Lorapetalum - Love It or Leave It?

Loropetalum (Loropetalum chinese) or Fringe Flower, as it is commonly known, is a popular shrub used throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth area. It's popularity stems from its rich maroon leaf color and its especially noticeable in early spring with its bright pink or fuschia flowers. So how them could we not completely love it? Well, here is a little insight into the title of the post and why we are somewhat conflicted about using using it in our planting designs and how much we see it around Dallas. 

Bright pink spring time blooms on the Loropetalum that give it it's Fringe Flower name.

Bright pink spring time blooms on the Loropetalum that give it it's Fringe Flower name.

Range of Colors

One of the more popular characteristics of loropetalum is the variation and range of colors that can be added to the garden. The leaf colors of loropetalum depending upon variety and sun exposure, can range from dark green to deep burgundy and everywhere in between. Bloom colors can also vary beyond the typical bright pink and fuchsia color with some of the newer varieties (listed below) with white and bright red blooms. Below are a few examples of loropetalum that show how many different colors are available.

Loropetalum's bright maroon and red leaves make a nice contrast to the base green leaves and the intensity of the leaf coloring is often tied to the amount of light it receives.

Loropetalum's bright maroon and red leaves make a nice contrast to the base green leaves and the intensity of the leaf coloring is often tied to the amount of light it receives.

Loropetalum can also have a great blend between green and maroon leaves and foliage. 

Loropetalum can also have a great blend between green and maroon leaves and foliage. 

In certain varieties, deep burgundy leaves can dominate the entire shrub. 

In certain varieties, deep burgundy leaves can dominate the entire shrub. 

Loropetalum leaves can have a wide range in color from green to a vibrant purple. 

Loropetalum leaves can have a wide range in color from green to a vibrant purple. 

Versatility, Form and Function

You can't really argue with the versatility of Fringe Flower and how it can be used in practically any landscape or garden design. Beyond it's uniquely rich burgundy leaf color and it's eye-catching spring blooms, Loropetalum can function in several different roles in the garden to provide year-round interest. Starting with being used as a solid background plant and massing, it's evergreen leaves provide a great anchor for any planting area. The evergreen leaves also make it a popular choice to use as a border and you will see many instances of a loropetalum hedge along property lines, walls and fences.

Additionally, it adapts well to a variation of sun exposure and shade conditions and flourishes best in full to part sun, but can handle some partial shade if it needed. Loropetalum is often used in a variety of different roles in the garden and composition of a landscape design. It is primarily used as an accent plant again due to its maroon foliage and spring blooms. It's woody steps and somewhat horizontal branching allow it to bring a different texture to the garden and anchor any planting bed.

The best use and our favorite way to incorporate it into a garden is as a massing plant where we can use it in the back part of a planting bed and then work smaller different plants around it to enhance the contrast and flowering seasons. Another popular, but probably forced use, it as a clipped hedge. Yes, it works like this, but over time the plant wants to conform back to it's natural growth habit and it then commands ongoing maintenance to keep the hedge shape and height. Below are a few photos showing how it can be used in a variety of shapes including traditional shrub form, hedge form, espalier form and even in tree form. 

Shrub Form - Here Loropetalum is shown in a normal, shrub form that will fit into any garden size.

Shrub Form - Here Loropetalum is shown in a normal, shrub form that will fit into any garden size.

Hedge form - Here Lorepetalum us used as a foundation planting along a sidewalk. 

Hedge form - Here Lorepetalum us used as a foundation planting along a sidewalk. 

Tall hedge form - Loropetalum can also be trimmed in a hedge form as seen in this example at the Dallas Arboretum.

Tall hedge form - Loropetalum can also be trimmed in a hedge form as seen in this example at the Dallas Arboretum.

Espalier Form - Here Loropetalum is used in an espalier form, in a narrow space to dress up the side of a building (Link)

Espalier Form - Here Loropetalum is used in an espalier form, in a narrow space to dress up the side of a building (Link)

Ornamental Tree Form - This is a a rather atypical example of Loropetalum where it has been trained into a small tree form over time. 

Ornamental Tree Form - This is a a rather atypical example of Loropetalum where it has been trained into a small tree form over time. 

Pros & Cons

There are a number of pros and cons that can be made to use or exclude loropetalum in your garden. Here are a few of the items we would suggest considering:

  • Pros:
    • Rich, maroon & burgundy foliage
    • One of the few plants that have a maroon, dark purple, burgundy foliage
    • Delicate bright pink and fuschia colored blooms occurring in spring
    • Evergreen foliage to provide year-round interest
    • Many different varieties and sizes to choose between
  • Cons
    • Foliage can begin to look dirty and turn brown or yellow over time
    • Can get leggy and woody at the base, especially when pruned
    • Requires maintenance and can get oversized and large if not planted in the right spot
    • Foliage can look almost too dark in shaded conditions
    • Overused?
Another example of how the Loropetalum leaves turning to a dirty brown and yellow color.

Another example of how the Loropetalum leaves turning to a dirty brown and yellow color.

Loropetalum leaves can often be susceptible to patches of the leaves turning brown or yellow as the plant ages.

Loropetalum leaves can often be susceptible to patches of the leaves turning brown or yellow as the plant ages.

New Varieties to the Rescue

Due to the popularity of Chinese Fringe Flower (it's common name), many growers and nurseries have introduced a plethora of new varieties of the plant that have made it much easier to include in almost any landscape design. This is helps offset some of the drawbacks of using loropetalum and make is something to consider for any Landscape Architect or designer. Here are a few of the newer varieties that we are seeing in the nurseries and mixing into our garden designs:

To Prune of not to Prune?

One of the often discussed aspects of loropetalum care is whether the shrub should be pruned or left to grow to it's natural form. Obviously loropetalum pruning is a popular practice and can be found in almost any neighborhood you look. In fact it does work and can be a good solution for some properties, although in our observation and experience, this is only for a limited time and can shorten the lifespan of the shrub. As with most smaller leaf shrubs, fringe flower shrubs will adapt to the shaping and pruning and flush out a new batch of smaller leaves that shape to the pruning, but it will be forced into a growth habit that is not it's natural shape and you will be signing yourself and your maintenance crews up for a continual chore of keeping it in line. If you are looking for a shrub to keep as a border or tightly pruned hedge, there are several other evergreen plants that will probably be a better selection over time (i.e. Dwarf Burford Holly, Nellie R. Stevens Holly, Boxwood, etc.)

The reason some don't like planting Loropetalum is that certain forms, require maintenance and pruning. Here a Loropetalum left to grow to into a large, natural form.

The reason some don't like planting Loropetalum is that certain forms, require maintenance and pruning. Here a Loropetalum left to grow to into a large, natural form.

In Conclusion

When you step back and consider the many different varieties and ways you can use Loropetalum in the garden, it is easy to understand why it is such a popular shrub and is so widely used by homeowners and professionals alike. The extraordinary foliage color paired with it's bright pink blooms in the springtime make it tough to say no to. The only recommendation we would suggest is making sure you select the right variety for the right place in your garden so the shrub has room to expand and grow to it's best size and shape and you can avoid any forced pruning and maintenance. 

Verdict: Love It (but don't over use it)

Additional Reading: 'Select Your Easy-Care Southern Living Loropetalum' - Sourthern Living Plant Collection