What’s in a name?
One name that turns up occasionally is Lily-of-the-Valley Shrub, which is somewhat appropriate for the appearance of the flowers but less so for the plant’s overall size and scent (which, to my nose, are either non-fragrant or scented differently than true lily-of-the-valley). The true Andromeda shrubs are different as well, though they are related, so we prefer to simply call them Pieris to avoid any confusion.
What do they do, and what do I do with them?
I find Pieris to be quite useful shrubs for a range of uses. They are members of a large family of plants that include azaleas, rhododendrons, blueberries and heath. Fortunately for many of us, they stand apart from those relatives in their distastefulness to deer. In this day and age, that trait alone is gaining ground as being highly important. My own yard is marauded by deer and my Pieris have yet to be bothered in the 15-plus years they’ve been planted. As for soil, you can take cues from their cousins: moisture-retentive but well-drained soil with moderate acidity is the way to keep them happy. Pieris are woodland or woods’-edge plants in their native habitat, and here they also appreciate a shaded exposure.
These shrubs are one of the earliest to bloom, and flowers are white or, less commonly, pink. As the flowers fade, new foliage emerges, often in shades of red or orange. Leaves are evergreen and plants grow fairly slowly, less than 1’ per year. Many selections exist, so you can pick between full-size varieties that will reach 8’ tall or dwarf varieties that stay under 4’. As with most plants, if you’re worried about something growing too tall and needing trimming, save yourself (and the plant) the trouble of repeated pruning and pick a shorter grower. They may grow more slowly, but they also don’t have as far to go until they’re a mature size. Pieris don’t come out of a pruning looking good, so if you have limits on space, eventual size is important when deciding which variety to use. Dwarf forms tend to keep foliage down to the ground as they age, whereas taller growers develop lower stems that are mostly bare, like Mountain Laurels do. I think this can be attractive in and of itself, but I also see this as an opportunity to plant shorter shrubs or perennials at their base if you want to cover that up. Ferns, Sweetbox, Hellebores, dwarf Rhododendrons, Phlox, Celandine Poppy and more would be lovely companions to underplant a tall-growing Pieris.
When do you have them for sale?
Nearly year-round, but the best selection is in spring, so come by now while we still have a good range of varieties and sizes. They can be planted any time of year that the ground isn’t frozen, but spring planting gives the roots the maximum amount of time before the ground freezes again to get well-established.
by Miri Talabac, Woody Plant Buyer