How to Grow Coast Leucothoe

Close up of glossy green leaves tinged with red.

 Wulf Forrester-Barker / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

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The dark green, thick glossy leaves of Coast Leucothoe (Leucothoe axillaris) offer guaranteed verdant beauty all year long, and its manageable size makes it a strong foundation plant in the border. The leaves of this evergreen plant have a leathery texture, and their deep green takes on tones of purple and bronze in the fall. The creamy white bell-like flowers add texture and interest to this handsome shrub that is perfect for shady gardens. The flowers are slightly fragrant, with a light honey-like scent that attracts pollinators like butterflies and bees, adding to this plant's appeal for the garden landscape.

Coast Leucothoe has a pleasing array of seasonal outfits, from the young bright green leaves in early spring, to the white flowers tinged with pink in late spring through early summer, to its autumn shift to deeper bronze and purple. It has a moderate growth rate and can thrive in almost any type of soil.

Deep green glossy leaves with clusters of bell shaped creamy white flowers.
Warren Reed / Flickr / CC By 2.0
Botanical Name Leucothoe axillaris
Common Name Coast Leucothoe, Coastal Doghobble, Fetterbush
Plant Type Evergreen shrub
Mature Size 4 ft. tall, 6 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Partial 
Soil Type Average, well-drained, organic
Soil pH Neutral to acidic
Bloom Time Spring 
Flower Color White, pink
Hardiness Zones 6 to 9 (USDA)
Native Areas  Southeastern United States 
Toxicity  Toxic to people and pets

Coast Leucothoe Care

If placed in a location protected from wind and given a layer of winter mulch, this plant can be hardy to USDA Zone 5, but it tends to perform better at Zone 6 or above. It has a sturdy root system and can perform well on a slope or in a rock garden as long as the soil is not too loose or gravelly. Because of its compact but dense growth habit, as well as its mid-season bloom time, it can be an effective underplanting for larger, much earlier, or later blooming shrubs that also flourish in partial shade, like azaleas, rhododendrons, oakleaf hydrangeas, weigelas, and/or rose of Sharon. Other than not liking too much sun, extreme heat, or harsh wind, this plant is quite hardy and resilient.

Light

While this shrub can grow in full sun, Coast Leucothoe prefers partial shade. Full sun and hot temperatures can dry out the leaves and flowers, so if you do plant this in a partial sun location, morning sun is preferable to afternoon sun.

Soil

Coast Leucothoe does best in a humus-rich, loamy, organic, lime-free soil that is slightly acidic, but can tolerate soils from neutral to fairly acidic. Good drainage is essential. Adding material that will help improve moisture retention and drainage will help this shrub perform best: This includes peat moss, coffee grounds, composted manure, and a bit of sand.

Water

This shrub needs regular watering to perform best, and extra water during a drought season, as it is not drought-tolerant. During its bloom season, water deeply at the base so that flowers get enough moisture.

Temperature and Humidity

Leucothoe doesn't like extremes in temperature, hot or cold. Giving it some protection from extreme cold or winter winds (by planting near a structure, for example, or within an array of larger shrubs two or three feet apart) helps it survive a harsh winter. It can wilt or dry out in the hot afternoon sun. It does like ample water and may even enjoy some misting from your sprinkler or hose on a hot balmy day to keep its leaves moist and happy.

Coast Leucothoe Varieties

Part of the family of Ericaceae, the genus Leucothoe is named for the Greek goddess who was one of many lovers of Apollo, young and vibrant god of the sun. Apollo had a habit of transforming his lovers into various plants, and being changed into an evergreen was usually a good sign that he wished to honor you and give you longevity and eternal youth. Varieties of Leucothoe include the following:

  • Leucothoe axillaris ‘Curly Red' has even more dramatic color range than Coast Leucothoe, emerging in spring with orange-red new growth, and taking on shades of scarlet red in summer and purple in autumn. Small red berries appear soon after the flowers, attracting songbirds.
  • Leucothoe fontanesiana ‘Rainbow’ can grow up to 5 feet tall and wide. This colorful plant has interesting green-yellow leaves, maroon edging, and red stems and buds.
  • Leucothoe fontanesiana ‘Zeblid’ is often labeled as Scarletta Fetterbush. The deep red leaves of this low-growing shrub turn a striking scarlet-purple in the spring and a lovely bronze-red shade in the fall and winter.

Propagating Coast Leucothoe

This shrub can be propagated from cuttings taken in early summer (June). Dip the stem in rooting hormone and plant in a loose potting medium. Keep in a fairly warm location but out of direct sun. Keep the soil moist and mist the leaves regularly. The cutting should form roots in 10 to 12 weeks.