The Japanese lavender heath (Pieris japonica) is also called shadow bell. The evergreen shrub belongs to the heather family (Ericaceae) and comes from the moist undergrowth of the Japanese mountain forests. As an evergreen hardwood species, it sets accents in the garden for weeks with its lily-of-the-valley flowers. Some garden varieties also sprout in spring with carmine to bronze-red foliage.
The Japanese Lavender Heath is a loosely branched, upright growing shrub with a highly oval to roundish crown and slightly overhanging branch ends. It grows relatively slowly and, depending on the variety, grows to between two and three metres high. The bark of older branches and twigs is red, that of younger shoots green. In old plants the bark detaches from the main branches in strips.
The alternate, evergreen leaves of the Japanese lavender heath are three to eight centimetres long, lanceolate in shape and arranged in a whorl-like pattern at the ends of the shoots. The medium-green shiny leaves take on an attractive bronze hue in the spring when they sprout in many garden varieties and usually turn green again in the course of summer.
The small lily-of-the-valley flowers are creamy white or pink and appear from March in loosely overhanging panicles up to twelve centimetres long. They have a delicate fragrance and adorn the shrub for many weeks.
From September small roundish, grey-brown capsule fruits appear. They have no special decorative value.
A semi-shady and sheltered place in the garden under tall trees is ideal for the shrub, which is typically called a shadow bell. In sunny locations there is a risk of leaf damage in winter and also in dry summers. Low varieties can also be kept in tubs.
Similar to rhododendron and almost all other heather plants, the soil for Japanese lavender heather should be loose, sandy and rich in humus, lime-free, acidic (pH around 5) and fresh to moderately moist. In dense, loamy soils there is hardly any root growth and the plants will take care of themselves for years.
You should plant the lavender heath only in spring and improve the soil with bark compost and leaf humus so that the lavender heath can grow on it without problems. In addition, you should loosen compacted soil thoroughly or replace it with a suitable substrate over a large area. In very humid locations, a layer of gravel at the bottom of the planting hole is highly recommended as drainage. After planting, you should sprinkle the root area with horn shavings and cover it with bark mulch to prevent the soil from drying out so quickly.
Rhododendron earth is suitable for cultivation in the pot, to which about one third sand is added. A drainage layer of expanded clay and gravel ensures good drainage of the irrigation water and thus sufficient ventilation.
Apart from its special soil requirements, the lavender heath is relatively undemanding. However, if it is dry, water the evergreen shrub regularly and in good time with lime-free water Attention should also be paid to this in the winter months in order to avoid dry damage due to frost Since the nutrient requirement is low, you can do without regular fertilization. If you want to stimulate the lavender heath to grow a little stronger with nutrients, it is best to use an organic rhododendron fertilizer. Garden compost is not suitable, as it usually has a too high pH value.
The woody plant develops sensitive shallow roots. Therefore the soil around the roots should not be mechanically worked or dug up.
In the tub, the lavender heather needs a nutrient dose every two weeks and must be kept as evenly moist as possible. Also water the potted shrubs exclusively with rainwater or decalcified tap water.
Regular pruning is not necessary in the lavender heath. However, if you have bought a young, sparsely branched plant, you can encourage it to grow more bushy by shortening the shoots. Old plants can also be rejuvenated in spring, if necessary, by a vigorous pruning into the old wood. Provided they are well rooted, they will sprout again without any problems.
In principle, Japanese lavender heather is sufficiently frost hardy. However, young plants in the open field should be shaded with winter fleece in sunny locations When keeping the plant in a pot, make sure to water it sparingly even in winter. Covering the pot with bubble wrap or a jute bag, a polystyrene sheet as a base and a shady location on a protected house wall will prevent frost damage.
The Japanese Lavender Heath is an important rhododendron companion, as it has the same soil requirements and is also visually very well suited to the popular flowering shrubs. It is best planted individually or in small groups in a semi-shady rhododendron bed. Alternatively, it is also suitable in a planter for a semi-shady balcony or terrace.
There are numerous varieties, which differ mainly in their growth height, leaf and flower colouring and winter hardiness:
- Carnaval’: newer variety with white flowers and creamy white leaf edges; only about 80 centimetres high; good for planters
- ‘Chaconne’ low; compact growing variety; bronze-coloured, white flower buds; very rich flowering
- Cupido’: compact, low variety with creamy white, strongly branched flower clusters; bears bright red buds in winter; leaf shoots yellow-green to pale reddish
- Flamingo’medium height variety with numerous dark pink flowers
- Forest Flame’ (large photo at top): pink to flaming red when shooting; more colourful but also more frost-sensitive than other varieties
- Mountain Fire’ (large photo at top): a popular, robust and compact growing variety; up to 1.8 metres high; shoots with light red to maroon leaves that later turn a shiny dark green; white flowers
- Polar Passion’: new, very compact variety with excellent winter hardiness; red flowers and white coloured foliage
- ‘Purity’only 40 to 60 centimetres high; light green leaves; numerous, large pure white flowers
- Valley Fire’: similar to ‘Mountain Fire’, but grows more compact and has a better winter hardiness
- Variegata’: old variety with white variegated leaves; up to one metre high; narrow leaves; pinkish red colouring of shoots
- White Cascade’Growthy, up to 1.5 meter high variety with pure white flowers and strikingly large panicles
The Japanese lavender heath can be propagated well in spring by cuttings. Cut cuttings about 15 centimetres long from the new shoots in May and defoliate the lower half. Place three to four cuttings each in pots or multi-pot plates with growing soil and place them in a bright place in the unheated greenhouse with a foil cover. After about ten weeks the cuttings will have developed roots and can be planted in larger pots with rhododendron soil. The first winter the young plants should be cultivated in a cold house to avoid frost damage.
Diseases and pests
The Japanese lavender heath is a rather robust ornamental plant. Occasionally the weevil, a beetle, causes the typical bay feeding on the leaf edges. If the Japanese lavender heather does not grow properly and looks puny, this is almost always due to unsuitable soil.
- Growth type
- Deciduous trees
- Small shrub
- Growth height
- from 100.00cm to 300.00cm
- Growth width
- from 100.00cm to 300.00cm
- Growth characteristics
- Flowering time (month)
- March to May
- Flower shape
- Flower characteristics
- Sheet shape
- Sheet properties
- Sprout colouring
- Fruit characteristics
- semi-shady to shady
- Soil Moisture
- fresh to moist
- Lime tolerance
- sensitive to lime
- Nutrient requirements
- moderately nutritious
- Decorative or utility value
- Flower decoration
- Leaf decoration
- Single position
- Grave planting
- Group planting
- Garden style
- Heather garden
- Rhododendron garden
- Pot garden
- Forest Garden
I am Don Burke, one of the authors at My Garden Guide. I am a horticulturist that cultivates, grows, and cares for plants, ranging from shrubs and fruits to flowers. I do it in my own garden and in my nursery. I show you how to take care of your garden and how to perform garden landscaping in an easy way, step by step.I am originally from Sydney and I wrote in local magazines. Later on, I have decided, more than two decades ago, to create my own blog. My area of specialization is related to orchid care, succulent care, and the study of the substrate and the soil. Therefore, you will see many articles dedicated to these disciplines. I also provide advice about how to improve the landscape design of your garden.