False pepper - Skimmia japonica

False pepper - Skimmia japonica

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Skimmia japonica or false pepper is a small or medium-sized shrub, originating in Japan; it has dark green, bright, slightly leathery, evergreen, oval or lanceolate foliage.
The flowers of this variety are white, or cream, with reddish buds, they bloom towards the end of winter, at the apex of the stems, but generally the buds appear on the plant already in autumn.
These shrubs are easy to grow, and tend to maintain a compact and rounded shape; there are numerous cultivars with a dense and generally dwarf habit. The adult specimens can reach a height of one meter, the hybrids remain below 50-60 cm.
Enter one skimmia japonica in our garden it is a good idea, especially if we live in an area with not too cold winters and we have a woodland or basically acid soil. In these conditions its cultivation is really simple and can give great satisfaction in every period of the year: in mid-winter for the beautiful flowering, in the summer with the production of berries and in every period for the beautiful persistent leaves.

False pepper plants should be watered regularly throughout the year, especially during the hottest months.It is recommended to wait until the soil is well dry between one watering and another since the stagnation of water can be very dangerous for the health of the plant and could cause the onset of root rot.Mix the fertilizer for flowering plants with the water for watering every 20-25 days.The most delicate aspect of the cultivation of the skimmia concerns the water supply. Its root system, in fact, wants a substratum that is always fresh, but water stagnations (which could cause the onset of rot) must absolutely be avoided.Irrigations must therefore be frequent, especially during the summer months; an important aid to maintaining optimal conditions can derive from an abundant vegetable mulch, to be renewed often.This shrub is also very sensitive to calcium salts and to a high soil pH: they can cause leaf chlorosis. To avoid this serious problem we try to use as much rain or demineralised water as possible. It may also be useful, from time to time, to spread iron sulphate on the ground.THE SKIMMIA CALENDARFlowering February to MayBerries Summer-late autumnRepotting / transplant November (central-south), March (north)Berry removal NovemberComposting End of winterCultivation of the Skimmia

Skimmia cultivation is not difficult: in Italy it can be done almost anywhere since, apart from the mountain areas, it is unlikely to suffer from the cold elsewhere. A little more care will instead be needed to guarantee the right substrate and environmental humidity.
Pot cultivation
Pot cultivation is possible thanks to the slow growth of this shrub. However, it is immediately necessary to opt for a very large container: the roots are very delicate and the manipulations can cause prolonged growth arrests. We will have to pay particular attention to the drainage layer: ideal is a minimum thickness of 5 cm. A suitable compote is obtained by combining equal parts of soil for acidophilic, garden soil and sand. A few handfuls of manure can help us to enrich the compost.


The multiplication of skimmia japonica can be done by cutting or sowing.
For the first technique, the one with the cuttings proceeds in July - August, they are taken from the side shoots eight centimeters long, with a portion of the carrying branch and are planted in the sand.
In April-May of the following year, the rooted cuttings are transplanted into pots.
To proceed with sowing, on the other hand, one can work in September by sowing the seeds in small pots.
When the false pepper seedlings are quite large and have acquired the right strength, they are transplanted into a vase.

Planting Skimmia

In almost all of Italy the ideal period for transplanting (or for repotting) is late autumn. However, being a not completely rustic shrub it is advisable, where the winters are particularly harsh (it goes down for long periods below -5 ° C) to postpone to the end of February-beginning of April, when the frosts are certainly over.
In any case, but especially in the Center-North, in the early years a thick mulch with leaves and leaves is a must. It is also very useful to cover the foliage with a special fabric: we will avoid large dehydration caused by sudden drops in temperature.
Each specimen will need at least 50 cm free in every direction to develop easily. If we want to create a hedge we can, however, leave even 40: in this way it will "close first" and fully fulfill its barrier function or background for green areas.

Skimmia land

Skimmia japonica plants are a variety that prefers a soft soil, very rich in organic matter, with a low ph; periodically add peat to the soil in which they are grown, to avoid the onset of ferric chlorosis.
These plants are very sensitive to the presence of limestone, an element that can cause leaf yellowing.
The false pepper can be grown in pots, in this case, it will be necessary to provide for repotting, when the plant has had a certain development, being careful to use a soil rich in nutrients, well drained and soft.
This shrub requires an acidic or subacid substrate, resulting from the degradation of plant tissues, to grow well and not suffer from physiopathologies. Therefore, the soil of the forest or leaves mixed with about 1/3 of garden soil is ideal. If the chosen area proves to be too clayey and compact, all that remains is to dig deep to make a complete substitution. An excellent insulation from the external environment is obtained by burying large vases without bottom or large concrete cubes (such as those used in construction). We prefer a mixture designed specifically for acidophilic plants.
Let us also remember to take particular care of the bottom of the hole by creating a drainage layer with expanded clay or pozzolan.

Where to place it?

In general, it grows well in partial shade, especially if it receives full light in the morning hours, but is shielded in the hottest ones. However, in northern regions or in mountainous areas it can be positioned in a more exposed area, while in the south it becomes an ideal essence for shade (but not very dense). Let us remember that cultivars with light leaves have less chlorophyll and therefore, to grow, they need more light.

Parasites and Diseases

Skimmia japonica plants can be affected by pests and diseases that must be tackled effectively, to prevent the health of the plant being compromised.
The buds and young leaves of the false pepper are attacked by the aphids which cause them to deform. If the leaves turn yellow, it is necessary to fertilize with a fertilizer rich in nutritive elements such as seaweed, or to spray with appropriate leaf fertilizers. The root rot is caused by stagnant water.
Skimmia is a fairly resistant shrub in this respect. The most common problems are due to non-optimal cultivation conditions: leaf rot and chlorosis.
In the first case there are yellowing and large foliar droplets: it is necessary to adjust the irrigations and change the soil as soon as possible (the most suitable period is autumn), improving the drainage of the water.
The chlorotic leaves are characterized by a pale green, almost yellow, color of the leaves, but with ribs in evidence. Also in this case it is necessary to intervene on the ground as soon as possible; in the meantime it is good to do one or more operations with chelated iron (making sure that the iron is soluble in a wide pH range). The foliar treatments are also very effective, to be carried out early in the morning or in the evening (some chelates quickly degrade to light).
The most common parasite is undoubtedly the cochineal with a shield: it can be noticed on the branches, often the central ones or in the lower parts in the shade. In case of light attacks we can intervene by manually removing the insects. If the presence is instead massive we recommend the use of white oil activated with a systemic insecticide (in the market there are premixed products). The doses vary significantly depending on the season in which the treatment is carried out.

Rusticity of the skimmia

The skimmia is not completely rustic. Intense cold (below -5 / -10 ° C) can damage it, especially if it is very prolonged or in the presence of wind (due to widespread drying out). An important factor to keep in mind is the quality of the soil: the greatest damage occurs with low temperatures combined with insufficient drainage.
In general, if we live in areas with harsh climate, we recommend thick mulches and the use (at least the first few years) of sheets to cover the aerial part.

Fertilizing skimmia

It is a slow-growing plant and does not require strong nutrient inputs. However, it may be useful, in the spring, to distribute slow release granular fertilizer for acidophilic in the area covered by the foliage. For the doses we follow the manufacturer's instructions, in this case always choosing the lowest parameter.

Skimmia cleaning and pruning

Pruning is not necessary as the skimmia naturally already has slow growth. The only useful intervention is the removal of the panicles of fruit in November: the plant will thus be stimulated to produce flowers again in February.

False pepper - Skimmia japonica: Variety of Skimmia

In Italy there are almost only cultivars of the species on the market "Japonica". Given the success of this shrub, the breeders are committed to finding new interesting features.
The cultivar is very interesting, for example "Fragrans" and the "Kew Green": both are very contained and are suitable for growing in pots, on the first floor of the borders or for creating low hedges.
The varieties Fragrans and Rubella are only male: excellent for those who do not want fruits, dangerous for children and animals.
On the other hand the last of these has red-edged leaves and can therefore be precious to give a touch of liveliness to the garden, especially in the cold months.
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