from if you are looking for a tall evergreen shrub that will grow under shade trees in damp acid soil. Consider using Leucothoe fontanesiana, an evergreen shrub that grows 3 to 6 feet tall or taller and just as wide or wider.

Whether you live in chilly USDA Zone 5 or hot Zone 8, or the zones in between, drooping leucothoe can create a deep green fountain wall. Add in the springtime tiny white flowers that perfume your garden room, and this shrub is definitely a winner. A caveat (or maybe 3.) Michael Dirr says, in his “Dirr’s Hardy Trees & Shrubs” that the flowers need to be placed a safe distance from your nose so you might want to sniff the flowers before you plant a wall of leucothoe. This shrub also needs protection from winds; it needs steady watering if not situated in a damp, acid-soil wooded spot.

Drooping leucothoe thrives in our sheltered backyard. Large mature trees and a solid wood privacy fence keep any errant winds at bay. When it starts looking a bit leggy, I cut back the tops. I was so frustrated with a couple of the bushes that I cut them to the ground, thinking I might just fill in with something else. I didn’t get around to replacing them. They have grown back rejuvenated and full. You can’t see it in the photo with the bird feeder, but there’s a garden shed behind those drooping leucothoe shrubs. You can spot the door through the leucothoe arch in the other photo.

Many birds visit the leucothoe and use them for perching. Cardinals seem to be especially fond of them. They use them to hide from predators and prying bird-watchers eyes.

Leucothoe fontanesiana is a mouthful (Pronounce leucothoe as lew-KO-though-we.) It’s worth learning the name of this Southeastern native shrub since it can fill a void in the garden where other shrubs fail. I prefer Drooping Leucothoe to its other common names, Dog Hobble & Fetterbush. The common names arise from leucothoe’s many stems, said to be able to hobble a dog that tries to get through the grove. It will form thickets but you can easily keep it in a clumping row with the judicious pruning out of unwanted trunks.

If drooping leucothoe is planted in dry shade, alkaline soil, or where winds put it under stress it can develop leaf diseases and fail to thrive. Give it a site to its liking; wet acid shade where few other shrubs will grow and it will fill in gracefully.

Posted November 9, 2012

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