This Shrub Gets Big--Fast!

The weeping form of a young Chinese fringe suggests it will be a small plant at maturity, but looks can be deceiving.
John Alex Floyd, Jr.

"I never knew they got so large." People say that a lot about pink Chinese fringe, especially after those beautiful little shrubs they bought at the nursery have had a few years to grow. Also known as fringe flower, this popular evergreen has pink flowers and purple leaves and is shooting up in home landscapes all across the South.

Pink Chinese fringe is sneaky. While the flower and leaf colors remain true, the compact, weeping habit of the small plant gradually disappears as it grows. What starts out as a petite, mannerly shrub turns into anything but that.

It Grows Fast
The pink Chinese fringe ( Loropetalum chinense) in the photo is only 7 years old, but it has already reached the eaves of this home. If a 1-gallon containerized plant can become a multistemmed specimen shrub in several years, you better think hard about where you place it. Remember that its adult size is comparable to that of a Japanese maple or Burford holly. In fact, Chinese fringe can be limbed up easily into a lovely tree form. Chinese fringe prefers a bit of shade along with rich soil, and it doesn't like dry conditions. But it will grow in full sun and slightly wet soil. Use it en masse as a backdrop for azaleas or as a substitute for crepe myrtles in areas with filtered sun.

Selections with pink blooms include 'Blush,' 'Burgundy,' 'Razzleberri,' 'Sizzling Pink,' 'Suzanne,' and 'Zhuzhou' (sometimes called 'Zhuzhou Fuchsia'). While their heights might vary, all become big shrubs. So when you see this cute, little plant at the nursery, don't let it fool you into thinking it'll stay that small forever.

PLANTS THAT SURPRISE YOU  

The following shrubs don't look like they'll grow very large when you purchase them in containers. But watch out as they mature, because they'll become the size of small trees.

  • Burford holly (Ilex cornuta 'Burfordii')--It can become 18 to 20 feet tall and wide. Even 'Dwarf Burford' can reach 8 to10 feet tall.
  • wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera)--This native shrub can quickly become a 15- to 20-foot-tall tree in the right location. Dwarf selections will stay around 3 feet tall but are hard to find.
  • Fortune's osmanthus (Osmanthus x fortunei)--A slow grower, this shrub has sticky leaves like a holly and is not dense when young. At maturity, it can be 15 to 20 feet tall and 6 to 8 feet wide.
  • 'Fruitlandii' thorny elaeagnus (Elaeagnus pungens 'Fruitlandii')--This common hedge plant grows almost as fast as kudzu and can send out runners 10 feet long in a growing season. It can easily grow to 15 feet tall and wide in a few years.
  • 'Nellie R. Stevens' holly (I. 'Nellie R. Stevens')--When young, this cone-shaped holly looks just right at the corner of your home. But, attaining a height of 20 feet and a width of 10 feet, this holly becomes oversize for most places it is planted.
  • Japanese privet (Ligustrum japonicum)--This plant can grow to a height of 12 feet in a few years. A good smaller selection is 'Recurvifolium.

This article is from the Favorites 2005 issue of Southern Living.