How To Plant, prune, Fertilize, Water, Grow And Care For Distylium Plants

Distyliums are everything we look for in a hardy evergreen flowering shrub. They are super hardy, adaptable, and exceptionally easy to grow. There are many varieties of Distylium that come in various shapes and sizes; from low and mounding spreaders to taller, upright growers. They are great alternatives for boxwood, laurels, holly and juniper in home foundation plantings, or anywhere you want low maintenance evergreen shrubs that are great for adding unique and outstanding texture in the landscape.

Here's a breakdown of what you need to know for how to plant, fertilize, prune and water Distylium shrubs...

Cultural Preferences

Soil Preferences

Distyliums are adaptable to many soil types, even heavy clay. They prefer a moist but well drained acidic soil of average fertility. 

How To Test Soil Drainage  

If you are uncertain about soil drainage in the area you intend to plant your Distylium, it's worth taking the time to test the drainage before planting. To test soil drainage, dig a hole 12" wide by 12" deep in the planting area. Fill the hole with water and let it drain. Then, after it drains, fill it with water again, but this time clock how long it takes to drain. In well-drained soil the water level will go down at a rate of about 1 inch an hour. A faster rate, such as in loose, sandy soil, may signal potentially dry site conditions and the need to add some top soil or peat moss to help retain moisture in the planting area. A slower rate indicates poor draining, constantly boggy or wet soil and is a caution you might to improve drainage.

Soil pH

Soil pH is a measurement of the alkalinity or acidity of soil, which is measured on a scale of 1-14, with 7 as the neutral mark. Any measurement below 7 indicates acid soil conditions, and anything above 7 indicates alkaline.

Distylium grow best in an acid to slightly acid soil ranging from 5.0 to 6.5 on the pH scale. Most average garden soils fall between a pH range of 6.0 to 7.0.

If you're unsure about the pH of your soil, or whether or not it's suitable for growing Distylium, it's a good idea to test the soil pH in the planting area. You can quickly test soil pH with an inexpensive soil pH testing kit or probe. To raise the pH (make more alkaline) you can add pelletized limestone to the soil. To lower the pH (make more acid) you can apply Soil Sulfur, Aluminum Sulfate, or Chelated Iron. Adding organic compost to the soil or using compost as mulch can also help to increase acidity and maintain acid soil conditions.

Light Preferences

Distylium will grow well in full sun to part shade.   

Planting Distylium In The Ground

Scroll down for container planting instructions and care tips

Step 1

Start by digging your planting hole at least two to three times as wide and not too much deeper than the rootball of your plant. The wider the hole the better. Place native soil removed from planting hole around the perimeter of the hole, in a wheel barrow, or on a tarp.

Step 2

Depending on the type, fertility and porosity of the native soil in the planting area it might be beneficial to amend the native soil. When planting in dense clay or other compacted soils, to improve drainage while also helping to retain moisture, thoroughly mix in some bagged top soil and/or a good planting mix at a 25 to 50 percent ratio with the soil removed from the planting hole. When planting in very sandy, quick-draining soil you might want to consider mixing in some top soil, peat moss and/or compost to help retain moisture. When planting in moist but well-drained soil there is no need for adding a soil amendment.

Step 3

Be careful when removing your Distylium plant from the nursery pot it was growing in. Gently try to lift the plant from the pot. If the rootball is stuck in the pot, to avoid damaging the plant, cut the container away. After having removed the plant from the container, use your fingers or a claw tool to gently loosen some feeder roots around the surface of the root ball. 

When Planting In Mass or Staggered Rows

If you are planting Distylium in staggered rows or massed over a large area, to determine how many plants you will need to fill the planting area, it is helpful to determine the total square feet of a planting area

When you have calculated the square footage of the planting area, and have determined how far apart you will space plants, you can calculate how many plants it will take to fill the planting area

Note:  Under the description tab on every plant page in Wilson Bros Gardens you will find spacing recommendations.

Setting Plants

Set and space all plants in the planting area before starting to plant. Alternatively, you can use marking paint to mark the spot where each plant will go, which is often necessary when planting on steep slopes, where plants in containers will not stay put. 

If there will be more than one row of plants, begin by setting out or marking one straight row of plants. It's best to start along the edge of the planting bed making sure to space plants at a distance far enough from the edge of the planting bed to allow for future spreading. For example, plants with a recommended spacing of 48 inches apart should be spaced at least 24 inches from the edge of the planting bed or surfaced area to the center of the plant. After setting out the first row, stagger the plants on the second row and so on until the space is filled.

Step 4

If you are planting in well-drained soil set your Distylium in the planting hole so that the top edge of the rootball is at or slightly above ground level. If necessary, add some backfill soil mixture to the bottom of the hole to achieve proper planting height. 

Note: If the soil is poorly drained (constantly soggy or wet) improve drainage, plant with the top edge of the rootball several inches above ground in a raised mound, or select a different plant species more tolerant of constantly wet soils.  

Step 5

After setting the rootball of your Distylium in the planting hole, use one hand to hold the plant straight and your other hand to begin back-filling your soil mixture around the root ball, tamping as you go to remove air pockets. When you have filled the hole to the halfway point you can soak the soil. Then continue back-filling to the top edge of the root ball. If you are planting higher than ground level taper your soil mixture gradually from the top edge of the root ball to the ground level. To avoid suffocating your plant, avoid placing any soil on top of the root ball.

Step 6 (Optional)

When planting Distylium in a location that is far from a water source, you can use remaining soil mixture to build a 2- to 4-inch high water retaining berm (catch basin/doughnut) around the outside perimeter of the planting hole. Only build this berm if the soil is very well-drained. This basin will help to collect water from rainfall and irrigation often reducing the need for hand-watering. The berm can be removed after a full growing season.

Step 7 

Next, deeply water the planting area, including the root ball, to a depth equal to the height of the root ball. For an extra boost, to stimulate early root formation and stronger root development, you can also water you newly planted Distylium with a solution of Root Stimulator, which reduces transplant shock and promotes greener, more vigorous plants.

Step 8

To conserve moisture and suppress weed growth, spread a 1- to 2-inch layer of shredded or chipped wood mulch or a 3-4-inch layer of pine straw around the planting area. As the mulch decomposes it will add vital nutrients to the soil that your plants will appreciate. Avoid using freshly chipped or shredded wood for mulch until it has cured in a pile for at least 6 months, a year is better. Avoid placing or piling mulch directly against the base of your plant as this could cause the bark to rot. 

Planting Distylium In Containers

Distylium grow well in pots, planters and other containers. When growing in containers they appreciate a moist but well-drained soil. Constantly soggy soil could cause root rot or other harmful plant diseases. Therefore, make sure the planting pot has a drainage hole(s) and use a quality potting soil for planting. You can also add some perlite or pumis at a 10 to 20% ratio to the soil mix to help with drainage. 

Choose a container that is large enough to allow for 2 to 3 years of growth before having to shifting up to a larger size container. This might mean your planting pot would be 8 inches or more in width than the root ball of your plant. If you'll be growing other plants in the same container up the size of the container.

Container color will matter as well. Not only will you want to pick a color of container that goes well with the flower and foliage colors of your Distylium, you'll also want to pick a container that matches the style of your home or other structures and plants in the surrounding environment. 

Many nursery & garden centers offer a wide variety of containers to choose from. Before heading out to buy a container take pictures of your home and the surrounding environment. Doing so will help you to choose just the right color and style.

Container Planting Instructions

Step 1

Before filling your container with the soil mix, we recommend lining the bottom with shade cloth or a porous landscape fabric. This will keep the drain holes from becoming stopped up with soil. If you use stones or other materials in the bottom of the container lay the fabric on top of it.

Step 2

Be careful when removing your Distylium plant from the nursery pot it was growing in. Gently try to lift the plant from the pot. If the rootball is stuck in the pot, to avoid damaging the plant, cut the container away. After having removed the plant from the container, use your fingers or a claw tool to gently loosen some feeder roots around the surface of the root ball. 

Step 3

Pour a small amount of your soil mixture in the bottom of the container. Set the root ball of your plant in the container and make necessary adjustments by adding or removing some soil so that the top edge of the root ball will sit 1" or so below the rim of the container.

Step 4

Backfill with your potting soil around root ball, tamping as you go, until the level of potting soil is even with the top edge of root ball.

Step 5

Water thoroughly until water starts to drain from the holes in the bottom of the container. Add more potting mix if settling occurs during watering.

Step 6 (Optional)

Apply a 1/2" layer of pine bark or wood chips to soil surface to help conserve moisture and prevent weed growth. 

Caring For Distylium Plants

How To Fertilize Distylium

Distyliums aren't super heavy feeders however will benefit from fertilizer. To maintain deep green foliage color and support growth and overall health of the plant, feed Distyilum in spring with a slow-release shrub & tree food. Alternatively, you can feed with a natural organic plant food. To avoid stimulating new growth that could be damaged by an early frost, cease fertilization of Distylium two months prior to the first frost date in your area.

In Containers

Feed Distylium growing in containers as directed on product label with a timed-release or water soluble fertilizer listed for use in containers. 

Soil pH - Distylium grow best in an acid to slightly acid soil ranging from 5.0 to 6.5 on the pH scale. Most average garden soils fall between a pH range of 6.0 to 7.0.

How To Water Distylium

Distylium are quite drought tolerant when established. That said, in the absence of rainfall, young plants will require some moisture during the first two growing seasons while establishing a root system. 

After Planting

Immediately after planting your Distylium deep soak the soil in the planting area, including the rootball, to a depth equal to the height of the root ball. An application of Root Stimulator will provide an extra boost to stimulate early root formation and stronger root development. Root Stimulator reduces transplant shock and promotes greener, more vigorous plants.

During The First Growing Season

In average garden soil you should not have to water your newly planted Distylium every day. More often than not, this causes soggy soil conditions that can lead to root rot and other harmful plant diseases. 

In the absence of sufficient rainfall, water your Distylium plants only as needed to keep the rootball and surrounding soil damp to moist. Keep in mind that deep soaking less frequently, allowing the soil to dry out somewhat before watering again, is much better than splashing just a little water on the plants every day. 

Note:  Shrubs planted during the winter dormant season, when plants aren't actively growing and evaporation is much slower, will require much less water. So, be extra careful not to overwater during winter!


When established, Distylium are quite drought and will only require supplemental irrigation during a prolonged period of drought. If you see new leaves wilting or turning pale during a drought this could be a sign your plants could use a good deep soaking.

How To Prune Distylium Plants

Distylium do not require pruning for health or performance except to remove damaged or dead plant parts or to remove a stray branch that is spoiling the shape of the plant. That said, they respond well to pruning for shaping purposes. 

Any significant pruning of Distyilium for shaping or to control size should be conducted in the late winter or early spring before new growth appears. Selective pruning of stray branches to keep the plants tidy can be done any time of year. Broken or dead branches should be removed as they appear, cutting them off with sharp hand pruners just beyond the point of breakage or at their origin.

Note:  To avoid damage to new, tender growth that is stimulated by pruning, cease pruning of Distyilium two months prior to the average first-frost date in your area.  

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