Callicarpa—the Ziggy Stardust of the Garden

Ziggy Stardust could very well be reincarnated as the Callicarpa americana, and is in the November landscape, proving that the seventies never died in the garden.

One of the most inconspicuous green summer shrubs turns into a 1970s star come late October and into November. I am referencing the purple beautyberry.

Consider a few factoids about this easy-to-grow, and often overlooked opportunity to add splash to the garden.

The Callicarpa family is: 

  • Easy to grow 
  • Adds surprising color to the landscape
  • Loves moist, loamy soils
  • Thrives in shaded areas
  • A great late season food source for wildlife
  • Very unusual
Where to Plant

These electric purple clusters dance across the bows in an organized wave. This native ranges from Maryland to the deep South with cousins in Asia. These psychedelic fall dazzlers are a feast for the eyes and for wildlife. Grown in full sun or partial shade, they do best in loamy, clay and moist soils. In Michigan, during dryer stretches, I like to water beautyberry to make sure they have their water needs met. Ranging from three to six feet tall, the shrubs will behave quite well in most gardens if a wild mass is in order. If one must control sizing, they respond to corrective pruning. If one needs a tidy shrub, Mr. Stardust is not the choice.

I like to plant these shrubs in masses to create a purple haze in the late garden scape, along a wooded edge or a shadier place in a garden. These shrubs are not well organized in their growth pattern and can look mangy and wild, but the fall color is worth it. Smaller songbirds migrating through certainly enjoy the punchy snacks that these shrubs provide. Beautyberry is certainly able to stand alone as solitary specimens in a smaller garden, but are truly impactful when planted in groupings.

Care and Maintenance

When putting the garden to bed, I like to cut beautyberry back to roughly two inches above the ground and heavily mulch the crowns to insulate the root mass. Although a native that ranges from the northeast to the south, they can be tender in the north. For this reason, I like to make sure they are protected from any extra cold weather that a Michigan winter may produce. By taking these precautions, one does not have to contend with a meaty die back of the whole shrub.

Now that I made the introduction to this flashy and psychedelic new plant friend, do you have the perfect spot for them? Have fun planning next year’s fall garden!