Pachysandra Terminalis: A Shady Ground Cover Option

Pachysandra terminalis, also known as Japanese spurge, is a classic low-maintenance shady ground cover.

A hedge of pachysandra is an incredible way to add color to your border plants

Contents

Although this plant is botanically known as Pachysandra terminalis, its more common name is Japanese spurge, and it makes an absolutely fantastic ground cover plant. It’s an herbaceous perennial that you can easily grow as a classic shady area cover.

If you’re looking to cover up an area in your backyard or a shady zone in your garden, Japanese pachysandra is one of the classic options to consider. However, it is an invasive species in eastern and northeastern North America.

In that vein, those living in the areas where the plant is an invasive species should consider not planting it at all, or at least planting in containers, monitoring its potential spread, and controlling it when it gets out of bounds.

Now, let’s discuss the ins and outs of caring for Japanese spurge!

Good Products for Growing Japanese Pachysandra:

Quick Care Guide

The close-up flower of pachysandra makes it clear why so many choose this as a ground cover
The close-up flower of pachysandra makes it clear why so many choose this as a ground cover. source
Common Name(s) Japanese Spurge, Japanese pachysandra
Scientific NamePachysandra terminalis
FamilyBuxaceae
Height & Spread6-12″ tall, 12-18″ wide
LightFull to partial shade
SoilRich, well-draining soil
WaterMedium
Pests & DiseasesLeaf blight, stem and root rot

All About Pachysandra Terminalis

Belonging to the boxwood family, Buxaceae, Japanese pachysandra is a slow-growing perennial that remains evergreen year-round. It’s low-growing, with height and spread of about 12″ x 18″.

This Japanese, Korean and Chinese-native plant is slow growing, which means you don’t have to worry about it taking up more space that you intend it to…always a potential worry with a ground cover.

When the flowers bloom in March and April, they’re a gorgeous, yet simple white. Contrasted against the glossy green foliage and creeping stems, it’s not a statement ground cover, but it’s an effective and efficient shade option.

As it grows throughout the years, Japanese spurge will become a dense cover like you see in the photo below. Because it’s so suited to climates in the eastern and northeastern parts of North America, it tends to spread rapidly, pushing out native species and greatly changing the soil composition as it grows.

That being said, if you live in Virginia and Washington D.C., opt to grow it in a container or don’t grow it, and choose another ground cover plant like partridge berry, or Allegheny spurge.

Japanese Spurge Plant Care

A hedge of pachysandra is an incredible way to add color to your border plants
A hedge of pachysandra is an incredible way to add color to your border plants. source

Being tolerant of both shade and drought, the pachysandra plant is easy to care for. You can grow it in clay soil or dry soil in USDA zones 4-8 easily. It will form a dense shrubby mat, even with less watering and limited to no access to direct sunlight.

Light and Temperature

As mentioned, Pachysandra terminalis has excellent tolerance to shade. Not all ground covers can grow in shade and often die due to limited light access. In fact, if the foliage gets too much direct sunlight, it can actually turn yellow. It’s hardy to USDA zones 5 to 9.

Once established, Japanese spurge can withstand high heat and drought. The same goes for cold. Young plants need ample protection from both extremes, as they can die back, or take on damage in high heat or freezes.

Water and Humidity

Japanese pachysandra ground cover has low to medium watering needs. You’ll need to water the plant to keep the soil moist, but make sure there is good drainage. Standing water will expose the roots and stem to fungal attacks and rotting. Also, it’s best to avoid overhead watering as it can put your plant at undue risk for disease.

Keeping the soil damp will provide adequate moisture for the humidity this plant enjoys. Due to its ground covering nature, you shouldn’t have to water often.

Soil

Like many plants, it’s going to want a rich, well-draining soil. If you need to amend your native soil because it’s devoid of nutrients or simply heavy clay soil, you can add a bit of compost to improve it.

Overall, you don’t need to stress much about the soil – it can handle a wide range of soil pH, as well as soil texture. Container-grown plants (for those who live in areas where the plant is an aggressive or invasive species) grow well in basic potting soil.

Fertilizer

Pachysandra ground cover grows well with regular applications of organic fertilizer. You can use a 10-10-10 fertilizer in the spring when new growth begins, and taper off as fall approaches. Make sure you fertilize at the soil surface, or give it a rinse if you apply overhead. If amending a larger area before transplanting, use 1 to 2 pounds of a balanced organic fertilizer per 100 square feet.

However, you should avoid fertilizing when your plant is already established and produces rhizomatic roots. Avoid fertilization in the east and northeastern parts of North America, as these are the regions in which it can become invasive.

Propagation

Propagation of spurge ground cover is easy. You can do so by root cuttings and transplanting clumps. You can also grow newer sets of pachysandra plant by removing the seedlings from the older plant and planting them in the potting soil. Propagation may not be desirable in overrun gardens where the plant has gotten out of bounds.

Pruning

Japanese pachysandra can be invasive in nature. Outside the eastern and northeastern parts of North America, you don’t need to prune it back unless you feel it’s getting a bit too overgrown for its space. You can trim it to shape for aesthetic reasons, however.

In areas where you’d like to remove the plant, you should dig it up, roots and all. Continue to dig up any sprouts that come up at the beginning of the growing season. If necessary, apply targeted herbicides, following the label very carefully in the process.

Troubleshooting

Pest-wise, you’ll rarely face any serious problems with your spurge plant. It’s a fantastic ground cover for deer, as they tend not to like munching on it. It’s tolerant of drought and also helps with erosion control, making it a great slope or bank planting option.

However, here are a few things to watch out for.

Growing Problems

Planting your spurge ground cover in direct sunlight will cause yellowing of leaves. Giving it too much water can stress the plant, and young plants are more susceptible to damage by temperature extremes.

Plants that make their way out of the garden bed should be controlled, either through digging them up, or applying targeted herbicides.

Diseases

You’ll only face growing problems and diseases in your pachysandra ground cover if you don’t maintain consistent watering frequency, or choose a soil that has poor drainage. Over watering and planting in soil that holds too much water will result stem and root rotting. Leaf blight can be a serious problem and would require an organic fungicide application to get rid of effectively.

Pests

Keep an eye out for different types of scale insects and mites in your Japanese pachysandra. If you see any of these pests on your plant, make sure to use an organic insecticide to get rid of them right away.

Frequently Asked Question

Q: Where should I grow spurge plants?

A: Any variety of shady locations in your landscaping will work: under trees, on banks and slopes, next to north-facing walls, between tall buildings, and as fillers between taller shrubs are all great options.

Q: When is the right time to fertilize Japanese pachysandra?

A: It’s best to fertilize this ground cover in spring or late fall.

Q: Why is my spurge plant losing its color?

A: Spurge plant loses its color for two reasons: either it is planted in an area that’s getting direct sunlight, or temperatures are too cool. Consider replanting it to an area with better growing conditions to restore its original foliage color.

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