Growing Pieris ‘Forest Flame’ General care, planting and propagation

Growing Pieris ‘Forest Flame’ General care, planting and propagation

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Add a splash of colour to your garden by growing the ever-popular evergreen Pieris shrub. In this guide, I am going to mainly refer to the ‘Forest Flame’ variety, but this article is also perfect for all other Pieris varieties as well. These evergreen plants present dramatic foliage and small clusters of white flowers. Their flowers look amazing and some much-needed colour is added in the spring with the new bright red foliage on display.

You can find a wide range of cultivars to grow depending on your aesthetic preferences, so some may flower later in the season and have pinkish coloured flowers rather than creamy white.

If you are curious about how to grow Pieris, this article will prove informative. You will find good information on the perfect growing conditions, when to plant a Pieris, how to take care of them and even propagation.

Pieris shrub which grows well in acidic soil and shade

Without further ado, let us proceed:

Where to grow Pieris to get the most out of them

Known to resemble Lilly of the valley because of their flowers, the Pieris ‘Forest Flame’ is a compact shrub that is easy to grow. These evergreen plants enjoy a partially shaded site and well-drained acidic soils that are fertile. They will also grow well in sunny positions but they are also happy planted in shaded positions, making them ideal for growing in gardens that are shaded by trees or in a woodland garden.

Another thing to consider when cultivating Pieris is the soil pH because this affects the plant’s nutrient intake. Like blue hydrangeas, amongst other acid-loving plants, Pieris thrive in acidic soils that drain well. Growing Pieris in waterlogged soils will attract unnecessary fungal infections that might kill off the plants.

If your soil is more alkaline, then you will need to add plenty of ericaceous compost to adjust the pH of the soil while providing some much-needed nutrients. This is something that is not always successful as the soil will eventually revert back to being more alkaline. If you have a pH of 4.5 to 5 then this is classed as very acidic, 5.5 to 6 is usually considered acidic whilst 6.5 is slightly acidic.

To test your soil pH level you can purchase a soil pH tester and they are very affordable. If your soil is not acidic it may be worth growing them in pots instead.

Growing Pieris in pots and containers

Pieris grown in large container

Growing Pieris in pots is fairly low maintenance and a great alternative if you don’t have acidic soil, or alternatively only have a patio or balcony. Just remember to make sure there are holes in the bottom of the pot and crockery covering the holes to prevent them from getting clogged up.

Also, make sure you use ericaceous compost as this is acidic compost (which they thrive in) and keep an eye on the watering as they will dry out much more quickly when they are grown in pots.

Watering Pieris

Pieris need watering weekly, especially when they are newly planted before they are fully established because they have a restricted root system until they can get their roots into the soil. However, once they are established they don’t need watering, with the exception of during very dry spells. It is just as important to avoid overwatering by checking the moisture level of the soil too. If the soil beneath the surface is still moist there is no need to water daily. If the soil appears dry a few inches beneath the surface, water the plants.

Planting Pieris

Cream white flowers on the Pieris forest flame in spring

You can of course purchase an established plant from your local nursery or garden centre and transplant it into the ground or a sizeable pot. As you transplant the plant, take care not to damage the roots. Place the root ball into a hole twice its size and hold the plant in position whilst redistributing the soil. Make sure the soil level is slightly below the crown and then compact the soil lightly to remove any air pockets. In general, just make sure you don’t plant it any deeper than it was in the original pot.

Planting Pieris that have been grown in pots can be planted any time of year (although autumn is better) however, planting in spring or summer as most people will not be a problem. Just keep an eye on the watering.

Read next: Growing Photinia ‘red robin’ a good alternative to Pieris, evergreen, bright red spring foliage

Caring for Pieris

Pieris forest flame growing in border with bright red new growth in spring

Pieris plants are generally hardy; therefore, they can survive harsh conditions once they are fully established. Growing Pieris Forest Flame is not too hard as long as you provide some care and maintenance to keep them healthy. Below are a few tips.

  • Do not let the soil dry out for young or potted plants. Older shrubs planted in the ground have a deeper root system to get some water, unlike potted plants. Keep your plants hydrated and even more so when the temperatures are high.
  • Apply an ericaceous fertiliser to your plants to provide them with the nutrients they need. You should add acidifying fertiliser around the early spring and late winter to help boost the growth in the flowering season.
  • Prune your Pieris to retain its shape and get rid of dead or diseased branches. Pruning should be done after flowering to give the plant time to recover before the new season’s growth appears.
  • Be on the lookout for pest and disease attacks and mitigate them in time. Pests and diseases can kill or disfigure the plant in a matter of weeks, which I will cover in more detail further down the article.
  • Avoid feeding Pieris immediately after transplanting. This is because the plants will be busy re-establishing the root system and won’t take in many nutrients.
  • Mulch the plant using rotted pine leaves or ericaceuous compost to help maintain soil acidity, protect the plant from losing moistur, and act as a temperature regulator.

Learn more about how to prune Pieris in my guide here

Propagating

Pieris propagated from cutting and potted on

Pieris ‘Forest Flame’ takes a while to fully mature, some varieties, especially the taller ones can take up to 20 years. You can propagate these evergreen plants from seeds or alternatively by taking cuttings, which is my personal favourite. I prefer to take cuttings because they take a shorter time to grow compared to starting from seeds.

Taking cuttings

If you want to take Pieris cuttings, you can take softwood cuttings in spring as the new growth appears but after flowering. The cutting should be softwood (basically new growth) and be about 15cm in length. The cutting needs to be typically cut at a 45-degree angle and the bottom leaves removed. After you have done this, the cutting should be dipped into rooting hormone and then planted in moist ericaceous compost that has been mixed with 50% perlite. I like to put 3-4 cuttings into each small pot. Once they have a good system you can pot them into larger pots to grow on for another season before planting them in their final position.

Make sure to keep the soil moist for the cuttings to establish proper roots. Keep the cuttings away from direct sunlight to prevent wilting from excessive heat.

Growing from seed

Pieris seeds are typically planted in the late spring or summer when there is enough sunlight to support germination. All you have to do is press the seed gently into moist soil ensuring the seed is not completely covered. Then, place a plastic wrap on top of the container and put it in a cold frame until they germinate. Keep misting the soil occasionally to prevent dehydration. This process takes much longer than when you are growing a Pieris cutting.


Pests and diseases to look out for

Like most plants, the Pieris Forest Flame is susceptible to attacks from various pests and disease infections though most are not too serious. If you notice your plant’s health deteriorating, it’s probably due to one of these issues:

Leaf spot

When this fungal infection begins, it is easy to dismiss it because the spots are small. With time, the spots enlarge and eventually cause the deformed leaves to drop. If left unchecked, the fungal infection spreads to the other leaves causing massive defoliation, which weakens the plant.

If your plant is infected remove the affected leaves and apply a fungicide. It will also be helpful to avoid splashing water directly on the leaves as this activates the fungal spores, further causing the infection.

Pieris lacebug

Lace bug

These bugs (as you can tell by their name) are specific to Pieris plants. The small suckling insects affect the leaves causing mottling on the upper surface of the foliage, which in turn, affects the appearance of the plant. Large infestations of the bugs eventually cause the yellow discoloured leaves to fall.

The small bugs, with wings that look like lace, are easy to control by introducing natural predators such as birds, ground beetles and wasps. You can also treat with a pesticide if the problem is serious.

Root rot

Root rot in Pieris is brought about by Phytophthora, which is a genus of oomycetes. This infection affects a wide range of plants worldwide and causes irreparable damage. The fungal infection attacks the roots affecting the plant’s ability to absorb nutrients. You might not sense that root rot has infected your plant until it is too late and that is why this disease is fatal.

Once the roots are affected you will start noticing symptoms like wilting, discoloured leaves and branch dieback. The only way to deal with root rot is to avoid it by planting your Pieris in well-drained soils. Any infected plants should be destroyed as the disease can spread to other roots in the vicinity.


Final Thoughts

It is crucial to note that Pieris leaves and nectar are poisonous when ingested; therefore, keep young children and animals away from them. Be careful while handling infected Pieris by wearing gloves and disinfecting cutting tools to avoid spreading diseases. With that being said, I hope you have enjoyed this article and found it informative in how to grow Pieris successfully.


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