How to Grow Skimmia

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Skimmia is a slow-growing evergreen shrub with glossy, dark green leaves. In spring tiny white flowers open from clusters of pinkish buds held above the foliage. Skimmia bears holly-like red fruits in fall and winter. Skimmia is grown for its attractive leaves, flowers, and fruit.

Skimmia flowers are star-shaped and strongly scented in some species. Plant Skimmia under windows, beside shaded walks, flanking entries, and in containers. Skimmia blend well with other shade plants.

Skimmia is a genus of 4 species native to the Himalayas, Southeastern Asia, China, and Japan.

Skimmia japonica flowers in bloom
Skimmia japonica flowers in bloom

Get to know Skimmia 

  • Plant type: Broad-leaved evergreen shrubs
  • Growing zones and range: Japan, Himalayas 
  • Hardiness: Zones 6 to 8
  • Height and width: 2 to 20 feet (.6-6m) tall and 1.5 to 20 feet (.4-6m0 wide depending on the variety
  • Growth rate: Slow 
  • Form and habit: Rounded 
  • Foliage: Evergreen, elliptical-oblong, 2.5-5 inches (6.4-12.7cm) long; bright green on top, yellowing underneath, and aromatic when crushed.  
  • Flowers: Glossy, red-maroon buds open to yellow-white; female flowers are small, somewhat fragrant, .3 inch (.8cm) across, borne on 2-3 inches (5.1-7.6cm) long upright panicles; male flowers are larger, more fragrant. 
  • Fruits: Female bears hollylike bright red rounded drupes .3 inches (.8cm) wide and conspicuous in fall and winter; male and female plants required for fruit set. 
  • Bloom time: Spring
  • Uses: Mixed evergreen border, understory plants in woodland gardens, along foundations; good under windows, beside shaded walks, flanking entryways, and in containers.   
  • Garden companions: Rhododendrons, mixed evergreens, with other shade-loving trees.  
  • Common name: Skimmia
  • Botanical name: Skimmia
  • Family name: Rutaceae
  • Origin: Woodlands Himalayas to China and Japan

Where to plant Skimmia 

  • Plant Skimmia in light to deep shade; Skimmia will discolor in full sun and does not tolerate heat well. 
  • Skimmia tolerates urban conditions and containers well.  
  • Skimmia does not do well in where summer droughts are prolonged.  
  • Plant Skimmia in well-drained, sandy, moist soil, pH 5.0 to 5.7. 
Skimmia with red berries and green leaves
Skimmia with red berries and green leaves

When to plant Skimmia 

  • A container-grown Skimmia transplants easily in early spring.  

Planting and spacing Skimmia 

  • Space Skimmia 1.5 to 20 feet (.4-6m) apart depending on the variety.

How to water and feed Skimmia 

  • Skimmia doesn’t tolerate wet conditions or drought.  
  • Give Skimmia regular water.  
  • Feed Skimmia with an all-purpose organic fertilizer in spring.

How to care for Skimmia 

  • The pruning season for Skimmia is after flowering. 
  • A Skimmia looks best if allowed to develop naturally.  
  • Ungainly branches should be removed from Skimmia in spring before growth begins. 

Skimmia pests and diseases 

  • Skimmia is susceptible to attack by mites, which give the foliage a sunburned look; thrips may also attack. 
  • Water mold is a problem for Skimmia in hot regions.  
Skimmia japonica subsp. reevesiana

Skimmia propagation 

  • Propagate Skimmia from cleaned seeds or cuttings taken in fall.
  • Sow seed in containers in a cold frame in autumn.
  • Root semi-ripe cuttings with bottom heat in mid- and late summer.

Skimmia varieties to grow 

  • Skimmia japonica, Japanese skimmia, a dainty, slow-growing, densely branched shrub 3-5 feet (.9-1.5m) high with glossy, elliptical leaves that are slightly fragrant when bruised and held in whorls near the ends of branches. The female plant bears yellowish-white flowers; the male, larger, fragrant flowers. The fruits are borne by female plants when a male plant is growing nearby. Zones 7 and 8. 
  • S. foremanii, hybrid between S. japonica and S. reevesiana. Resembles S. japonica but is more compact, with broader, heavier, darker green leaves. Plants may be male, female, or self-fertile.  
  • S. reevesiana, Reeves skimmia, a less-hardy species for Zones 7 to 8. A compact shrub, it grows 2-3 feet (.6-.9m) high and bears white flowers that are bisexual. One plant alone will fruit. Where there’s no room for both male and female shrubs, gardeners choose this species. Zones 6 and 7.  

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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