When I first moved here in 2001, I kind of went on a buying spree. Any new plant was fair game. Some worked well, some did not. The ones that worked well I made a mental note to get more of them and to learn more about them. Aucuba japonica, aka the Gold Dust plant, certainly fit in the category of 'shrubs that do well in the shade'. Not only do they do well in shade, but they do just fine in dry soil too. Good thing since most of our summers are quite dry, and most of my shade is dry too.
The aucuba pictured is one of about 1/2 dozen aucubas growing in my garden. They are all planted in a raised bed out front that encircles an oak tree and a very mature pine tree. You can just make out another aucuba directly behind the one featured today. I featured this particular one because it is a female aucuba. And female aucubas bear bright red berries! See them in the first picture? What a lovely sight on a winter-make that a spring day.
In order to get berries on the female plant, you must have a nearby male plant. Now how on earth can I or anyone determine what is a male aucuba and what is a female aucuba? I guess by the luck of the draw I managed to purchase a male somewhere along the way, along with the females. This is the first year in many years that the aucubas have borne a great amount of berries. By great amount, I mean more than 5 or 6. Not many really, but the few that do show up are welcomed.
Many gardeners do not realize that aucubas are not self pollinating. I can tell you from experience it is difficult to find an aucuba that is marked 'female' or 'male' in nurseries or big box stores. Sometimes you can occasionally find a male cultivar that is usually variously labeled with a 'Mister' in its name, but not often. The best advice I can give is to make sure you have more than one aucuba and buy from a variety of sources, or even better, find a nursery that understands aucubas need a male and female in order to produce berries.
I planted these aucubas around my one and only pine tree out front. They circle the pine tree and the intent is for the aucubas to grow large enough that they completely encircle the trunk so it looks kind of like the trunk is growing out of the aucubas. I like that effect and aucubas can grow up to 15 feet, though 6-8 feet is more common in gardens. I expect they'll do fine here and continue to grow in order to produce the effect I hope for.
The fact the aucubas are evergreen is a bonus that helps to shield our home from a busy state highway. This time of year aucubas can get some freeze damage and the tips of their leaves will turn black and dry up. Not to worry, once warm weather arrives they will bounce back beautifully.
Aucubas would prefer a moist well drained soil slightly acidic to be in ideal conditions, but is adaptable. The fact mine are planted under a mature pine should tell you the difficult growing conditions these aucubas are growing in. The soil is extremely dry and rather congested with pine roots, however the aucubas are undaunted, and still they grow.
All parts of aucubas are poisonous. This is very good news if you have a deer or rabbit problem, but you want to site these shrubs carefully while keeping this fact in mind if you have children or pets around who may eat the shrubs.
So, here is a wonderful shrub with colorful leaves and red berries that can brighten any shade garden in the south. Their growing zones only include 6-10. That must be the reason I could never find them up north, but here they are fairly abundant under shade trees, keeping me cool and providing color.
in the garden....