How to Plant, Grow and Care For Beauty Bush
The beauty bush is aptly named for its beautiful pink flowers that bloom in the spring and its peeling bark. In this article, gardening expert Kaleigh Brillon shows you how to grow and care for this gorgeous shrub in your garden.
If you want to add a delicate yet stunning plant to your garden or landscape, look no further than the beauty bush, Linnaea amabilis. This honeysuckle relative has an elegant air and won’t stand out too much, though it will still add some interest to your garden all year.
The beauty bush is easy to care for, though you’ll want to prune it often since it can grow quite bushy under good conditions. At least the overgrowth means you’re doing something right! It has few pest problems and will invite many pollinators to your garden, so it’s a good plant near fruit and vegetable gardens.
Let’s dive into how to grow this pretty plant so you can start enjoying the pink blossoms as soon as possible.
Beauty Bush Overview
Plant Type Deciduous shrub
Species Linnaea amabilis
Native Area: China
Hardiness Zones 4-8
Sun Exposure Full sun to partial shade
Height 6-10 feet
Watering Requirements Moderate
Soil Type Loam
Pests & Diseases Rabbits
The beauty bush used to be scientifically classified as Kolkwitzia amabilis, named after the German botanist Richard Kolkwitz. It has since been reclassified as Linnaea amabilis. “Amabilis” means “lovely,” which seems like a compliment to the botanist, and it certainly fits this plant well!
This shrub is in the honeysuckle family and is native to parts of China. The plant grows well in most parts of the U.S. as long as the conditions aren’t too hot or dry.
The beauty bush is a deciduous shrub, meaning that its leaves will change color and fall off each year as the temperatures cool down in the fall. If you admire autumnal foliage, you’ll love this plant. The leaves are pointed ovals and range from medium to dark green in the spring and summer but will turn various shades of yellow and red in the fall.
Each spring in April and May, you can expect a soft burst of color from clusters of small flowers. The bell-shaped blooms attract hummingbirds, bees, and other pollinators.
The shrub doesn’t have much interest to offer in the winter besides its exfoliating bark, which has a peeled appearance. The bark will range from light brown to light gray, and the older pieces are the ones that will peel.
The plant grows several stems and can become dense after a few years of successful growth. You’ll probably want to prune this plant, but I’ll talk more about that later in this article since there are some important guidelines you’ll want to follow.
The beauty bush will readily propagate from stem cuttings, so you can have a near-endless supply of beauty bushes once your first one is established. It will take about three years for a cutting to flower, so you’ll need a little patience.
To take a cutting from your shrub, choose a greenwood branch that’s mature on the bottom but still soft toward the top. Avoid softwood branches, which are pliable from the top to the bottom. This new growth isn’t mature enough, but cuttings also shouldn’t be from hardwood – you need that in-between age of growth.
A good way to prune your plant while propagating is to choose a sucker rather than a branch. Suckers are stems that pop out from the base of the shrub’s main trunk, eventually making your plant spread out. These propagate well and will help you keep your plant under control.
Make sure the piece you chose to propagate is about three inches long with one or two nodes, and allow it to develop roots while placed in a tray of soil, or plant it directly in a loose growing medium. Keep the soil moist, but not puddled, until roots develop.
If you let it propagate in a tray, you can plant it in a pot once it has sturdy roots. If you root it in a pot, you can keep it there until it’s ready to transplant outside or into a larger container.
Transplanting a beauty bush into your garden will be the easiest way to grow one successfully. Whether you have a rooted cutting or a young shrub from the plant nursery, you can follow these steps to get it into your garden.
Choose a location that will receive at least six hours of sunlight and dig a hole that’s as deep as the root ball but twice as wide. Mix organic matter like compost into the soil to make sure your plant will have plenty of nutrients to start with. Place the shrub in the hole and backfill it with soil.
Water the plant generously to give it a good drink and help the soil settle. If any part of the root ball is exposed, add more soil and compost so the top of the root ball is level with the ground but covered. Apply an inch or two of mulch to help retain moisture and protect the roots from extreme temperatures or weather.
The best time to plant beauty bushes is in spring when the weather has warmed up or in fall when it has cooled down. If you plant it in the fall, ensure it has time to become established early enough that freezing temperatures won’t damage tender roots. The plant must be somewhat established when the ground freezes to survive winter.
Like many shrubs, the beauty bush can be happy in a container, and it will actually be the better choice if you live outside of its hardiness zone range. Caring for a potted shrub won’t be much different than if it were outdoors, but there are a few things you’ll need to pay close attention to.
The first thing is the roots. The roots will eventually grow enough to fill up the container, and you’ll need to repot the plant so it can continue to grow. Rootbound plants can’t retain moisture and nutrients, leading to drought, stunted growth, and eventually death. If roots grow from the drainage holes or curl around the pot’s insides, it’s time to upsize.
Water More Often
Container plants dry out faster than in-ground plants since water drains out the bottom, and there isn’t as much room in a pot as in the ground. You’ll likely need to water a potted beauty bush more often, especially in the peak of summer.
Move the Pot
You can move potted shrubs around as needed to help the plant thrive. If no area in your yard receives at least six hours of sunlight, you can move the pot around as needed and bring it inside during bad weather. The plant will also be protected from rabbits since it will always be above ground.
Landscape Uses for Beauty Bush
There are many ways you can use a beauty bush in your landscape. Whether you plant it alone or group it with others will greatly change how it looks and functions.
Perhaps the most useful way to use a beauty bush, utilizing its spring blooms to bring pollinators into your yard, is a good way to help increase your edible garden’s harvest. Bees and hummingbirds love beauty bushes and will likely stick around for the rest of your garden.
Beauty bushes can be grown close together to form a privacy hedge. Since they can grow up to 10 feet wide, you don’t have to place them too closely to make your place private. Grow them in front of windows, along fences, or on the edge of your yard to make your space a little more personal.
You can cover unsightly house foundations with beauty bushes since they occupy so much space. You can keep it trimmed so it won’t get too close to the house, but you’ll probably want to keep several feet of space between the plant and the house so there can be some extra room to grow in case you’re unable to stay on top of pruning.
A specimen plant is something that’s planted on its own as a focal point in a landscape. The gorgeous spring blooms will make you want to plant the beauty bush by itself so you can properly appreciate it.
While that’s certainly an option, keep in mind that it only blooms for about two months in the spring and will have green leaves until the fall when they change colors and drop. You might consider pairing it with low-lying flowers that bloom throughout the year to offset the plain green shrub appearance it will have for most of the year.
Beauty bushes are pretty easy to grow. Once you establish them in your yard, you must ensure continued access to sunlight and water and prune them periodically.
Beauty bushes are content in full sun or partial shade, but the light you provide them will affect the final outcome. Full sun will give you better flower production and color, but partial shade will give you the best-looking leaves.
If you have a troublesome area with dappled shade, this shrub will grow well there, too, but you’ll be sacrificing the overall look since this situation won’t benefit the flowers or the leaves. It may be better to choose a native plant adapted to shade.
When transplanted into your garden, you should provide your beauty bushes with consistently moist soil. The plants are happiest when the soil stays moist but not soggy, and consistent moisture will help young plants establish roots faster and help them grow stronger.
Once your shrub is established in your garden and has been around for at least a year, it will become more drought-resistant as its root system spreads deeper underground. This doesn’t mean you can let the soil become bone dry, but it will be more forgiving of dry spells, like if the weather isn’t cooperating or you go away on vacation for a week or two.
If you want to water your established shrub less often (or test your plant’s patience), provide about two inches of mulch across the entire root area to maintain moisture and keep the ground cool.
Beauty bushes can be a little forgiving of their soil conditions, though you do need to be sure to provide healthy soil so your plant can look its best.
Average loamy soil will work just fine, though the plants are tolerant of clay soils, which are heavier than loam. Try to amend clay soil with sand to lighten it up to help the roots grow easier and to allow the soil to drain excess water.
Water drainage is super important because beauty bushes don’t like wet feet. Make sure water can drain away from the roots. If you want to plant it in a low area, consider hilling it just a bit to help water run off.
The plants prefer a neutral pH balance of 6.0-8.0 but can also tolerate alkaline soil. Avoid acidic soil since the plants won’t grow well in it.
Beauty bushes are native to central and eastern China, where the weather is slightly tropical, though there are some cold winters with snow. The plants can thrive in USDA hardiness zones 4-8. They may not survive winter in colder zones and will struggle in summer in hotter zones.
If you want to try to grow beauty bushes outside of their typical climate, you’ll need to provide the right weather protection to help the plant stay alive. Grow the shrub in a container and bring it indoors over winter or use a frost blanket.
In hot climates, provide the plant with extra water and shade, but remember that they don’t look their best when shaded. It is best to provide afternoon so it can benefit from morning sunlight while being protected from intense heat.
You can fertilize your beauty bush with a general all-purpose fertilizer. Granular fertilizer should be applied only once yearly in the spring before buds develop or in the fall after the plant drops all of its leaves. Mix the fertilizer into the top layer of soil all around the roots. You’ll need to scrape away any mulch first to ensure the fertilizer mixes into the soil, but you can put the mulch back when you’re done.
Liquid Fertilizer vs. Compost
You have two other options if you prefer to supplement with a non-granular fertilizer.
Liquid fertilizers are mixed with water and fed to plants when watering. These must be applied more frequently and should be given to beauty bushes up to four times between April and July.
You can opt for organic matter instead of fertilizers or use them both. Beauty bushes look their best when they have plenty of nutrients available, so giving them regular servings of compost is a good idea.
There’s not a set method for replenishing the soil with compost, so you can apply it on an as-needed basis. Mix it into the top few inches of soil for the best results, and aim to do it three or four times a year. Be extra generous with it in the spring to help boost bud production.
Beauty bushes don’t require a lot of maintenance, but there are a few things you may need to do depending on the plant’s conditions.
If you have troublesome rabbits in your area, you may need to protect your shrub with wire fencing. You can buy chicken wire or some other kind with small meshing and posts to wrap around the bush, with the top part pointing away from the bush. Leave some space so the wire isn’t touching the tree, and support it with posts.
Dig the wire six inches into the ground to deter rabbits from digging underneath. This fencing only needs to be put up from late fall to early spring while the shrub is dormant, but persistent rabbit problems may require you to leave it up all year.
Pruning is an important step unless you don’t mind unruly shrubs. If you want it to stay compact or keep a specific shape, you’ll need to try to keep it that way. Fortunately, new growth means your plant is content, so it’s not bad if it looks unkempt!
Prune Correctly to Save Blooms
An important thing to remember when pruning beauty bushes is that flower buds develop on old growth. New branches won’t bloom in the same year they develop, so you’ll want to keep some old growth on the shrub to have some blooms to enjoy. If you remove old growth that is not dead, you won’t have as many flowers until some branches mature again.
The simplest way to prevent losing any blooms is only to trim dead branches. As your shrub matures, new growth will develop, and old growth will die. Dead limbs will be easy to spot, and you can trim them at any point in the year because you won’t risk harming the rest of the plant.
Waiting for dead limbs can lead to overgrowth, so if you want to stay on top of it, remove the oldest branches along with the dead ones each winter or in early summer as soon as the shrub stops flowering. Since you’re removing viable branches, you’ll lose out on some flowers next year, but you’ll maintain the overall shape.
Cutting to the Ground
Mature beauty bushes that have been around for a while will become super dense. They grow several branches from the center that will become thick and unruly. You can cut all branches down to the ground every few years to help the plant “start over.”
This will help you maintain the bush and prevent it from becoming unmanageable. You don’t have to do this step, but it’s helpful if you plant it right next to your home or another structure and want to keep it maintained.
Perhaps another aspect of the beauty bush’s beauty is that it’s largely unaffected by pests and diseases. You may have an occasional problem if it’s planted close to another plant with issues, but you likely won’t come across any major issues.
The only potential major problem I mentioned in the Maintenance section is rabbits. Cottontails are the most common rabbits in North America, with about eight subspecies spread across the continent. They don’t dig as much as other species but prefer to make their homes in yard debris, like leaf piles or burrows created by other animals.
Prevent Rabbit Damage
Rabbits are foragers who eat plant matter, from young seedlings to tree bark. They can chew up the bark on your beauty bushes, especially since it peels and is easy to access.
Prevent rabbit damage by making the area unpleasant for rabbits to live in. Keep leaves raked, and fill in holes or burrows in the ground. You should also keep the area mulched with leaves or wood chips so weeds don’t pop up in the spring. Sprinkle dried blood meal or human hair to use the scent as a deterrent, although be aware this will be an ongoing task as blood meal washes away and hair decomposes quickly outdoors.
The wire fencing I mentioned earlier will help keep them away from the shrub’s bark. Since they aren’t diggers, you may not need to drive the fencing into the ground. However, this is extra insurance. Be sure that leaves and tall grass won’t build up around it and create the perfect rabbit house!
As for diseases, most are preventable by only watering the roots. Thin the plant so there is airflow between its leaves and neighbors. Pests and diseases easily spread when plants are close together. If you keep the shrubs at a safe distance from other plants, they will be far less likely to get infected or suffer from nearby pest pressures.
The beauty bush will add elegance to your garden and landscape, no matter where you put it. Make sure this plant will receive lots of sunlight so you can have bright blooms in the spring. This shrub will thrive outdoors in the ground in the right hardiness zones but should be kept in a container and brought indoors in extremely cold or hot climates.