March is a busy time in the garden, with many plants vying for your attention. One that always catches the eye and stands out from the crowd is Stachyurus praecox. The genus Stachyurus is a small group of plants containing six species that are not widely grown - but if you have the right conditions they are well worth the effort for the stunning display they put on in the spring.
Stachyurus praecox is a deciduous shrub that has an open and spreading habit with long arching shoots that are dark red in colour. Before the ovate leaves emerge, it bears bell-shaped, pale lemon-green flowers which are held in 10cm long tassels which hang down gracefully along the bare branches and these catch the eye during the spring, creating a beautiful effect, particularly when they are set against the dark red stems.
Stachyurus is a medium-sized shrub and it reaches around 3m tall and it also spreads about 3m, although it is relatively slow growing. It is also a little fussy about where it likes to be grown, generally prefering light and moist but well-drained soil that is humus rich and doesn’t dry out in summer. They also prefer an acidic soil and part shade and need shelter from cold drying winds.
They will tolerate sun as long as there is plenty of moisture in the ground through the summer period. Stachyurus doesn’t need regular pruning, but on mature plants it is beneficial to remove one or two of the older flowering stems down to the base of the plant to encourage new growth to develop. This should be carried out after it has finished flowering in the spring when the plant can also be gently shaped if it is needed.
Stachyurus praecox can be found in the Hilltop Garden at Hyde Hall where it grows in one of the islands beds amongst other shrubs such as Viburnum opulus as well as mixed perennials such as Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii and Echinacea and Molinia for later season interest.
A smaller plant can be found in the Woodland Garden and although this looks the same it is in fact a different species, S. chinensis ‘Joy Forever’ (see second photo), which has different-shaped leaves. The soil in the Woodland Garden is slightly acidic and the Stachyurus grows amongst other acid lovers in this part of the garden such as camellias and rhododendrons as well as one or two more unusual shrubs such as Styrax japonicus with the understorey primarily made up of choice woodland perennials such as hellebores and epimediums.