How to Grow and Care for Coast Leucothoe

Coast leucothoe shrub with glossy red and green leaves

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

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. Its manageable size makes it a strong foundation plant in the border. 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. The shrub should be planted during its dormant period in the late winter or early spring. It has a moderate growth rate and can thrive in almost any type of soil.

The plant is toxic to humans, and toxic to pets.

Botanical Name Leucothoe axillaris
Common Name Coast leucothoe, coastal doghobble, fetterbush
Family Ericaceae
Plant Type Shrub
Mature Size 4 ft. tall, 6 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Partial 
Soil Type Moist but well-drained
Soil pH Neutral, acidic
Bloom Time Spring 
Flower Color White, pink
Hardiness Zones 6-9 (USDA)
Native Areas  North America
Toxicity  Toxic to humans, toxic to 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 in zone 6 and above. The plant 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. Other than not liking too much sun, extreme heat, or harsh wind, this plant is quite hardy and resilient.

Coast Leucothoe shrub with white bell-shaped flowers on thin branch

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Coast Leucothoe shrub with green and red densely packed leaves in sunlight

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Coast Leucothoe shrub branch with glossy red and green leaves closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

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. 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.

Fertilizer

In the early spring, before the new growth starts, a apply complete fertilizer. Do not fertilize the plant after mid-summer, as that will stimulate new growth that is prone to winter damage. If your soil tends to be alkaline, you can also use a fertilizer for acid-loving plants but make sure to measure the soil pH before.

Types of Leucothoe

Popular varieties of leucothoe include:

  • Leucothoe axillaris ‘Curly Red' has even more dramatic color range than the species, 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’ is a cultivar of another native leucothoe species called drooping laurel. It 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 sold as 'Scarletta'. 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.

Pruning

The only regular pruning that is necessary should be done in the spring after the plant has finished blooming. Shorten and thin out broken or errant branches. Shearing is optional; it takes away from the plant's natural arching habit.

Propagating Coast Leucothoe

This shrub can be propagated from cuttings taken in early summer (June):

  • Using a sharp knife or pruners, cut off 5-inch long, strong stem from the new growth.
  • Fill a 4-inch pot with potting mix. Dip the cut end in rooting hormone. Make a hole in the soil with a pencil or stick for each cutting and insert the cuttings in the holes. Water well until the soil is evenly moist.
  • Place the pots in a fairly warm location but out of direct sun. Keep the soil moist. The cutting should form roots in 10 to 12 weeks.

How to Grow Coast Leucothoe From Seed

Coast leucothoe seeds are not commonly available from seed companies. Most coast leucothoes are cultivars and if you collect the seeds from the plant, you won't get a plant that is true to the parent. Therefore it is not recommended to grow it from seed but propagate it from cuttings instead.

Potting and Repotting Coast Leucothoe

Coast leucothoe makes a good container plant. As it needs excellent drainage, select a lightweight potting mix and a pot with good drainage holes. Once the plant outgrows its container, which is indicated by roots reaching the sides of the container, or growing out of the drainage holes, replant it in a larger container in the spring.

Overwintering

The plant is susceptible to damage from extreme cold or winter winds. This can be avoided by planting it near a structure, or within an array of larger shrubs two or three feet apart. Protect the roots by applying a thick layer of mulch around the base.

Common Pests and Plant Diseases

Leucothoe does not have many disease and pest problems. Insufficient soil drainage can cause root rot, which primarily manifests itself though stunted growth and yellowing and wilted leaves. Another possible disease is leaf spot, starting with dark spots on leaves and, in severe cases (usually in cool, wet springs, or caused by overhead watering), can lead to girdling of the plant stems and can kill them.

How to Get Coast Leucothoe to Bloom

Failure to bloom can be due to too much sunlight or hot, drying winds, both of which dry out the flowers.

Common Problems with Coast Leucothoe

Being a native plant, coast leucothoe does not have any common problems when planted within its natural climate range.

FAQ
  • Is leucothoe deer-resistant?

    Coast leucothoe is seldom severely damaged by deer.

  • Is leucothoe axillaris evergreen?

    The leaves of this evergreen plant have a leathery texture, and their deep green takes on tones of purple and bronze in the fall.

  • What are good companion plants for coast leucothoe?

    Because of its compact but dense growth habit, as well as its mid-season bloom time, it can be an effective underplanting for larger, earlier, or later blooming shrubs that also flourish in partial shade, like azaleas, rhododendrons, oakleaf hydrangeas, weigelas, and/or rose of Sharon.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Dog Hobble. ASPCA.

  2. Leucothoe axillaris. Oregon State University.

  3. Leucothoe Diseases. Penn State Extension.

  4. Landscape Plants Rated by Deer Resistance. Rutgers University.