Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Ardisia, What A Lovely Surprise.

Ardisia is one of those plants that you may not notice until one day when...

I had simply overlooked Ardisia (pronounced "ar-DIZ-ee-uh", or "ar-DEEZ-ya" among Southerners), I suppose, until one day when visiting another nursery I looked down and saw glossy green foliage below my knees, and beneath the foliage were clusters of gorgeous red berries in abundance. What a lovely surprise!

Ardisia is a genus of shrubs native to the Americas, Asia, Australia, and areas of the Indonesian archipelago. The name refers to pointed structures in the flowers. There are about 250 known species, but only a few are grown commercially. A common name is Marlberry.

The two species most widely available are the following:

A. crenata (pronounced kre-NAY-tah, meaning "scalloped"). Foliage is glossy. Pink flowers appear late spring to early summer. Glossy red berries may persist into winter. Maximum height is 48" or more. It thrives in partial shade in USDA climate zones 8 to 10. Loamy, well-drained soil with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8 is recommended. It performs well as a foundation plant in warm climates or as an indoor specimen in cold regions. Pests may include aphids and scale insects.

A. japonica (meaning "from Japan). Interestingly, A. japonica is one of the principal herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine. Foliage is leathery. White flowers appear late spring to early summer, followed by long-lasting red berries. Maximum height ranges from 6" to 12". It thrives in full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 6 to 10. Loamy, well-drained soil with pH ranging from 5.1 to 6.5 is recommended. It performs very well as a ground cover.

You should know that Ardisia, though very beautiful, is toxic if ingested.

Before planting, take a soil sample to your local Cooperative Extension Service office. For a small fee, they can run a lab test and tell you what your soil may need.

Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 10" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 14" deep. Composted manure may be incorporated into the soil. If you choose to use synthetic fertilizer, incorporate 10-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of no more 3 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 8" of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Plant A. crenata 18" to 24" apart. Space A. japonica 12" to 18" apart. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container. Water the plants in their pots. Place the plants into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the roots. Do not cover the top of the root mass with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed.

Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 3" deep. The mulch helps retain soil moisture, so you can water less frequently. It also helps suppress weeds. Irrigate when necessary, but allow the soil to dry a bit between watering.

Ardisia lends a tropical appearance to the home and landscape. Both species provide winter interest. Considering the evergreen foliage, attractive flowers, stunning berries, and their few requirements, it stands to reason that you should consider them for your garden.

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