What is Escallonia?

O. Parker

Escallonia is a deciduous flowering shrub that can be pruned into manicured hedgerows or allowed to ramble as an informal thicket. It is native to the mountainous regions of South America but has spread to many temperate climates throughout the world. Escallonia is a genus of perennial shrub within the Escalloniaceae family.

Escallonia can tolerate high amounts of salt from ocean spray.
Escallonia can tolerate high amounts of salt from ocean spray.

This shrub is used to create visual and wind barriers. Escallonia grows in a dense thicket-like manner and keeps its leaves all year to create a hedge that is both aesthetically pleasing and functional. It is notably tolerant of salt spray, ocean air and high winds, making it a good wind barrier in difficult coastal climates. It grows best in cool, temperate areas where the temperatures do not drop much below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius).

Escallonia grows to a total height of about 9 feet (3 meters) with a growth rate of 12 to 18 inches (about 30 to 45 cm) per year. The individual plants are spaced 18 inches (45 cm) apart to create a thick, even hedge. The leaves are glossy green and give off a scent that resembles rich curry spices.

The flowers are fragrant and bloom from early summer until early to mid-autumn. Hummingbirds, bees, and beneficial pollinating insects are attracted to the flowers and bring ecological diversity to the garden and landscape. Birds are attracted to the thick, thorny interior where they build nests and raise young. Escallonia is one of the few flowering hedge plants that continue to bloom when subjected to heavy shape-control pruning.

Escallonia can tolerate both heavily acidic and heavily alkaline soils and any range in between. The plant is tolerant of soils ranging from heavy clay to rocky or sandy, as long as there is adequate drainage. It does not tolerate shade well and will flourish only if planted in full sun. The shrubs benefit from yearly light pruning to take out dead wood and maintain a basic shape. In the case of a formal, rigorously shaped hedge, escallonia will flourish under constant trimming and shaping.

Propagation methods include hardwood cuttings, semi-hardwood cuttings and from seed. Hardwood cuttings taken in early to mid-winter will root easily in the ground at the intended planting site. Semi-hardwood cuttings are taken in early to mid-summer and are rooted in pots in a cold frame. Seeds are best started in pots in a greenhouse and moved outside in their second year.

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