Not many gardeners will know – or see – the very reliable and hardy winter flowering shrub Stachyurus praecox AGM. Maybe because it flowers in February and March in whatever weather is thrown at it! There are other varieties of Stachyurus in the list below, but Stachyurus praecox is the best of the bunch (in my opinion!)
Stachyurus is a deciduous medium sized shrub – or tree – of which the main attraction is pendant racemes of yellow or lime green flowers in the deep of winter. Its growth habit can best be described as open and spreading – a shape that allows the catkin-like flowers to hang from the long branches in very attractive decorative style.
Its natural habitats are the Himalayas and other areas of Eastern Europe, where it is to be found in medium woodlands and scrub areas. This makes it a good candidate for the somewhat milder temperate areas – such as the UK. The long hanging catkin flowers are un-fazed by the winter weather and will show forth regardless.
Without doubt, it is best planted – and viewed – in a sheltered position. This not for the sake of hardiness, but it is at its best when showing off its winter display on gently nodding branches – rather than being tossed about in an open windy aspect.
A dark background of fence or wall will suit – as will a semi-shaded woodland area. It can be grown in the open as a large specimen shrub, but it benefits significantly when pruned quite hard. Stachyurus praecox is ideal as a wall shrub. (Not a climber though.)
It prefers semi or dappled shade, but is also partial to full sun. The soil need to be non-alkaline to acid, well drained and spoiled with a mulch of organic material each autumn.
The deciduous foliage consists of light green well pointed, lance-shaped leaves held on reddish-purple shoots. It has nothing to offer by way of autumn colour, but be patient at that time, for Stachyurus praecox is one of the most dependable of winter flowering shrubs.
There is also a variegated foliage version - being Stachyurus praecox 'Magpie'. It does not flower quite as well, but is well worth considering if you are happier with foliage. You would also be please with the flowering!
Height and spread in the region of 3 metres. This can be restrained if grown as a wall shrub, and by the pruning regime of cutting back the flowered branches to the basic framework/main stem.
If seeds set, they can be saved until autumn and then sown in a pot placed in a cold frame for the winter. Germination normally starts late spring.
Semi ripe cuttings – preferably with a slice/heel of old stem wood attached, are slow to root. If taken in August/September, place in cool greenhouse or cold frame for the winter breaking foliage in spring is normally a sign of rooting, but no hurry to remove until well rooted.
Cut back all flowered stems right after flowering. Take back to the main branch/stem and shape or train as you wish.