If you visit a garden centre this weekend you are more than likely to see an array of different skimmia shrubs, many of which will be exhibiting gorgeous looking lush red berries. Skimmias are not one of the cheaper plants to buy for your garden and a young two to three litre potted plant will usually cost about £30. You may notice that there is a variation in price depending on the size of the “berries” on the plant, those with large red berries fetching a higher price than those with smaller clusters of reddish buds. The plants with large red berries are females and those with the small buds are males.
Male or Female?
Although male skimmias are usually less expensive, they won’t give you the wonderful red berry display of their female counterparts. However if you do opt to buy a red berried female plant make sure to buy a male too since the female plant will not produce the berries unless it’s flowers are fertilised by a male during the spring / summer flowering season.
There are now certain cultivars which are hermaphrodites and will produce red berries without a nearby male because they are able to fertilise themselves one of these being skimmia japonica reevesiana.
A good choice for a male skimmia is skimmia japonica rubella, as it is very attractive, with lovely dark red flower buds in winter.
Skimmias are an ideal garden shrub and very undemanding. They are attractive throughout the year with their dark green often glossy evergreen leaves and a profusion of small white or yellow flowers in the spring and early summer which turn into the glossy red berries on female plants during the autumn and winter and the smaller clusters of purply flower buds on male plants.
As stated above they are an undemanding drought resistant plant which also tolerates frost and air pollution. They are best planted in semi shade as their leathery green leaves can get burned in full bright sunlight.
They are what is known as an ericaceous plant that is they prefer an acidic soil although they can grow nicely in a neutral soil with an addition of ericaceous compost. They will not do well in an alkaline soil.
If you do have an alkaline soil then you can add sulphur to make it more acidic. You can buy sulphur powder for gardens in most garden centres. I recommend mixing the sulphur with the soil / compost you have dug out of the hole where you intend to place your skimmia.
Skimmias will look after themselves and do not require pruning unless you want to train it into a particular shape – a great shrub for the lazy gardener!!