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COLORFUL BERRIES OF THE SHOWY PERNETTYA

PernettyaSpring flowers, attractive fall and winter berries and fine leaf texture combine to make the Pernettya mucronata a nice plant to use in the landscape.

These versatile, low-growing plants work well in containers, rockeries, or in landscape borders. Plant them in-groups of three or more for best effect.

Late last summer, I saw a beautiful planting of the Pernettya's in Victoria at the Empress Hotel complex. In the planting there, they had used about six plants in concrete planter boxes. The plants spread by underground runners, so by having them in the planter boxes, the plants were completely confined and created little or no special care. The large, fat, round berries in deep burgundy were very showy against the dark glossy green foliage.

Unquestionably the outstanding characteristic of the pernettya is its attractive berries. When two or more plants, of different colors are planted, they cross-pollinate and generally bear quite heavily during the late summer and into the autumn months. Berries range in shades of burgundy, red, rose, pink or white. The showy berries are quite large, up to about half-an-inch in diameter.

The late spring flowers are white to pink and are pretty, but tend to be hidden somewhat by the dense foliage. The glossy-green leaves are rather small, providing a fine texture in the garden and they make an excellent background for the showy berries. The new growth can be rather spindly and irregular, so it may need to be sheared or shaped during the growing season. If severe pruning is ever needed, it is best done just before the new growth starts in March, April or May.

Pernettya's grow best in full sun or part sun and shade. They need a peaty soil, much like blueberries. At planting time mix into the soil generous amounts of peat moss, compost or processed manure. Also, add a complete, non-burning, transplanting fertilizer to help get your plants off to a good start.

Generally each plant will grow about 2 to 2 ½ feet tall, with a spread of about 2 to 4 feet. Since the plants spread by underground runners, you can confine their growth, by simply cutting the spreading underground roots with a straight edged shovel. The best times to do this root pruning are in the late autumn or early spring.

Pernettyas like acid soil, so they should be fed with a rhododendron type fertilizer. Late February or early June are two of the best times to feed them. I recommend thoroughly moistening the soil the night before you feeding, then watering again, immediately after applying the fertilizer.

The best time to transplant established pernettya plants is during the winter dormant season months of November through early March.

New plants can be started from the underground runners (root divisions) or by cuttings. The best time to take the cuttings is in July or August, or during the winter dormant season months of November, December, January or February. Start the cuttings in a mix of 50% sand and 50% peat moss.

The cut stems with berries are ideal to use in small flower arrangements or as filler at the base of larger floral arrangements. They will last the longest, if the stems are cut in the morning, kept in deep water, then arranged in the late afternoon or evening.

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