Skimmias are easy-care and handsome evergreen shrubs that also bear fragrant flowers in spring, plus some varieties have the added bonus of decorative long-lasting berries in autumn and winter. These slow-growing shrubs are excellent for structure in the border or in pots, forming rounded mounds of oval, leathery, dark green or reddish green leaves. Large clusters of white or greenish flowers, borne in spring, are often very fragrant.
Skimmia varieties are male, female, or hermaphrodite. If female and male varieties are grown near each other, the female will produce berries. Hermaphrodite varieties are best for small spaces as they produce berries on their own. The fruits can cause mild stomach upset if eaten. Skimmia size varies according to variety and ranges from 50 to 150 cm high and wide.
How to grow skimmia
Grow skimmias in borders or pots. Buy and plant skimmias at any time of year so long as the ground isn’t frozen or waterlogged: the widest selection is likely to be found on sale in autumn and early winter. Plant in soil that’s water retentive and rich in organic matter. Mulch border plants annually and regularly water skimmias growing in pots.
Growing skimmia: jump links
- Planting skimmia
- Caring for skimmia
- Propagating skimmia
- Growing skimmia: problem-solving
- Advice on buying skimmia
- Skimmia varieties to grow
Where to grow skimmias
Skimmias do best in partial shade although they will tolerate full shade. Apart from in cooler areas of the country or where the soil remains moist all summer, avoid growing skimmias in full sun which can make the leaves pale and the whole plant look sickly.
How to plant skimmias
A good fertile soil rich in organic matter is important for healthy growth, and the soil type for skimmias should be neither too wet nor too dry. A popular misconception is that skimmias require ericaceous (lime free) soil, but this is not the case. For growing in pots, choose good-sized containers and plant skimmias singly. Another option is to buy small ‘starter’ plants to put in window boxes or use as part of a mixed planting in a pot, and then transplant the skimmia to a larger pot or into the ground after a year or so. For growing in pots, use a good quality, peat-free multi-purpose potting compost with added loam. Plant with the soil level at the same depth as in the pot. Firm well and water in.
Caring for skimmias
After planting, keep well watered during dry spells for the first 12-18 months. Mulching the ground over the roots with leaf mould, garden compost or chipped bark retains moisture in the soil and protects the roots from extremes of temperature but do keep the mulch clear of the stems. Applying mulch every winter/early spring keeps the soil in good condition. Skimmias growing in pots should be watered regularly and never allowed to dry out. Even during the winter months, occasional watering may be needed.
Regular pruning of skimmias isn’t necessary, but if the occasional vigorous shoot spoils the shape of the bush, prune it back in spring.
How to propagate skimmias
Skimmias can be propagated by half-ripe cuttings taken in mid to late summer, although they’re not the easiest plants to raise from cuttings.
Growing skimmia: problem solving
Skimmias are easy to grow and trouble-free, given the right growing conditions.
Yellowing or pale leaves, sometimes coupled with spindly growth, are likely to be a result of dry conditions or poor soil. Correct by improving the soil with an annual mulch of well-rotted organic matter or move the plant to a better position.
Skimmia varieties to grow
Most skimmias on sale are varieties of Skimmia japonica and can be bought from nurseries, garden centres or online suppliers. Male varieties don’t produce berries and female varieties will bear fruit only if grown near a male. One male can pollinate several females. Hermaphrodite (self-fertile) varieties will produce fruits alone.
- Skimmia japonica ‘Fragrans’ (male) is very free-flowering and is upright and compact in habit. Height x Spread: 1m.
- Skimmia japonica ‘Nymans’ (female) is wide-spreading in habit with slender leaves. H x S: 1 m x 1.5m.
- Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’ (male) has particularly decorative, dark green foliage margined with red, and produces red flower buds in autumn that look attractive all winter, opening to white flowers in spring. H x S: 1.2m x 1.2m
- Skimmia japonica subsp. reevesiana is hermaphrodite, with long, slender green leaves. Clusters of red berries are produced in autumn and last for months. H x S: 1m x 1m