How to grow garrya
Adorned with cascades of long silken tassels through the winter months, this is a large striking evergreen shrub for sun or shade. It's often grown against a wall, where it enjoys the extra warmth and shelter.
- Easy to grow
- Ornamental catkins in winter
- Low-maintenance evergreen shrub
- Plant between autumn and spring
- Prefers a warm sheltered spot
- Happy in sun or shade
- Grow more from cuttings or seeds
All you need to know
What is garrya?
Garrya, or the silk tassel bush, is a large evergreen shrub, prized for its long silvery catkins, which cascade from the branches from mid-winter to early spring. These can be up to 35cm (14in) long. There are several species, but Garrya ellyptica and its
Gardeners often use the word variety when referring to a specific plant, but the correct botanical term is 'cultivar'. Whichever word you use, it means a distinctive plant or plants, given a specific cultivar name and usually bred to enhance certain characteristics, such as flower or fruit size, colour, flavour or fragrance, plant size, hardiness, disease resistance, etc. Additionally, it is worth knowing that, botanically, variety has another meaning - it refers to a naturally-occurring distinct plant that only has slight differences in its looks. For example, Malva alcea var. fastigiata differs from typical plants by having an upright habit.
Garrya is dioecious, meaning that it has separate male and female plants – both produce catkins, but the male’s are more showy.
Originally from Central America and the western United States, garrya is hardy, but grows best in a sheltered spot. In favourable conditions it can eventually reach 3m (10ft) or more.
How and what to buy
Garrya ellyptica and its cultivar ‘James Roof’ are the most popular forms. These are widely available all year round in garden centres and from online suppliers, including RHS Plants.
Specialist tree and shrub suppliers occasionally offer a few other types, including G. x thuretti and G. x issaquahensis.
For the longest, most showy catkins, make sure you buy a named cultivar that is guaranteed male.
For expert tips on how to select the best specimen, see our guide to buying shrubs.
Where to plant
Garrya is ideal for adding interest to gardens in winter, with its evergreen leaves and abundance of long, pendulous catkins. It is a long-lived plant and in a warm spot it can eventually grow to a substantial size, up to 3m (10ft) tall and wide. So choose a site where it will have plenty of space.
A sheltered spot is preferable, as it easily suffers leaf scorch in windy or exposed sites. It works well as a wall shrub, thriving on the extra shelter and warmth. It is happiest in sun, on a south- or west-facing wall. But it’s fine in shade too, so makes a useful option for a north- or east-facing wall.
However, avoid planting garrya in frost-prone or very cold sites. It prefers well-drained soil, and is salt-tolerant so can cope in sheltered coastal locations.
Although usually grown as an individual shrub, garrya can also be grown as an informal hedge.
Evergreen shrubs and hedges provide shelter for a wide range of wildlife all year round, including valuable nesting sites for birds early in the season.
When to plant
Although garrya is available to buy all year round, like most shrubs it’s best planted between autumn and spring, as long as the ground isn’t frozen.
How to plant
Garrya is very straightforward to plant and should settle in well and thrive for years to come. See our guide to planting shrubs.
- After planting, garrya should be watered regularly for at least the first two years.
- Once established, it should cope well without extra watering, except in particularly hot, dry spells.
- When grown as a wall shrub, it may need regular watering if it’s sheltered from rainfall.
Garrya doesn’t generally need feeding, except in very poor soil or to encourage more growth or better flowering. In which case, you can apply a general-purpose fertiliser in late winter at the rate recommended on the packet.
A thick layer of mulch, such as well-rotted garden compost or manure, laid around the base will help to suppress weeds and hold moisture in the soil. Leave a 10cm (4in) gap around the stem, to avoid any risk of rotting the bark.
Always apply mulch when the ground is damp, ideally in late winter after adding fertiliser, although any time from autumn to late spring is fine. Top up annually.
Where pruning is required, do it in early spring, as the catkins start to fade but before new growth starts.
Watch out for birds' nests
The main nesting season is early March to end of July, but it can go on for longer. Always check shrubs and hedges carefully before pruning or trimming, and delay if you find an active nest. It is an offence to damage wild birds' nests.
Allow free-standing shrubs to develop unpruned where there is space, but if pruning is required:
Remove any crossing, rubbing or badly placed shoots, as well as any dead, diseased or damaged ones. See our guide to light pruning.
Renovate (if necessary) by cutting back plants gradually over three to four years to a low framework of branches. Regrowth will be vigorous and will need thinning out – select the strongest, best-placed shoots and remove the others.
How to sharpen pruning tools
Guide to pruning evergreen shrubs
Cut the plant back to one or two framework branches before planting.
Tie these framework branches to bamboo canes, then attach these in a fan shape to horizontal wires on the wall. See our guide to initial training of climbers and wall shrubs.
Cut back any sideshoots that grow out from the wall.
Tie in well-placed new shoots to extend the framework and fill any gaps. Use extra bamboo canes if necessary.
When garrya is grown as an informal hedge, little trimming is necessary. If you wish to trim, do it carefully with secateurs or hand shears rather than a hedgetrimmer. Hedgetrimmers tend to cause more damage to the leaves, resulting in ragged edges that turn brown.
Garrya can be grown from cuttings or seeds:
You can take semi-ripe cuttings in summer.
You can collect your own seeds or buy packeted seeds. See our guide to growing shrubs from seed. Be aware that if you collect seeds from a named cultivar, the resulting offspring may differ from the parent.
As long as it’s growing in a sheltered spot, garrya is usually a robust, trouble-free and long-lived shrub. It suffers few pests and diseases, but harsh weather can temporarily mar its good looks:
Fallen leaves in early spring – garrya often sheds some of its old leaves in spring, to be replaced by new growth. The old leaves may be brown or yellowed, particularly at the edges, making the plant look tatty. This may look worrying, but is a normal process and no cause for concern.
Brown or yellow leaves in spring – this may be due to winter cold, especially when temperatures drop after a long mild spell. There is unlikely to be any real damage to the plant. To improve its appearance, you may choose to trim off the affected leaves and spent catkins. See our guide to leaf damage.
Leaf spots in autumn and early winter – are often delayed symptoms of stress in the previous summer, such drought or waterlogging. Remove the worst affected leaves and improve the growing conditions by mulching, watering, feeding or improving drainage as appropriate.
Leaf spots in warmer weather – may be caused by a fungal leaf spot disease. Removing infected shoots is often sufficient remedy.
Lack of catkins – see our guide to improving flowering.
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