Beauty bush

Size and habit

An upright arching shrub reaching 6 to 10 feet high.

Tree & Plant Care

Prefers full sun for best flowering in well-drained soil, but does well in part shade conditions.
Beauty Bush flowers on old wood; prune after flowering.
For older plants, remove 2 to 3 stems to the ground annually or cut to the ground to rejuvenate plant.

Disease, pests, and problems

None serious.

Native geographic location and habitat

Native to China.

Bark color and texture

Light gray-brown. Older stems have exfoliating, bark.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Opposite; simple; 1 to 3 inches long and 2 inches wide.
Medium green turns yellow in fall.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Deep pink, 2-lipped tubular flowers, veined with a yellow-orange bell-shaped throat.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

A bristly, 1/4-inch feathery seed capsule.

Cultivars and their differences

Dream Catcher™ (Kolkwitzia amabilis ‘Maradco’): 6 to 9 feet high and 4 to 6 feet wide; upright, arching habit, yellow and lime green foliage changing orange-gold.

Beauty Bush – Pruning, Winter Care and Fertilizing

Beauty Bush

Prune these spring flowering shrubs soon after they have bloomed. Top prune the plant to improve the shape and reduce its size, but be careful not remove more than 30% of the top growth. Some summer pruning can also be done on particularly vigorous plants, but not after mid-July.

As the plant matures, some “renewal pruning” should be done. This is done in early spring by removing two or three of the plants largest canes to the ground. Repeat this process each year over a three year period to re-invigorate old plants. Please be aware, however, that renewal pruning will reduce the number of blooms for that year. By fertilizing young shrubs you can increase both the size and the amount of flowers on the plant. Granular, liquid or stake type fertilizers can be used. Granular types should be worked into the soil around the plant at a rate of 2 pounds or 2 pints per 100 square feet of planting bed. An alternative way is to drill or punch 6″ deep holes at the drip line of the plant. Poured into these holes should be a total of 1/4 pound of fertilizer per foot of height or spread of the shrub (divided up and poured evenly between all of the holes). These holes should not be filled with more than 1/3 of the fertilizer and then they should be top filled with soil. This method of fertilization should only be done once a year, and is best done in late fall after leaf drop, or in early spring before bud break.

Liquid fertilizers (such as Miracle Gro) are mixed with water and applied the same as you would water the plant (see product for specific details). This should be done three or four times per year starting in late April and ending in mid July. Stake type fertilizers can be used following the directions on the package. With any of the above techniques a balanced mix should be used, 20-20-20 or 20-30-20 or 18-24-16. Organic fertilizers, like manure, can also be used with good results. The material should be worked into open soil at a rate of one bushel per one 6′ shrub or 100 sq. ft. of bed area.

These shrubs need little winter care but, should be occasionally checked for rabbit or other damage. If rabbit damage is found you can protect the plant with a fence formed with hardware cloth (looks like chicken wire but with small square holes). The branches of the plant should be tied in towards the center, then a circle of hardware cloth can be placed around the outside. The base of the hardware cloth should be buried in the soil or mulch. This protection should be installed in late November and removed in mid April.

Adapted from a column that was published originally in
Toronto Gardens

© Janet Davis

There is a lovely expression in Japanese landscape design – shakkei – which translates as “borrowed scenery”. It describes a view beyond the bounds of the near landscape which becomes an inherent part of it.

In my garden, I’ve had two wonderful examples. The first was an elderly sour cherry tree that grew in my neighbor’s yard, just beyond my fence. In May, it would hold its pale-flowered branches like a giant umbrella over my patio. I remember one magical July garden party when my guests picked rosy-red cherries and dropped them into their wine glasses. The cherry tree, alas, lived beyond its prime and suffered a slow demise before being put out of its misery.

But I still have the spectacular blossoms of my neighbor’s two beauty bushes (Kolkwitzia amabilis) which cascade like graceful pink crinolines over the fence into my garden. And for the pièce de resistance, into the branches of one weaves a gorgeous, purple-flowered clematis planted on my side – but obviously eager to associate in such fine company! A June doesn’t pass when I don’t offer two heartfelt “thank yous” for this sight. One, of course, is to my neighbor. The other is to Ernest “China” Wilson.

In 1901, while under contract to Veitch’s Nursery in England, Wilson travelled into the western China mountains and brought back seed from this shrub. It was not in bloom when he saw it, and I know how my neighbor’s beauty bush looks when it isn’t in flower: nondescript foliage and arching branches with bark that seems to be permanently peeling. There’s nothing about it that could possibly have prepared Wilson or his employers for the sight of it in full, breathtaking bloom.

The genus name honors Richard Kolkwitz, a botany professor working in Berlin in the early 1900’s. But that ungainly first name is softened by the species epithet amabilis, which means “lovely”. In that respect, the botanists got it exactly right.

At maturity, beauty bush will reach 10 feet (3 m) in height and almost as much in spread, but it is painfully slow-growing in its first years. It’s not surprising to learn that it took 9 years for the plants grown from Wilson’s seed to finally flower. Young plants might appear scrawny and weak, but quickly gain in vigor after planting out.

Beauty bush is hardy to Zone 5 and likes full sun, but will tolerate light shade. It is not troubled by pests or disease and is not fussy about soil, but wet or extremely dry sits should be avoided. Fertilizer is not necessary. Because of its substantial size, beauty bush should be treated as a specimen shrub or given ample space in a mixed border. The flowers that drape the branches in early June are bell-shaped and pale-pink with a yellow throat. The cultivar ‘Pink Cloud’ has slightly bigger blossoms of a stronger pink. Propagation of new plants is by softwood cuttings taken from the tips of actively growing shoots in mid-to-late June. Once rooted, these cuttings will need over-wintering a cold frame.

If you like instant gratification in your garden, this may not be the plant for you. But if you don’t mind waiting a few years for a vision of late spring loveliness, run right out and buy a beauty bush. And buy one for your neighbor too.

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