Japanese Andromeda Plant Profile

Cultivars Offer Red Color for the Yard in Early Spring

Forest Flame Pieris with red leaves.

Susan Ellwood/Getty Images

Japanese Andromeda is mainly grown for the dangling racemes of bell-shaped flowers that it bears in early spring. A member of the Ericaceae family, this evergreen has a number of relatives that are also popular landscape shrubs, including rhododendrons and azaleas (Rhododendron spp.), mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), and winter heath (Erica x darleyensis). Some gardeners consider the smell of Japanese Andromeda flowers to be a plus, while others dislike the smell. The plant suffers from an additional drawback if you have young children.

Botanical Name Pieris japonica
Common Name Japanese Andromeda, Japanese pieris, lily of the valley bush, fetterbush
Plant Type Broadleaf evergreen shrub
Mature Size 9 to 12 feet tall and 6 to 8 feet wide
Sun Exposure Full sun to partial shade
Soil Type Moist, well-drained
Soil pH Slightly acidic
Bloom Time April
Flower Color White
Hardiness Zones  5 to 7
Native Area Eastern China, Taiwan, and Japan

How to Grow Japanese Andromeda

Where winters get frigid, try to shelter your Japanese Andromeda from cold, drying winds. A good way to do this is by wrapping burlap around the bush in late fall.

Light

While this shrub will survive in a location with nearly full shade, flowering will be better in full sun to partial shade.

Soil

The ground should be kept evenly moist, but the soil should drain well. Japanese Andromeda does not like soggy soil.

Water

Japanese Andromeda has average water needs.

Fertilizer

Feed Japanese Andromeda with a fertilizer meant for acid-loving shrubs. So if you are already fertilizing your azaleas, for example, you can use the same fertilizer for your Japanese Andromeda.

Warning

Japanese Andromeda is poisonous. The foliage, flowers, seeds, and branches are all toxic if eaten. Select another shrub to grow if you have small children who play in your yard.

Uses for Japanese Andromeda in the Landscape

Its shade tolerance makes Japanese Andromeda useful to those gardeners plagued with too much shade in the yard. It is also commonly used in foundation plantings, as a spring specimen, and in shrub borders. Being glossy and evergreen, the leaves provide winter interest, so choose a location for Japanese Andromeda where you can appreciate it during the cold-weather months.

This shrub is highly valued by gardeners anxious to have color in the yard as soon as spring arrives. It blooms in early spring, sometimes while there is still snow on the ground. The flower buds are red and offer visual interest even in late winter.

Varieties of Japanese Andromeda

Beyond the species plant, cultivars have been developed that have become quite popular. The new spring leaves of even the species plant have a reddish-bronze color, but, on a number of the cultivars, these same leaves offer a more striking red color. Notable cultivars include:

  • Pieris japonica 'Compacta': This is a good choice if you need a shorter plant, as its mature height is just 4 feet.
  • Pieris japonica 'Forest Flame': New spring leaves start out an intense red, then fade to a pink that is still quite attractive.
  • Pieris japonica 'Mountain Fire': Orange mixes with the red on the young leaves of this cultivar.
  • Pieris japonica 'Red Mill': This is one of the best cultivars if you seek bright red color on the new foliage.
  • Pieris japonica 'Valley Rose': Grow 'Valley Rose' if you want a Japanese Andromeda that bears light pink flowers.
  • Pieris japonica 'Variegata': One of the cultivars with two-toned leaves, the foliage of 'Variegata' is green in the middle, but the edge of the leaf is white.

Origin of the Names

The genus name of Pieris comes from one of the Muses in Greek mythology. The common name of "Andromeda" also comes from Greek mythology. The great botanist, Linnaeus, upon discovering the plant, thought that the racemes of flowers resembled a chain, which brought to mind the chain that bound a princess in Greek mythology named "Andromeda." This Andromeda, the royal daughter of Cepheus and Cassiopeia, king and queen of Ethiopia, was eventually freed by Perseus.

The name of "lily of the valley bush" comes from the resemblance the flowers bear to those on the perennial, lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis). The common name of "fetterbush," meanwhile, is another reference to the chain-like (fetter-like) appearance of the flower racemes (when someone is said to have been "fettered," it means the person has been restrained by something).