Leucothoe fontanesiana

Leucothoe fontanesiana

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Leucothoe fontanesiana is a shrub of small or medium size, evergreen, native to North America; to this genus belong some evergreen shrubs, or deciduous shrubs, widespread in Asia and in North America. It has a hanging or creeping habit, it produces long woody stems, poorly branched, which give the plant a disordered appearance; the foliage is oval or lanceolate, dark green, leathery and slightly thick.
During the winter months the foliage takes on a reddish color, very decorative. In spring, from the lower part of the branches hang several clusters of bell-shaped flowers, small in size, white or pink, delicately scented. Numerous cultivars exist, with particularly compact habit, or with colored leaves.
The most widespread cultivar is L. f. "Rainbow", with dark green foliage, mottled with yellow and pink. To maintain a compact shape it is advisable to prune the plant after flowering, removing about a third of the length of the branches.

The Leucothoe

There Leucothoe It is a shrub that has become popular and widespread especially in recent years. His trump cards were the posture, the good ability to adapt to the shaded areas, but, above all, the stupendous coloring of the foliage that gives brightness and a pleasant atmosphere to the garden at any time of the year.
It is in fact persistent in almost all the cultivars and its nuances range from intense green, during the summer, to coppery or bronze, from November until the vegetative awakening.
This acidophilus can be used in small or large green spaces, but finds no difficulty in adapting to life in a container, on balconies and terraces.


The Leucothoe fontanesiana plants are cultivated with greater success in shady or partially shaded position, however sheltered from the sun's rays in areas with a very hot summer climate. However, they can easily adapt to different environments, with less than optimal characteristics. They are a variety of rather resistant plants and do not fear the cold, so they can also be grown in areas where winter temperatures are rather harsh.
The ideal positioning for the leucothoe is undoubtedly the partial shade, perhaps with the maximum of light during the morning hours. In this way the plant will grow quite vigorously, but the sun will not fade prematurely the beautiful shades of its foliage. Furthermore in these conditions it is possible to enjoy an abundant flower production.
However, the winds are the most fearful enemies, especially the cold ones at the end of winter. They can ruin the buds in formation and compromise the growth of the vintage. To overcome this sensitivity it is advisable to choose a location sheltered by a wall or to surround the leucothoe with other essences.
The same rules apply in pots, even if an even more sheltered position, both against the sun and frost, is recommended, if we live in an area whose climate is extremely hot in summer or cold in winter.


Regarding the need to provide sufficient water, from March to September it is advisable to water the plants of Leucothoe fontanesiana every 10-15 days, especially in the case of prolonged drought, always waiting for the soil to be dry between a watering and the other, to avoid the formation of water stagnations that would compromise the health of the plant ... Avoid watering during the cold months.
In the vegetative season, provide fertilizer for flowering plants every 20-30 days, or intervene with organic fertilizer towards the end of winter.
Make sure that the area is never too dry. To facilitate vegetative growth and fast development it is good to follow the plant with a certain care for at least two years from the time of the plant, irrigating at least once a week in the absence of rain. Later, especially in the North, we will intervene only in the case of prolonged drought during the summer season. In southern and potted regions, however, you will always have to be careful in this respect. Help can come from a thick mulch, which avoids excessive evaporation.


The shrubs of Leucothoe fontanesiana prefer soils with acid ph, therefore it is good to use a specific soil for acidophilic plants, mixed with little organic matter and little sand, to increase drainage. It is possible to grow these shrubs in pots, taking care to repot them every year, so as to provide them with a soil rich in nutrients.
Leucothoe must grow in acid to subacid medium. It is therefore important to provide it with a substratum with these characteristics, composed mostly of ground leaves, wood and peat to which you can add a little compost or well decomposed flour manure and about 1/3 of field soil. Let's make sure that the compound obtained is able to drain water efficiently, but also to stay fresh for a long time.
If our substrate is silty or clayey, and therefore not draining, we can always extract it in depth and replace it with a more suitable purchased product (for acidophilic) and amalgamated as explained above.
To avoid that over time the pH and texture of the soil change, we can insert a large perforated cement vessel on the bottom (which will create an area more isolated from the context) in the hole. It may also be useful to spread iron sulphate, needles and conifer bark regularly.

Potted soil

In pots it is good to opt for a medium to large container, also in accordance with the final size that will reach the shrub. It is essential to provide a thick draining layer based on gravel or expanded clay. As substrate we also use a soil for acidophilus to which we will have mixed some mature manure and field soil. We mulch the surface with pine bark.


The multiplication of this genus of plants takes place by seed or by cuttings; the cuttings are practiced using semi-woody stems, in summer.
For sowing it is advisable to proceed with the placing of the seeds in special containers that will be kept away to allow the plant to purchase the necessary strength, before being transplanted.

Pests and diseases

The Leucothoe fontanesiana plants are resistant and rather rustic and, in general, do not suffer from the attack of pests or diseases. They can be affected by the presence of water stagnation on the ground, which can cause the onset of root rot or mold that compromises health. For this reason it is good to plant in well-drained soil and check that it is dry before proceeding with a new watering.
It is a very healthy plant and is rarely sick. The only annoyances can come from an asphyxiated and poorly draining soil that can cause root rot and stunted growth.

Leucothoe characteristics

The genus Leucothoe is composed of about fifty species belonging to the Ericaceae family. In general they are erect-bearing shrubs, up to 5 meters high and at most 3 meters wide, coming from woodland, mountain and semi-mountain habitats, in North America, Japan and the Himalayan area.
Rather resistant to the cold, they have become among the major protagonists of the shaded areas, particularly when the soil naturally results from subacid to acid.
Their leaves are oblong, pointed and persistent; in the vegetative period they appear of a beautiful medium green, to then decline in warmer shades, on the arrival of winter. The new jets are also very characteristic, which keep colors from red to purplish purple for a long time.
The breeders have immediately seen these characteristics as great potentialities and have tried, through successive intersections, to obtain specimens that maintain the beautiful nuances even in the beautiful season.
However, the leucothoe can also offer a beautiful spring bloom, similar in shape to that of the heathers: rich clusters of white bells, capable of emanating moreover a very pleasant perfume.

Use Leucothe

The widespread cultivars on the market are quite compact: the branches can be erected, and elegantly arched, or grow almost horizontally, becoming precious ground cover.
They can become part of compositions of various kinds, even inside flower beds or mixed borders in the first or second floor. The more compact and low ones can also be used in rock gardens, in combination with other mountain or piedmont essences.
The maximum, however, is when they are placed in shaded areas in combination with other acidophiles, such as heathers, rhododendrons, azaleas, Japanese maples, pieris, camellias, cornus florida with which, usually, they also form a nice contrast due to the different textures and foliage colors.
Thanks to the large volume of the foliage and the rather slow growth, which reduces maintenance to a minimum, they are also ideal subjects for pots, to be adopted to embellish terraces and doorways.

Ideal planting period

The ideal time for planting is almost everywhere in the late spring, when the frosts are definitely over and the soil is well workable. In the South and on the coasts it is possible to proceed also in autumn, as long as the climate is mild, obtaining a plant already partially franked to the vegetative awakening.

Rusticity and mulching

The leucothoe is rather rustic, but fears cold winds at the end of winter. In addition to positioning it in a sheltered area, we can protect it with some special fabric, especially in the North or in pots, in this case also insulating it externally to prevent it completely freezing. Thick mulch is always a valuable aid.

Cultivation of Leucothoe

In spring it is useful to spread granular fertilizer for acidophilic plants in the area occupied by the foliage, following the manufacturer's instructions.
In this respect, human intervention is almost always superfluous. The shrub, in fact, naturally tends to assume a graceful, regular and compact shape. Very mature plants may need a rejuvenation intervention at the end of winter, which will consist in eliminating about 1/3 of the branches, especially the older or debilitated ones.
given the rather slow growth the repotting can be carried out every 4 years, in spring


To obtain new seedlings that maintain the peculiar characteristics of the cultivar it is good to proceed by cutting, offshoot or layering, to be practiced all in summer.
The segments, for the cutting, of about 25 cm, must be semi-identified. We soil the base with a suitable phytohormone and insert it in a light soil, composed of peat and sand (or perlite). The ideal environment must be sheltered from the winds, warm and shady. The rooting will take place within the autumn and we will be able to plant it the following spring.

Leucothoe fontanesiana: Variety of Leucothoe

The varieties used for their ornamental value are almost all cultivars or hybrids, developed with the aim of enhancing the beautiful coloring of the leaves, which can range from red, to pink, to purple to almost purple.

Family, genus, species Ericaceae, gen. Leucothoe, about 50 species
Plant type, growth habit Shrub, erect and enlarged
Maximum height-width 5m / 3 m
Foliage Generally persistent
Culture / maintenance Simple / low
Rusticitа From medium to very rustic
Water needs average
Exposure Half shade, shadow
Ground Forest land, peat, medium rich
Drainage great
soil pH From subacid to acid
Use Edging. Hedge, flowerbed, rock garden, vase
Propagation Talea, offshoot, layering







Other characteristics

Leucothoe axillaris
Kind species Clusters of white flowers in spring, scented 2 m 2 m Dark green, narrow, from young purple-brown. Rare in cultivation
'Curly Red' Not significant 0.8 m 1.5 m Bright green and shiny, curled. The new jets are red Suitable as a ground cover or in large vases
Leucothoe davisiae Kind species White flowers in May, in large clusters 1 m 1.5 m From the United States, rare in cultivation
Leucothoe fontanesiana 'Scarletta', left 'Zeblid' Clusters of white flowers in spring, scented 2 m 3 m Red, violet, bronze in winter Wonderful colors, to be placed in view in winter.

Leucothoe walteri
'Rainbow' Scented white flowers 1.5 m 1.5 m Young leaves pink with yellow spots, then remain mottled in the cream Gives brightness to a shady area
'Royal Rubis' Scented white flowers 0.6 m 1 m Coppery purple, then dark green Suitable for vases and rock garden
'Zebonard' Scented white flowers 1.5 m 3 m Purplish red, then crimson, then green Ground cover or small hedge