Leucothoe Plants: Growing, Maintenance, and Care Tips

Leucothoe [Loo-KOH-thoh-ee] is a genus of broadleaf evergreen flowering plants belonging to the family Ericaceae along with Calluna vulgaris.

This genus has around 50 different species, including Leucothoe Fontanesiana and Leucothoe Axillaris.

Blooming Leucothoe PlantPin

This is a broad-leaf evergreen shrub native to the southern United States, Madagascar, and Asia.

The common names of this plant include:

  • Coastal Doghobble
  • Drooping Leucothoe
  • Swamp Doglaurel
  • Fetterbush
  • Coastal Leucothoe
  • Rainbow Leucothoe
  • Mountain Doghobble
  • Scarletta Fetterbush

All of these species are low maintenance and produce beautiful foliage to enhance the overall beauty of the garden, particularly in winter and autumn.

Leucothoe works well on dry slopes without irrigation and slopes near water.

Leucothoe Plant Care

Leucothoes are considered low-maintenance plants, making them excellent plants to grow in your garden.

Leucothoe plant with vibrant attractive flowersPin

Size and Growth

This evergreen deciduous shrub is vase-shaped, grows about 3’ to 5’ feet tall, and spreads about 6’ feet or more.

The stems of this plant are elegant and arching. The majority of the species start with beautiful shades of vibrant green, bronze, or red stems, which turn into glossy or dark green as they mature.

Generally, the Leucothoe plant has spear-shaped or elongated green leaves. However, the leaf color ranges from bright shades of red, pink, pale yellow, or green, changing to purple or bronzy during autumn, depending on the variety.

Some of the varieties also have variegated leaves.

In addition, the plant growth rate of Leucothoe is fast during its first few years, the spring and summer

Flowering and Fragrance

All the varieties of this ornamental plant produce bell-shaped, white flowers.

The flower color might also be bluish in some species. These tiny flowers gradually transform into five-lobed globular fruits.

The bloom time of the Leucothoe plant is between April and May.

Light and Temperature

This plant tolerates the full sun to partial shade in cooler climates and if there is enough moisture in the soil. 

Remember that your Leucothoe plant needs to receive sufficient moisture so its foliage won’t burn in full sun.

Full shade to dappled sunlight or morning sun with afternoon shade is required to develop vibrant leaf color and variegated leaves.

The lighter spot you place this plant in, the more beautiful its color will become.

These plants are hardy to USDA Hardiness Zones 6 through 9.

This plant is moderately hardy but requires a bit of protection during the winter season.

Provide extra protection during periods when thawing and frosting occur regularly.

Watering and Feeding

Although not drought-tolerant, this plant can tolerate short dry spells. However, for the healthiest plants, you must provide them with moderate but regular watering. 

During extremely hot seasons, you need to add extra water if necessary.

Make sure the soil stays moist and ensure soil doesn’t completely dry out between waterings.

Keep in mind that Mountain Doghobble shouldn’t sit in standing water for an extended period.

Feed the plant with special Ericaceae fertilizer during the spring season to enhance its health and maintain the soil’s acidity.

Soil and Transplanting

It grows optimally in moist, well-drained soil. This plant is rather versatile, growing well in all types of soil, but grows best in acidic soil.

When planting, prepare the soil by adding materials that improve drainage and moisture retention, like composted manure, peat moss, or sand.

Also, remember to avoid soggy soil, as it can cause fungal diseases.

When transplanting your leucothoe plant, it’s best kept in partial shade.

Grooming and Maintenance

Protect this plant from drying winds as it might damage the evergreen foliage. Apply a layer of organic matter or mulch all around the root area to prevent desiccation and weed.

A bark layer also works well in maintaining the acidity of the soil and protecting the plant from drying out.

There is not much need for pruning unless there is a broken or errant stem.

Enjoy new growth by taking out stems within a few inches of the soil, which will rejuvenate the old plants.

How to Propagate Leucothoe Plant

The propagation of this plant is done using half-ripe cuttings and seeds.

Here’s what you need to do:

  • Sow the seeds in late winter in part shade inside the greenhouse.
  • Be sure to cover the seeds lightly.
  • Make sure the compost doesn’t dry out throughout the germination process.
  • Once the plant is big enough to handle, take the seedlings out and plant them in separate pots.
  • Allow the plant to grow under light shade inside the greenhouse till its first winter.
  • During late spring, transfer the plant to its permanent spot in the garden during the late spring season.

When propagating the plant using half-rip cuttings, take 2” to 4” inches of the cutting using a sharp knife or pruning shears.

  • Grow the cuttings in a frame during the summer season.
  • Apply a layer of mulch in the fall season.
  • Once the plant is big enough, transfer them out to the permanent position.

Leucothoe Plant Pests Or Diseases

The Drooping Leucothoe is deer resistant and doesn’t experience any severe disease or pest problems.

However, be on the lookout for scale insects, lace bugs, leaf gall, powdery mildew, tar spot, and Anthracnose spot.

In a humid environment, the plant might experience a leaf spot. Other common problems include stem rot, root rot, and fungal diseases.

Note that when you see yellowing and wilted leaves, your plant is certain to have root rot.

Is Leucothoe Toxic or Poisonous?

This plant is toxic and might prove fatal if ingested. Severe symptoms, once ingested, may manifest as headache, weakness, depression, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and even paralysis. 

Some mild symptoms include sweating, nasal discharge, and salivation.

The plant also has a high flammability rating and shouldn’t be placed inside the house.

Leucothoe Plant Uses

This evergreen shrub works well as a single specimen when planted in containers. With its striking curling leaves, the Leucothoe plant also makes an excellent accent plant.

Because of its compact growth habit, this low-growing shrub grows well with companion plants like azaleas, oakleaf hydrangeas, rhododendrons, and rose of Sharon.

It also looks stunning when used with other plants in borders, woodland gardens, rock gardens, slopes, or as a ground cover.

Moreover, this plant’s fragrant flowers are lovely as cut flower arrangements and are suitable for pollinator gardens.

It may be used as a specimen plant, hedges under-planting for bigger shrubs, or as a foundation plant.

The attractive foliage of this plant looks wonderful with Checkerberry, Ling Heather, and Skimmia plants.

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