Skimmias are evergreen shrubs that are extremely valuable for their multi-season displays – especially in winter. Their glossy evergreen leaves provide a lovely foil to their fragrant white or yellowish flowers in April and May and long-lasting winter berries.
Most skimmia varieties are either male or female, so you need to grow two different varieties, to ensure the females produce their bright red berries. There are some hermaphrodite, self-fertile varieties, so only 1 plant is needed for fruit to develop, although even these will produce more fruit if a male is grown close by.
Skimmia japonica Rubella is a good choice for a male partner, as it is the most attractive, with lovely dark red flower buds in winter.
How to grow skimmias
Skimmias prefer a position in shade, and can even tolerate positions in deep shade. Definitely avoid planting in full sun, which can cause the leaves to turn yellow.
They prefer neutral and acidic soils. They will grow in alkaline/limey soils (except those on solid chalk), providing it contains lots of organic matter, such as compost, leafmould, composted bark or well-rotted manure.
Skimmias are perfect for growing in containers of John Innes Compost No 3 or ericaceous compost, and this is the best choice is your soil is very chalky.
Most skimmia varieties are either male (M) or female (F), although some are self-fertile (S) and will produce berries by themselves.
Skimmia x confusa Kew Green (M)
Skimmia japonica Fragrans (M)
Skimmia japonica Nymans (F)
Skimmia japonica subsp. Reevesiana (S)
Skimmia japonica Rubella (M)
Skimmia japonica Temptation (S)
Skimmia japonica Veitchii (F) Somestimes still sold under its old name Foremanii.
Skimmias can be planted at just about any time of year, but avoid planting when the soil is frozen solid, waterlogged or extremely dry.
Be wary of very potbound plants, especially those that heave been ‘forced’ into producing berries, as they usually take a long time to establish – often not establishing well – when planted out.
Dig over the planting area, incorporating lots of organic matter – such as compost, leafmould or well-rotted manure. Dig a good sized hole big enough to easily accommodate the rootball.
Place the rootball in the planting hole and adjust the planting depth so that it is planted at the same depth as it was originally growing and the top of the rootball is level with the soil surface.
Mix in more organic matter with the excavated soil and fill in the planting hole.
Water in well, apply a granular general feed over the soil around the plant and add a 5-7.5cm (2-3in) deep mulch of well-rotted garden compost or bark chippings around the root area.
Suggested planting locations and garden types
Flower borders and beds, patios, containers, city & courtyard gardens, cottage & informal gardens, woodland gardens.
How to care for skimmias
Skimmias are very easy to look after, and rarely need much in the way of care and attention once established.
Water plants well in the first year or so, while they are establishing. Thereafter, plants in the ground may need watering during prolonged periods of very dry weather, or more often if the soil is very light and very well drained.
Feed every spring with a balanced granular plant food. Those suitable for camellias and rhododendrons are a good choice, especially in alkaline soils.
Mulch around plants in spring with a 5-7.5cm (2-3in) thick layer of organic matter, such as compost, composted bark or well-rotted manure. Make sure the mulch is kept clear of the base of the stems.
Plants rarely need any pruning, but if needed this should be carried out in spring after flowering has finished. Remove unwanted stems, cutting back well inside the leaf canopy to hide the cut ends. Pruning will prevent female varieties from producing berries the following winter.