How to grow Garrya elliptica common name Silk Tassel Bush
Garrya is an easy to grow, evergreen shrub which produces in winter from December onwards through January & February, long attractive catkins, or tassels which gives rise to its common name 'Silk Tassel Bush'. Not all varieties of Garry are frost hardy, G. elliptica which originates from California and is classified as ** hardy which is around -10 degrees, but I have seen many Garryas growing successfully in some fairly cold areas if planted in a sheltered area. It will survive in colder areas if position carefully, Garrya will prefer to grow in a sheltered spot away from cold winds. Both male and female plants have catkins although the male plants have the best catkins. On G. elliptica the tassels are up to 15 cms long, 'Evie' is male with long catkins up to 30cms and the most commonly sold and seen in the UK is 'James Roof' with dark green leaves and a profusion of catkins up to 35cms long ( if growing conditions are ideal,) making it an attractive for winter interest. There is a variety G. x issaquahensis 'Pat Ballard' which has slightly mauve tinged catkins and G. x issaquahensis 'Glasnevin Wine' with reddish catkins, although these are less commonly grown.
Whilst Garrya need a sheltered spot they are not fussy, and will grow in most soil types, including moist soil and in semi shade. If Garrya are exposed to too much wind they can suffer from wind scorch (image left) which will cause the leaves to be browned. Garrya will grow to around 2 - 3m, (6.5' to 10') larger in a more sheltered spot. Garrya elliptica is ideal to grow against a wall to provide shelter and to display the catkins. There are no particular planing requirements for Garrya in that it will tolerate all soil types.
Garrya are medium rate of growth and it an take up to 20 years to reach full size and maturity which is around 4 meters.
Garryas will also tolerate some salt and so are suitable for a coastal garden.
How to Prune a Garrya elliptica
Garrya needs no maintenance to speak of but they can get large up to 4 metres and an equal spread when mature, so Garrya can be regarded as a large garden shrub, almost a small tree. Males have the most ornamental tassels, and 'James Roof' has the RHS merit award which is always a good sign to look for when selecting a garden shrub or plant. The catkin like tassels on James Roof can be up to 35 cms making an impressive winter show. If the plant is in an exposed spot it can damage the leaves as you will see in the image left where some of the leaves have been browned by a severe winter. If the shrub is damaged in a bad winter you can prune out the browned leaves. However, it can be difficult to move a Garrya as Garrya resent transplanting.
Garrya does not require pruning and it is not recommended to prune it hard. This means it is difficult to contain the size of the shrub by pruning and it best grown where there is enough space to accommodate it as a very large shrub. If a Garrya needs to be pruned, it is pruning group 8 which refers to evergreen shrubs which flower between winter and early spring on the previous year's growth. This means the flowers, in the case of a Garrya it's tassels, come in late winter and have been formed over the previous months which makes it important to prune it after the tassels have finished otherwise you will risk cutting the wood on which the tassels are forming and miss a years flowers. Garrya can be tidied up to remove any dead branches and to create symmetry.
As the images below show, Garrya is an eye catching shrub and which looks great in the winter. It combines well with other winter shrubs such as Cotoneaster horizontalis image far left and with Cornus both with red stems (above right ) C, alba 'Sibirica'and yellow stems (below right), C. sericea Flaviramea.
The Tassels are interesting viewed in close up as the images below illustrate.