Growing A Leucothoe Bush: Learn About Types Of Leucothoe

By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

One of the more pleasant broadleaf evergreen shrubs is leucothoe. Leucothoe plants are native to the United States and provide trouble free attractive foliage and flowers. It is a very versatile plant and can grow in almost any soil. Acidic, well-draining soil provides perfect leucothoe growing conditions, but the plant can tolerate a range of other soil types as long as the pH is not alkaline. There are several types of leucothoe from which to choose, any of which would enhance your garden and delight you with the plant’s low maintenance.

About Leucothoe Plants

As a gardener, I am always looking for unique plants that require no special attention and will persist as beautiful focal points for the duration of my garden. Sounds like wishful thinking but it isn’t. Leucothoe plants provide the interest, longevity and ease of care that suit my landscape. They grow wild in the eastern United States in moist woodlands and along streams.

This deer resistant plant is suitable for the more temperate regions of North America. Try growing a leucothoe bush as a single specimen in containers or in groups as part of a border. Whatever you try, you won’t be disappointed with the fantastic foliage and undemanding care of leucothoe.

One of the best things about leucothoe is its new stem growth. Most species have red, bronze, or vibrant green young stems which deepen to dark, glossy green. The stems are arching and elegant, decorated with tapered leaves. The glossy broad leaves are evident year round with some types producing attractive variegated foliage. Leaves may develop a reddish or bronze hue in fall.

All varieties of leucothoe bear dangling little bell-shaped flowers. The flowers are usually white but may also be bluish. These tiny bells become 5 lobed globular fruits. Leucothoe plants are vase shaped bushes that grow between 3 and 5 feet (1-1.5 m.) in height.

Growing a Leucothoe Bush

The two main requirements for good leucothoe growing conditions are acidic soil and moisture. The plant can tolerate brief periods of dryness but the healthiest plants get moderate but consistent water.

Shade to partially shady locations develop the best leaf color in variegated forms. Full sun locations are tolerated so long as plenty of moisture is available.

Incorporate organic matter to the planting site and till soil to a depth of at least one foot. Dig the hole for the plant twice as deep and wide as the root ball. Press soil around the roots and water the plant in well. Keep the plant moist until establishment. Thereafter, check soil moisture to a depth of 3 inches (7.5 cm.) and water deeply if it is dry.

Types of Leucothoe

Leucothoe is a popular ornamental garden plant and many cultivars have been developed. There are over 10 commonly available species but a few are real standout performers.

  • Leucothoe axillaris is a fairly small bush and show off in a rockery, foundation plant or on slopes.
  • Girard’s Rainbow (Leucothoe fontanesiana) has white, pink and bronze new growth.
  • Leucothoe racemosa native species found from Massachusetts down to Louisiana, is one of the more cold tolerant forms and has 4-inch (10 cm.) long racemes of drooping, scented flowers from May through June.

Care of Leucothoe

Leucothoe is remarkable not only for its attractive appearance but because it is relatively untroubled by pests or disease. It is best to protect the plant from drying winds which may damage the lovely foliage. A thick layer of mulch around the root zone will protect the area from desiccation and prevent weed competitors.

The plants do not need pruning unless you have an errant stem or broken material. You can rejuvenate older plants and enjoy the new growth by removing stems to within a few inches of the soil. Some leucothoe will produce suckers and will require removal of wayward vertical growth.

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Leucothoe 'Burning Love' 2L

Leucothoe 'Rainbow' is an evergreen, multi-stemmed compact shrub with striking, arching red branches of narrow, glossy leaves which are deep red when new, before turning dark green where they provide a fabulous backdrop to other garden plants.

In autumn, the leaves transform into fiery scarlet, so 'Rainbow' really does give you year-round colour and form adding interest wherever it is planted.

This ornamental shrub welcomes spring with drooping clusters of dainty white, bell-like flowers that last well into midsummer.

A very hardy shrub, these are easy to grow and make perfect specimens in pots or in beds and borders where their colourful leaves can shine through the garden, preferring acid conditions and a shaded location.

Growing to 75cm (2.5ft) tall and wide, we supply an established plant in a 2L pot, ready for potting on or planting out.

How to Grow Coast Leucothoe

If placed in a location protected from wind and given a layer of winter mulch, this plant can be hardy to Zone 5, but it tends to perform better at Zone 6 or above. It has a sturdy root system and can perform well on a slope or in a rock garden as long as the soil is not too loose or gravelly. Because of its compact but dense growth habit, as well as its mid season bloom time, it can be an effective underplanting for larger, much earlier or later blooming shrubs that also flourish in partial shade, like azaleas, rhododendrons, oakleaf hydrangeas, weigelas, and/or rose of Sharon. Other than not liking too much sun, extreme heat or harsh wind, it's quite hardy and resilient.

Leucothoe, Dog Hobble, Drooping Leucothoe, Fetterbush 'Girard's Rainbow'

Family: Ericaceae (er-ek-AY-see-ee) (Info)
Genus: Leucothoe (loo-KOH-thoh-ee) (Info)
Species: fontanesiana (fon-tay-nee-zee-AH-na) (Info)
Cultivar: Girard's Rainbow
Additional cultivar information:(aka Rainbow)


Water Requirements:

Average Water Needs Water regularly do not overwater

Sun Exposure:


This plant is resistant to deer

Foliage Color:




USDA Zone 4a: to -34.4 °C (-30 °F)

USDA Zone 4b: to -31.6 °C (-25 °F)

USDA Zone 5a: to -28.8 °C (-20 °F)

USDA Zone 5b: to -26.1 °C (-15 °F)

USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 °C (-10 °F)

USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 °C (-5 °F)

USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 °C (0 °F)

USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 °C (5 °F)

Where to Grow:


All parts of plant are poisonous if ingested

Bloom Color:

Bloom Characteristics:

Flowers are good for cutting

Bloom Size:

Bloom Time:

Other details:

Soil pH requirements:

Patent Information:

Propagation Methods:

From herbaceous stem cuttings

From semi-hardwood cuttings

Seed Collecting:


This plant is said to grow outdoors in the following regions:

Munsonville, New Hampshire

Greensboro, North Carolina

Hayesville, North Carolina

Lake Toxaway, North Carolina

Statesville, North Carolina

Gardeners' Notes:

On Dec 6, 2013, sylvanj from Kiawah Island, SC wrote:

I haven't grown it in my garden because I believe it's too hot in the low-country, but I enjoy seeing it wild in the piedmont region of sc. I thought I'd just answer the question of the last commenter - When dog hunting for black bears was popular in the Appalachians, bears used to easily run through Leucothoe, the dogs would get stuck in the ropey stems of the thickets and lose the bear - hence the name doghobble

On May 3, 2013, paani from Saint Louis, MO (Zone 6a) wrote:

woodspirit1 asked why it's called Dog Hobble. Here is what the ASPCA has to say:

Dog Hobble
Additional Common Names:
Dog Laurel, Fetter Bush, Black Laurel
Scientific Name:
Leucothoe sp.
Toxic to Horses, Toxic to Cats, Toxic to Dogs
Toxic Principles:
Clinical Signs:
Vomiting, diarrhea, depression, cardiovascular collapse, hypersalivation, weakness, coma, low blood pressure, death. Ingestion of a few leaves can cause serious problems.

On Sep 25, 2012, woodspirit1 from Lake Toxaway, NC (Zone 7a) wrote:

These are very attractive plants with leathery shiny leaves. They tend to be the undergrowth in the woods beneath larger plants like wild rhoderdendron or mountain laurel. I have cut branches for arrangements in the past. I am not sure why they are called dog hobble. If anyone knows, please d-mail me.

On Apr 11, 2006, diamondpatch from kettering northamptonshire,
United Kingdom wrote:

found a plant i liked in my local garden centre,Seasons at Burton Latimer in Northants. Just a plant label , but no growing or planting details and we couldn,t find it in our plant books either, but i am sure this is it. Will let you know how i get on with it this year, Diamondpatch

On Oct 20, 2004, lmelling from Ithaca, NY (Zone 5b) wrote:

I am delighted each spring with the pinks, creams, and variety of other shades this plant displays on it's foliage. The petite flowers just add to the list of reasons you should have this plant. Instead of using mine as a foundation plant, I have it presiding over the focal area of one of my backyard gardens. I keep it pruned to about a 2.5' - 3' height and width each spring after it flowers. It takes pruning very well and is quite a hardy little addition. Mine is in a location that gets morning and evening sun (zone 5), but is sheltered from the hot midday sun by pine trees. We have springs running throughout this garden so watering is only necessary during the dryest and hottest of summers, which isn't very often. Although moist, this garden is well drained, being on a slope. Othe. read more r than pruning, I find it takes very little care, even during the harshest winter.

Deer will browse it - contrary to the note above that lists it as "deer resistant," however, when this happened to me the first winter I had it, I found it will spring back well should one of our 4-legged nemesis find it. I try to keep mine covered with netting during the winter months, which is enough to discourage this activity.

On Oct 10, 2004, magnumta from Marietta, GA wrote:

This plant is susceptable to black spot. A spraying of fungicide cures the problem.

Leucothoe Plant Pest or Diseases

The Drooping Leucothoe is deer resistant and doesn’t experience any severe disease or pests problems.

However, be on a lookout for scale insects, lace bugs, leaf gall, powdery mildew, tar spot, and Anthracnose spot.

In a humid environment, the plant might experience a leaf spot.

Is Leucothoe Toxic or Poisonous?

This plant is toxic and might prove fatal if ingested.

The plant also has a high flammability rating and shouldn’t be placed inside the house.

Nature Hills Container Size by Volume

Young Plants to 18 Months
Size Volume
2"x2"x3" Ranges from .18 to .21 dry quarts / .198 to .23 dry liters in volume
4.5" Container Equal to .65 dry quart / .72 dry liter in volume
Sprinter Pot Equal to .63 dry quart / .69 dry liter in volume
4" Container Ranges from .31 to .87 / .35 to .96 dry liter in volume
6" Container Equal to 1.4 dry quarts / 1.59 dry liters in volume
1 Quart Equal to 1 dry quart / 1.1 dry liter in volume
5.5" Container Equal to 1.89 of a dry quart / 2.08 dry liters in volume
4"x4"x5" Ranges from .8 to 1.1 dry quarts / .88 to 1.2 dry liters in volume
4"x4"x6" Ranges from 1.0 to 1.3 dry quarts / 1.1 to 1.41 dry liters in volume
4"x4"x9" Ranges from 1.1 to 2.1 dry quarts / 1.2 to 2.3 dry liters in volume
4"x4"x10" Ranges from 1.7 to 2.3 dry quart / 1.87 to 2.53 dry liters in volume
Plants 18 Months - 2.5 Years Old
Size Volume
2 Quart Equal to 2 dry quarts / 2.2 dry liters in volume
#1 Container Ranges from 2.26 to 3.73 dry quarts / 2.49 to 4.11 dry liters in volume
5"x5"x12" Equal to 3.5 to 4.3 dry quarts / 3.85 to 4.74 dry liters in volume
Plants 2 - 4 Years Old
Size Volume
#2 Container Ranges from 1.19 to 1.76 dry gallons / 5.24 to 7.75 dry liters in volume
#3 Container Ranges from 2.32 to 2.76 dry gallons / 10.22 to 12.16 dry liters in volume
Plants 3 - 5 Years Old
Size Volume
#5 Container Ranges from 2.92 to 4.62 dry gallons / 12.86 to 20.35 dry liters in volume
#7 Container Ranges from 5.98 to 6.08 dry gallons / 26.34 to 26.78 dry liters in volume

How to Care for Rollison Drooping Leucothoe

Related Articles

Rollison drooping leucothoe (Leucothoe fontanesiana "Rollisonii"), also called fetterbush or doghobble, is a 3- to 6-foot evergreen shrub with drooping white flowers that appear in clusters in mid-spring. Drooping leucothoe is winter hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 8. The green leaves start out bright red in color, and change to a reddish or purple color in the winter. Drooping leucothoe is often planted as a border or privacy screen, as it has a 6-foot or larger spread.

Plant in an area with partial shade, good drainage and slightly acidic soil. Amend soil before planting with sand if drainage needs to be improved. Add aluminum sulfate to the soil according to package instructions to quickly lower pH if necessary. Other pH-lowering materials include sphagnum peat and sulfur, though these are slower acting. Work peat into the top 2 inches of soil to add organic matter as well. A soil pH test kit will let you know the pH of your soil.

Dig compost into the top several inches of soil before planting. When planting multiple shrubs, space them 3 to 4 feet apart.

Keep soil moist. The drooping leucothoe needs plenty of water. Do not allow soil to dry out between waterings, but do not overwater. The soil should not have water sitting on its surface or be the consistency of mud.

Mulch around the base of the shrub with a 3- to 6-inch layer of organic mulch. Keep the mulch about 2 inches from the base of the plants, and mulch under the entire shrub so the roots will be covered. Drooping leucothoe do best in cool, moist soil, and the mulch will help preserve those conditions.

Fertilize the shrub with a fertilizer for acidic-soil plants when the leucothoe starts to bloom. Follow the packaging instructions. Do not over-fertilize.

Prune the shrub in winter if necessary. Pruning is not needed unless a portion of the shrub dies or you wish to even out the shape. Cut dead stems back to the base of the shrub. Cut the ends of long stems back to the desired length, making the cut about 1/4 inch above a bud.

Jill Kokemuller has been writing since 2010, with work published in the "Daily Gate City." She spent six years working in a private boarding school, where her focus was English, algebra and geometry. Kokemuller is an authorized substitute teacher and holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Iowa.

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