The long, hanging silvery catkins of Garrya elliptica (the silk tassel bush) are a striking sight in winter. With its evergreen leaves and graceful catkins, Garrya is an excellent wall shrub and a good winter-interest shrub or informal hedge.
Site and soil conditions
Garrya needs a sheltered site, as it easily suffers leaf scorch in windy or exposed sites. It works well as a wall shrub, the wall providing extra shelter and warmth. As Garrya is shade tolerant, a north – or east-facing wall is fine. Avoid frost pockets or very cold parts of the UK. Garrya does prefer well-drained soil.
Watering and feeding
See our advice on shrub cultivation for information on routine watering and feeding.
Garrya is dioecious, meaning that it has separate male and female plants. Although both male and female plants produce catkins, the male catkins are considered more attractive. Make sure you buy a named cultivar that is guaranteed male, unless you want to breed them (in which case you will need a female plant as well).
Pruning and training
Where pruning is required, prune in early spring, as the catkins start to fade, but before new growth starts.
Allow free-standing shrubs to develop un-pruned where there is space, but if pruning is required:
- Remove any crossing, rubbing or badly placed shoots, as well as any dead, diseased or damaged shoots
- Renovate (if necessary) by cutting back plants gradually over three to four years to a low framework of branches. Re-growth is vigorous and will need thinning out, selecting the strongest, best-placed shoots and removing the others
Garrya is well suited to being grown as a fan or an espalier
- Cut the plant back to one or two framework branches before planting
- Tie these framework branches to bamboo canes, which are then attached in a fan shape to horizontally-placed wires on the wall or fence. See our advice on training and pruning climbers and wall shrubs on planting for more information
- Cut back any side shoots which grow out from the wall
- Tie in well-placed new shoots to the framework, extending and filling in the fan framework. Use extra bamboo canes if necessary
- Trim with secateurs or hand shears, not with a hedge trimmer, as a hedge trimmer will damage the leaves, causing scorch and ragged edges
Species plants can be raised from seed. Named cultivars will not come true from seed, and are best propagated from semi-ripe cuttings taken in summer.
G. elliptica ‘James Roof’ AGM – male cultivar with dense clusters of silver catkins to 20cm (8in) or more. Height 4m (12ft)
G. x issaquahensis ‘Pat Ballard’ – male cultivar with upright, narrower shape; red-purple shoots and purple-tinged catkins to 20cm (8in) long. Height 4m (12ft)
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Garrya tends to look scruffy in early spring, as older evergreen leaves are shed in favour of new growth. The old leaves may appear scorched, brown or yellowed, particularly at the edges.
The shrub may suffer winter cold damage, especially when sharp weather follows a prolonged mild spell. Although this looks unsightly, causing browning or yellowing of the leaves, it generally poses little threat to the plant. Pruning out the worst of the damage and tidying spent catkins improves the plant's appearance.
Leaf spots in autumn and early winter are often the result of delayed symptoms of stress encountered by the plant the previous summer, such as a period of drought or waterlogging. Remove the worst affected leaves and improve the growing conditions by mulching, watering, feeding or improving drainage as appropriate.
Spotting of leaves in warmer weather may indicate a fungal leaf spot disease. Fungicides that are allowed for use on ornamental plants might be effective, but removal of infected material is often sufficient remedy.
Garrya may occasionally be shy to flower.
Common name Silk tassel bush
Botanical name Garrya
Group Shrub, evergreen
Flowering time Mid-winter to early spring
Planting time Autumn to spring
Height and spread 3-4m (10-12ft) height and spread
Aspect Sun or shade
Hardiness Frost hardy