Celastrus

Celastrus is a deciduous shrub which climbs by twisting its stems. Its flowers are inconspicuous, and it is grown for the beauty of its fruits, which split open in the autumn to reveal bright scarlet berries, behind which the inner yellow surface of the seed capsule appears like the petals of a flower. Luckily the fruits do not seem attractive to birds, so they last for months, sometimes well into the new year.

Celastrus is a vigorous grower, and the most popular species, C. orbiculatus, can reach 12m (40 ft). Some of the species (e.g. C. scandens) bear male and female flowers on separate plants, in which case you have to grow one of each to get berries. This applies also to C. orbiculatus, but you can now get this in a hermaphrodite form, with male and female flowers on the same shrub, and you should be sure to choose this form if you are growing only one. C. hypoleucus, which carries a waxy coating on its young shoots, is rather less vigorous, and is bisexual, so only one plant is needed. Celastrus do not like too much sun, and an east wall is ideal.Celastrus

General care: Celastrus grow well in most garden soils, but they do not like chalk, or excesses of wet or dry. Being vigorous growers, they need a lot of feeding, and like regular mulches. Dig in plenty of compost before planting, which can be carried out any time in the winter. Celastrus do not need regular pruning, merely a tidying-up of the old wood in the winter.

Propagation: Celastrus can be grown readily from seeds, and produce plenty of them. But there is the gender problem – you can end up with plants of the wrong gender. The safest and easiest way for amateur gardeners to propagate these shrubs is by layering a one-year-old shoot in the autumn. In a year’s time you can separate it and grow it on, and a hermaphrodite will produce a hermaphrodite in this way. Or you can root semi-hardwood cuttings in the summer, or hardwood cuttings in the winter, using a 50-50 peat and sand mixture.

Pests and diseases: Celastrus are generally disease-free, but can be troubled by the unsightly brown and black patches caused by scale insects. As a precaution, give a tar-oil wash in the winter.

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