Japanese Skimmia Plant Profile

This shade-loving shrub is a great additon to any garden.

Japanese skimmia (Skimmia japonica) flowers in the spring.

 Rosemary Calvert / Getty Images

Looking to add some color to your yard? Perfect for shady gardens, Japanese skimmia is a small evergreen shrub that displays clusters of fragrant flowers in the summer and bright red berries throughout the fall and winter. This slow-growing shrub reaches a mature size of three to four feet tall and four to five feet wide. Add a Japanese skimmia to your garden and enjoy its beautiful colors all year long!

Botanical Name Skimmia japonica
Common Name Japanese skimmia
Plant Type Shrub
Mature Size 3 to 4 feet tall
Sun Exposure Part shade, shade
Soil Type Moist, well-draining
Soil pH 5.6 to 6
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color Yellow, white
Hardiness Zones 6 to 8
Native Area Japan, China, South-East Asia
The berries of a female Japanese skimmia (Skimmia japonica) shrub.
 Neil Holmes / Getty Images

How to Grow Japanese Skimmia

Japanese skimmia (Skimmia japonica) is a small, slow-growing, ornamental shrub in the Rutaceae family that is native to Japan, China, and south-east Asia. Once established, Japanese skimmia requires little maintenance and is great for planting in shrub borders, woodland gardens, banks and slopes, hedges, and containers. They are characterized by simple dark green foliage and clusters of fragrant yellow to white flowers. Japanese skimmia are dioecious (meaning there are both male and female plants), and the female shrubs display bright red berries if they are pollinated. Plant a female and male plant close together and enjoy the beautiful red berries all fall and winter long.

Light

Japanese skimmia is a shade-loving shrub that enjoys locations with part to full shade. A location that receives morning sunlight and dappled afternoon sun is ideal. Too much sunlight can bleach and burn the foliage of a Japanese skimmia so avoid locations that receive harsh, direct sun to ensure the plant stays healthy and attractive.

Soil

Moist, well-draining, fertile soils are ideal for Japanese skimmia. Loam soil is a great option as it retains water, but drains easily. Japanese skimmia thrives in acidic soils and should not be planted in areas where the soil has a high pH unless the soil is supplemented with lots of organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure. Soil testing can be helpful in determining if the soil is the correct pH or not.

Water

The soil of a Japanese skimmia should stay evenly moist at all times, which unless you live in a rainforest, means that Japanese skimmia requires regular and frequent watering. Supplement regular rainfall with weekly (or more frequent) waterings to ensure the plant does not dry out. Japanese skimmia are not drought tolerant.

Temperature and Humidity

Japanese skimmia are winter-hardy plants, tolerating temperatures as low as 5° Fahrenheit (or -15° Celsius). They are hardy in USDA zones 6 through 8 and grow well in moderate temperatures. Japanese skimmia grows well in moist environments and cannot tolerate long periods of drought or dryness.

Fertilizer

Japanese skimmia should be fertilized yearly to help encourage new growth. Use a fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants, such as a 10-5-4 formula, to ensure your soil stays acidic enough. Stunted growth and pale, faded leaves are signs that a Japanese skimmia needs to be fertilized.

Pruning

Heavy pruning is not necessary for Japanese skimmia as they have a compact growth habit and tend to stay neat on their own. Prune only as necessary to help shape the shrub and clean up stray branches. Pruning should be done in the winter months when the plant is dormant.

Toxicity

Unfortunately, all parts of a Japanese skimmia are considered toxic including the bright red berries. If ingested in small quantities, symptoms such as an upset stomach can be expected. However, cardiac arrest can occur when the plant is ingested in large quantities. The bottom line is—exercise caution with planting Japanese skimmia if you have pets or small children who may try to snack on the plant and inviting berries.

Varieties of Japanese Skimmia

There are several cultivators of Japanese skimmia, several of which have gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit. Most of these varieties are either male or female, but there are some varieties that are hermaphroditic, self-fertilizing varieties as well.

  • Skimmia japonica ‘Fragrans’ (Male)
  • Skimmia japonica ‘Nyman’s (Female)
  • Skimmia japonica subsp. ‘Reevesiana’ (Self-fertile)
  • Skimmia japonica ‘Temptation’ (Self-fertile)
  • Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’ (Male)
  • Skimmia japonica ‘Veitchii’ (Female)

Propagating Japanese Skimmia

Japanese skimmia can be propagated through semi-hardwood cuttings in the late summer and early fall. Semi-hardwood cuttings are taken where the plant material is between the softwood stage and the woody stage, where the stems are partly, but not fully mature. The wood should be flexible, but firm enough that it snaps when bent. Choose a healthy plant with no pests or diseases when taking semi-hardwood cuttings. 

Growing in Containers

Japanese skimmia are well-suited to growing in containers thanks to their slow growth habit. When growing Japanese skimmia in containers it is especially important to water the shrub regularly and keep the soil moist as they can dry out more quickly in containers. Ensure that the container is placed in a shady location out of direct sun.