How to Care for a Beautyberry Bush

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Give a beautyberry bush (Callicarpa spp.) a sunny to partially shady, well-draining location, and it will practically take care of itself. Attractive to birds, purple or white, BB-size berries -- which are actually drupes -- form in tight clusters, called cymes, surrounding stems at leaf nodes up and down the long branches. Leaves of this deciduous shrub drop in autumn, revealing the full beauty of the berries.

Beautyberry in the Wild

Native to China, Korea, Japan and the southeastern United States, beautyberry grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 9. In its natural habitat, American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) grows along woodland edges, streams and open pine thickets. American beautyberry, also called French mulberry, reaches 5 to 8 feet tall with a similar spread.

Beautyberry in the Garden

In the home garden, beautyberries grow as specimen plants, in groupings, in woodland landscapes or in container gardens. Cultivated varieties grow in USDA zones 6 through 8, and provide a selection of beautyberry colors, heights and forms:

  • Purple beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma) grows up to 4 feet tall with a wider spread. Slender branches have finer leaves than the native variety, and the branches weep slightly.
  • Callicarpa dichotoma 'Early Amethyst' ripens early.
  • Callicarpa dichotoma 'Albifructus' bears white berries. 
  • Callicarpa dichotoma 'Duet' also produces white berries, and has variegated foliage.
  • Callicarpa japonica produces reddish purple berries on a 5-foot-tall shrub with willow-like leaves.
  • Callicarpa japonica 'Leucocarpa' has white berries.
  • Callicarpa bodinieri 'Profusion' grows 6 feet tall and has purple berries. Young leaves are bronze.

Feeding Beautyberry

Beautyberries grow best in moderately fertile soil. Apply 1.25 pounds of 16-4-8 fertilizer per 10 square feet of area in early spring, when buds begin to swell. Sprinkle the fertilizer evenly. Irrigate lightly after fertilizer application to help the fertilizer dissolve. If your beautyberry bush is planted in your lawn, fertilize your lawn as usual, without giving special attention to the beautyberry shrub, as lawn fertilizer is sufficient to keep your beautyberry bush healthy. A second, lighter application of fertilizer can be made during the summer if growth is not adequate. However, do not fertilize during drought, as plants cannot absorb nutrients when stressed. Irrigate with 1 inch of water per week when rainfall does not supply this amount of moisture.

Pruning Beautyberry

Beautyberry bushes fruit on new wood, so pruning in the late fall or winter helps your plant maintain a more compact shape. Remove any dead wood, and cut all branches back to 12 to 18 inches tall, regardless of cultivar, using long-handled loppers. To ensure success in USDA zone 5, plant beautyberries in protected locations and prune back to 6 inches tall in late winter.

Tip

  • Disinfect pruning equipment to avoid spreading disease. Soak your loppers in a solution of one part household bleach or pine oil cleaner to three parts water, or use one part rubbing or denatured alcohol to one part water.

Managing Disease

Although pest and disease susceptibility of beautyberries is low, fungal leaf spot diseases or black mildew can occur. Keeping beautyberries adequately moist and maintaining good garden hygiene reduces the risk of infection from fungal diseases. Rake up and remove leaves and debris in the fall, and keep beautyberries mulched with a 3- to 4-inch layer of organic matter. Leave a 2-inch space between the trunk of the shrub and the mulch.

Fungal leaf spot diseases occur most frequently on young, succulent tissues during wet or humid weather. Prevention is the best practice, as removal of infected tissue is the only way to get rid of the disease.

Black mildew, or sooty mold, takes hold on leaves affected by honeydew-producing insects. The black coating does not actually harm your plant, as it feeds on the honeydew and not the leaves. However, it can interfere with photosynthesis by blocking sunlight. Remove black mildew and the insects that invite it with insecticidal soap and water:

  1. In a clean sprayer, which has never been used to spray weed killers, mix insecticidal soap according to label directions. Unless indicated otherwise, use 5 to 8 tablespoons of liquid insecticidal soap in 1 gallon of water to make a 2 to 3 percent solution.
  2. Spray leaves, making certain to wet the undersides, where insects hide.
  3. Allow the solution to remain on the leaves for a few minutes or longer before you rinse it off, but do not allow it to dry.
  4. With a water hose, spray the plant to remove the insecticidal soap solution.
  5. If all the mildew is not removed, you can wipe the leaves gently with a wet cloth.

Warning

  • Birds disperse beautyberry seeds, resulting in unwanted invasion in certain locations. Remove unwanted seedlings from your garden by hand-pulling them in the spring.

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