Skimmia Japonica Rubella

 Continuing this week with a profile of plants for winter interest which also perform well in the shade, we have Skimmia Japonica Rubella

Tough as old boots and not bad looking if you focus your eyes in a manner that doesn’t expect to be blown away.  This popular evergreen plant in Summer has glossy green leaves followed by deep red flower buds in Autumn which look very attractive right through till the end of Winter.  Spring arrives and you are treated to creamy white panicles of scented flowers.

The picture below shows how it is looking in mid February. The yellowing of the leaves which you see is often an indication that the soil is not quite acidic enough.      I will try a top dressing of ericaceous compost to see if that helps.

This problem with Skimmias can also occur if planted in a position which gets too much sun.

Listing every plant we have grown over the past forty years may well include the good the bad and, well I don’t think any are exactly ugly but  I will draw a line at the unwanted, like say, dandelions!

This list is fairly taking shape, have a look at my page (A to Z of our plants) those with a plant title beside the thumbnail opens up to my post on that particular plant.

Back to our rather good Skimmia, the flowers in Spring are somewhat attractive although I think they look best in bud come Autumn/ Winter.

Position your Skimmia in semi shade for best results, although they seem to do pretty well in full shade .add some ericaceous compost to the soil and also top dress with this if it happens to be on the alkaline side.


*** Pruning *** 

 Just after the flowers have gone over in Spring is the time to prune. Do bear in mind, this is a slow growing plant and all you should really do is cut back the dead flower heads, which will prepare it for producing those striking buds for Autumn and Winter. 

Normally you will see Skimmia at their very best in the garden centres in Autumn/early Winter. They have been grown and pruned to give the very best display of these Winter buds like the one below, I have started taking my camera with me when visiting garden centres.

Rubella being the male form will of course not have berries, you will have to plant a female form also if this is what you have in mind.

• Hardiness – Fully hardy

• Height – Eventual height 110 cm looks best kept much shorter

• Position – Partial/full shade

• Soil – Moist, free draining, fertile, best on the acidic side.

*** Skimmia japonica rubella  ***



About three months ago we were quite taken by the fact that we spotted a fox in the garden.  Having been a first, it didn’t occur to us that it could be a nuisance, in fact we added it to our garden visitors list and prided ourselves as being in tune with the environment.

We spotted it another couple of times in the next few weeks.  No sign of digging up bulbs or the like so we still felt unconcerned.

I know foxes get bad press and there was a dreadful case not so long ago when a fox entered a house through an open back door and mauled a baby in its cot.  Very concerning for those living in big cities like London where there is said to be something in the region of ten thousand urban foxes.

We still couldn’t help ourselves from feeling sorry for him a couple of weeks ago when he turned up thirsty, hungry and badly injured.  Crippling badly he had great difficulty getting out of the garden, the RSPCA have been trying to catch him.

Fox injured (2)

Fox injured (3)

© 2013 – 2015, Alistair. All rights reserved.

61 thoughts on “Skimmia Japonica Rubella

  1. The skimmia blooms are gorgeous, and I love the various colors. Did they ever catch the fox? I hope they rehabilitate them back to the wild. We have had a few in our nearby woods. One year, she had kits. It was a joy to watch from afar.

  2. Hey Alistair… Is this a new format? I had some problem finding how to leave a comment… could be me as it’s 3:00 a.m. and I’m up catching up on a few things as I do most early mornings when my arthritis wakes me up in the middle of the night.
    Another gorgeous plant that we can’t grow here… we do have foxes but I’ve never seen one in the gardens.
    We are under an even deeper layer of snow than the last time I left a message with you. We went out with friends tonight and I used the little road that goes past our place… they’d had to bring in a front end loader to clear the drifts and we drove through a trail with snow piled 12-14′ on either side! Our plants should surely be safely at rest under all this snow and there’ll be no drought for this spring at least, which is a blessing! Larry

    1. Hi Larry, it is a new format, I will check out the comment thing, dont think there is a problem. Your plants may be safe but I guess you will be glad to see the end of it.

  3. Alistair, I can understand your concern about the fox, I hope he/she will be alright, I understand the concern about urban foxes but personally feel it our (mankinds) fault there are urban foxes as we have just concreted over so much of the countryside there is little room left for the wild creatures.
    thanks for the info about Skimmia, I have seen these plants but as with many plants I know little about them and have lost faith in descriptions from many of the professional ‘experts’, it seems Skimmia could be just right for some of the damp acid conditions in my garden.
    have a nice weekend, Frances

  4. Alastair – I’m a fan of skimmia too. It’s true that we are over-run with foxes in London, I blame it on humans wasting food.

  5. I love the plant with its buds…I have not grown these but they seem like a good reliable plant. The poor fox. I hope it was able to heal. We have resident foxes, but they stay to the more wild areas behind us and do not come in the garden…I would not mind if they come in to catch the voles. We absolutely love foxes.

  6. Hi Alistair, good profile, I have a yellowing skimmia planted far too close to a holly that I am hoping to relocate to near the kitchen garden as the flowers are meant to be good for early pollinators. My soi ph is so variable I must remember to test the place I want to plant it before I dig it up! Shame about the fox, I wonder how it got injured.

  7. Hi Alasdair, I have one of these skimmia japonicas; mine is called “fragrans” but it hasn’t done very much in terms of fragrant flowers. The label said all soil types but I think I will take up your suggestion of some ericaceous compost and see if that improves things.

    We have loads of foxes here in London. I don’t mind them but they all used to have mange and not look very healthy. This year’s batch look much better. They tend to come in and steal your slippers if you leave the door open in summer. They also like to snatch cuddly toys and redistribute them amongst the neighbours.

    1. Hi Claire, there is a lot of evidence that says Skimmia should thrive in most soil types. I did notice the yellowing of leaves improved with a top dressing of ericaceous compost.I may be a bit freaked out at foxes coming into the house.

  8. Hi Alistair
    How interesting that Skimmia, which grows so well in the shade, can produce such lovely berries and flowers. This one is a winner!
    I feel bad that so many of the animals that end up in our urban gardens have basically been pushed out of their wooded environments so they really have nowhere else to go.
    I have seen only one fox in our area ever and that was years ago. Lately it’s been coyotes that roam about and they are much scarier.
    I hope the one that you saw is alright, but somehow made it back to where it should be.

  9. Not having a lot of shady areas in my garden, I have never grown skimmia, but it looks like a very nice plant. I feel sorry for the poor little fox. I hope he gets caught so that he can get the medical attention he needs, and then released where he will do no harm to anyone.

  10. I’m glad you highlighted this plant, such a reliable and lovely evergreen plant that provides so much structure to any planting border. Hope RSPCA manages to catch poor fox so gets the medical attention he/she needs.

  11. I love the fox more than the plants. Alistair, i didn’t understand you in telling me that we have sometimes need to think out of the box. I wonder how it surfaced in response to my last post. thanks.

  12. I agree, Skimmia Japonica is a valuable plant for the garden especially if you live coastal or exposed. I have 1 that is planted in a North facing position and can get battered by some awful winds yet it still looks pretty darned good and stays evergreen without fail.
    I have just potted up 2 others ready for a final position when I decide but I hadn’t realised that they may need some ericaceous compost – eek!
    Fabulous pictures of Mr Fox btw, I hope he is caught and healed soon.


          1. Many thanks Alistair, I’ll follow your advice and keep my fingers crossed. I’ve just realised int he back of my mind that there is also a Rhododendron near the Skimmia so that may have the same sickly look to it. I can’t believe I didnt think to look at it.

            Thanks again

  13. Skimmia is such a good doer. It might never set the heart aflutter, but it looks fab in combination with other foliage shapes as your first photo shows.

  14. Oh another fine shrub for me to remember Alistair. You are my shrub guru you know. I have never seen a fox in the wild so I am very impressed! Our cities have raccoons and opossums with coyotes on the fringes, any of which I would trade for a fox now and then. Or I can make you a real deal for a hedgehog! (That never works but I keep trying.) Happy almost-spring!

    1. Hi Linnie, I have been very shrubby lately, don’t think I am finished yet. Not so sure that I would want a coyote after reading my Dean Koontz novel. I haven’t seen a hedgehog in the garden for a good few years.

  15. Skimmias are great plants, thanks for writing about them! I have 2 mature Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’ and one Skimmia japonica ‘Bowle’s Dwarf’. I have never pruned any of my skimmias, never really thought about doing that because the Rubellas are quite compact anyway. The oldest is almost 10 years old and produces an abundance of flowers. Rubella is a male plant and won’t produce berries no matter where you live, but ‘Bowle’s Dwarf’ can be found in both male and female version and the female produce berries. I have only the female version and it gets pollinated by the male Rubella which is placed next to it. The berries of Skimmia japonica ‘Bowle’s Dwarf’ are gorgeously ruby red and glossy and last the whole winter and most of the spring, for some reason the birds are not interested in the berries. I haven’t tried them, when the birds won’t have them they are probably not edible!

    And as for foxes….great to look at in other people’s gardens or in the street, not much fun the 2 years I had a fox family occupying my own garden. And it’s true, you can’t leave the back door open or they will walk right up the steps. I even had one fox walking inside trying to steal the cat food which is placed right inside at the backdoor. A bit scary, they are wild animals, not like a dog you can talk to. When you have such a big garden as you have it is easier to leave a fox to it, but with such a small garden as I have you get too close as soon as you step outside, and when the fox isn’t afraid then either the fox or you have to leave, and often it wasn’t the fox!

    1. Hi Helene,very interesting information about Bowles dwarf, I expect the flower buds in winter are also a reddish colour making quite a show along with the berries. I guess it could feel quite intimidating opening your door and being faced with a fox a few feet away.

  16. Al, is, tair. The leaves remind me of a Cleyera. That’s special about the fox, they are quite the scavengers. I actually saw a dead armadillo along side the road. Seems he had a bottle of ale in his mouth. he he.

  17. I’m pleased I read this post Alistair. Re your comments about yellowing is a sign of perhaps too much sun. This may be what’s wrong with mine.
    A lovely shrub and worthy of a place in the garden. Another super profile.
    Hope all ends well with the fox. I’ve never seen on in this garden and I’d be like you gladly adding it to my ever increasing list of wildlife visitors

  18. I love skimmias for winter interest but what about the male/female thing and the berries. I think the plants you showed are male because they have the best flowers, but the females do have wonderful berries. We have lots of foxes and have never had any problem with them.

    1. Hi Carolyn, Rubella is indeed a male plant. Helene has drawn my attention to this fact. I will have to update the post, I dont think I suggested that Rubella has berries, better make sure though.

  19. I am not familiar with Skimmia Japonica Rubella at all. Always great to be introduced to a new plant! The leaves are quite attractive even without the flowers.
    Poor fox! I am going from memory here- I believe you still have a cat. Do you worry about your cat and the fox or is it an indoor cat? I have seen a couple of foxes here in the neighbourhood over the years, but they tend to be very shy and stick to the area just west of us. We are just too close to the busy street corner.

    1. We do still have a cat Jennifer and trying to stop her going outdoors would be impossible. It has crossed my mind that the fox may be keen to make a meal of her.

  20. Hi Alistair, we have a Skimmia x Confusa ‘Kew Green’ and the scent from the flowers is just incredible! I’m looking forward to ours opening up soon. I wondered about the lack of berries on our shrub for a while too until I read somewhere that my Skimmia is missing a male or female counterpart. This could be the case in your situation.

  21. Simmia japonica is another plant very common in Seattle. We must have a similar climate. It seems we made it through the winter without snow, which pleases me. Today it is brightly sunny & 11 degrees Celsius. We never have foxes. Although coyotes are becoming increasingly common, I’ve never seen one here. We have raccoons.

  22. Here in the Netherlands they often produce berries. But I have yet been unable to find out whether my own Skimmia is male or female. Do you know how to see this? They often wither here on the clay soil, but the ericaceous compost and a little fertiliser does wonders. Like the Aucuba, it is indeed a very reliable plant in a shady corner.
    Lovely animal, the fox. How strange they can be so wild, and yet often live in the vicinity of people.

  23. Hi Alistair, We get foxes from time to time and in my experience they are shy and prefer to keep away from people and large pets. The one that went inside someone’s house may have been ill or rabid and therefore behaved uncommonly. The skimmia is beautiful! I have thought of adding one to the garden but have not yet.

  24. It is a really beautiful shrub. I love the red color of buds. I had fox in my garden too. My neighbor thought it was a strange looking dog!! Some days ago, a roe wondered into the neighboring yard and lied still on the ground. Poor thing could not find the way out. We called the hunters to bring her back to the woods.

  25. Just bought my first skimmia so was reading up. About the berries, I read that all parts of the plant are extremely toxic so that would be why the birds aren’t interested! Am pondering the male plant issue as well and it seems that only the female types have berries and the male flowers have visible yellow stamen when in bloom. Rubella for ex. Is a male type. Am wondering how closely planted the male and female types have to be to get berries. Feel sad for the fox.

  26. Alistair
    We have a beautiful Skimmia in our front garden, but unfortuately needs must and we must dig it up so that we can get an extra car on the drive! Please can you help me, I really do not want to chop it all off and just get rid of it, I would, if possible, like to rehome some of it and maybe replant some of it in pots, is that possible? If so how would I go about it? I just cannot find anywhere or anyone that can help so please help me if you can. Thank you

    1. Hello Gail
      There are times when we don’t have much choice. If you dig the plant up with a decent size root ball you would have a good chance of it surviving if you keep it well watered in its first Summer. I really do not think splitting it is an option, when you lift it you could see if a smaller section could be prized apart maintaining some root. Good luck

  27. We have a skimmia jap. rubella and I gather it is male. Can you give me the name of a female plant to marry it, as it were? Your details and pictures above are excellent. Thank You.

  28. Hello Alistair
    I have, what I think is a skimmia japonica nymans,about 15-20 years old , on a North bank with no sun (and surrounded with self seeding ferns). It is absolutely spectacular -at least 6′ high and about 8′ spread. There never seems a time when I can prune it as it seems to go from flower to green berries to red berries! It looks wonderful all year round but it really is too large – cutting light from my kitchen and hall windows. One year, in desperation, I just had a good hack at it – this led to a shortage of berries the following year but it seemed to continue growing like mad and was back to its wonderful self the following year.
    How can I reduce its size by about a third? When should I do this ?
    I’d be so grateful for some advice

    1. Denise, your plant is clearly in the correct spot. No way can it be cut back without losing berries. I would suggest you did as before except not as severe on this occasion. Late April is when I would do it, gives your shrub the whole Summer to make fresh growth. Think I may try nymans myself when we move to our new house.

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