Plant A Paper Bush In Your Winter Garden

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Paper bush and daffodils at Gibbs Gardens, Ball Ground, Georgia.

Is this the winter of your discontent? Grumpy knows how to make you happy. Plant a paper bush. Not only will you win instant recognition as a gardener to be reckoned with, but you will also enjoy a carefree shrub that brightens winter with months of fragrant blooms. Read on to learn how to plant and care for this winter garden star.

About Paper Bush

Native to China, paper bush (Edgeworthia chrysantha) gets its name from its bark, which is used in Asia to make high-quality paper. The first place I ever saw it was many years ago at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia. Back then, it was known as Edgeworthia papyrifera, which I believe to be a totally different species with much smaller flowers than the ones you see here. Plant connoisseurs knew about paper bush, but it didn't grab much attention until nurserymen planting displays for winter garden shows discovered that it was just about the easiest shrub to force into early bloom indoors. Thousands of winter-weary gardeners spied it, dropped their dentures in dismay, and coveted like they've never coveted before. A star was born.

How It Blooms

Although it's an attractive plant throughout the year, paper bush really starts to shine in late fall. Drooping, rounded flower buds covered with silky, silvery hairs appear on top of naked stems. When sunlight hits the buds, paper bush looks like it's blooming already. The flower buds grow in size and prominence all winter. Then, in late winter, they pop open to reveal pendant clusters of tubular blooms that are white on the outside and tipped with yellow. The sweet fragrance reminds you that paper bush is kin to winter daphne (but it's much easier to grow). Flowering can last 4 to 6 weeks.

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Summer isn't a downtime for paper bush. After it finishes blooming, it cloaks itself with very handsome foliage reminiscent of plumeria. Long, narrow, leathery, blue-green leaves up to 10 inches long give the shrub a tropical look. There is no fall color.

How It Grows

Paper bush spreads by rhizomes but isn't invasive, and generally forms a dense, slowly expanding clump of long, pliable stems. Cuttings root easily in moist soil. Depending on the selection, paper bush grows 5 to 8 feet tall and wide. Growth is rapid.

How to Care for Paper Bush

Paper bush is suited to the Middle, Lower, and Coastal South (USDA Zones 7-9), although with protection it might get by in the Upper South (USDA Zone 6). Give it light shade and moist, fertile, acidic well-drained soil containing lots of organic matter. It can tolerate more sun to provide more blooms, as long as the plant gets enough water. Water regularly during summer and fall to keep the soil consistently moist, and water during summer droughts. Paper bush doesn't need fertilizer. It is cold hardy to 5 degrees. It has no serious pests and pruning is seldom needed, but do so to remove damaged or diseased branches.

Where to Plant

Paper bush is a relatively heat-tolerant plant that works well in shade gardens. Keep its fragrant blooms nearby using the plant in a container on the porch or patio. It also works as a border plant, in mass plantings, or in woodland gardens. Take cuttings to display indoors.

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'Akebono' (photo by Briggs Propagators).

Types of Paper Bush

Ordinary paper bush is cool enough, but of course, nurserymen will look for new ones that are even showier and more exciting. Plant Delights sells 'Snow Cream,' which boasts large clusters of extremely fragrant, golden-yellow flowers and is supposedly more cold-hardy than regular paper bush (down to 0 degrees). 'Akebono' (also sold as 'Red Dragon') features orange-red flowers and grows slower and more compact than the species. Can a variegated paper bush be in the works? We have variegated versions of everything else. In addition to mail-order nurseries, paper bush is also available at better garden centers.

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