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Expert Advice on Growing Fatsia japonica


Fatsia japonica is an evergreen shrub which grows to about 2.5m high and has rather exotic and tropical looking leaves. It prefers a shaded position and will not thrive in full sun. They are strong growing plants and recover well even if treated badly. Some people call them the Umbrella Plant, others the False Castor Oil Plant because the leaves have a similar shape.

Fatsia originate from Japan and Korea and produce slightly odd shaped white flowers in autumn. As well as being grown outside, these plants are frequently found in cool greenhouses, courtyards or conservatories.

Fatsia japonica
Fatsia japonica

Use the checklist below to decide if Fatsia japonica is the correct plant for you and your garden:

  • They are medium sized shrubs reaching a height and spread of 2m to 4m (7ft to 13ft) depending on the conditions.
     
  • The leaves are evergreen and are the main interest point. They are large and adapted to growing in low light levels.
     
  • Fatsia japonica produces unusual white flowers in late autumn, normally October to November time. They aren't particularly numerous and although they have novelty value, grow this plant for its leaves.
     
  • They grow best in partial shade and tolerate full shade well. Avoid growing them in full sun.
     
  • They are not fussy about soil conditions at all and will grow in all but the most extreme situations.
     
  • In general an established Fatsia japonica is hardy down to -10°C / 14°F so should survive winter well in most parts of the UK. This is dependent on how protected the plant is from strong winds. Those in exposed situations may suffer at that temperature whereas those in protected positions can tolerate temperatures a couple of degrees lower.
     
  • The variegated form (Fatsia japonica 'Variegata') is far less hardy and should be avoided for planting outside unless you live in a particularly warm part of the UK.
     
  • They are low maintenance shrubs. See "Caring for Fatsias" below for more details.
     
  • Fatsia japonica looks good as a stand alone specimen plant against a wall or fence. They are excellent as background plants or mixed with other evergreen plants. We particularly like them paired with Choisya ternata 'Sundance'.
     
  • No specialist knowledge is required to grow them and they are rarely affected by pests or diseases.
     
  • This shrub has been given an Award of Garden Merit (AGM) by the Royal Horticultural Society.

WHERE TO BUY FATSIA JAPONICA


Two varieties of this shrub are readily available online in the UK. The first is the original Fatsia japonica and the second is a  new variety called Fatsia japonica 'Spiders Web' (see below). Our recommended online supplier for this shrub is Crocus, click here for their page featuring both varieties.

FATSIA JAPONICA SPIDERS WEB


This is a new Fatsia variety which is the same as the original Fatsia except that the leaves are variegated. The normally green leaves are streaked with grey / white, typically at the margins but this depends on the growing conditions. It also produces the same interesting, although rather insignificant, flowers in autumn time. 

Fatsia japonica 'Spiders Web'
Fatsia japonica 'Spiders Web'

One other difference, which may suit those with smaller gardens or container growth, is that 'Spiders Web' grows slower compared to the original variety. It also reaches a smaller maximum size at maturity, normally 2.5m / 8ft height and spread. This can easily be restricted with an annual prune.

This variety is available from our approved supplier Crocus, by clicking here. Initial findings indicate that frost hardiness is the same as Fatsia japonica although insufficient data exists to be 100% sure of this.

HOW TO PLANT A FATSIA JAPONICA


Follow the steps below to ensure your shrub is planted correctly:
  • Make sure to buy plants which have been hardened off for the garden and not for the house / conservatory.
     
  • Choose a position in partial or full shade.
     
  • Allow at least 2m / 6ft for the plant to grow.
     
  • It is best planted spring or autumn time when soil is warm but there is sufficient natural rainfall to avoid the need for watering.
     
  • Dig a hole twice the width of the rootball. Sprinkle in a handful of blood, fish and bone and work into the ground.
     
  • Place the plant into the hole, filling in with soil so that it is at the same depth as was in the pot. Fill around the rootball and firm the soil down gently but firmly. Water well to settle the surrounding ground around the rootball.

CARING / PRUNING FATSIA JAPONICA


When established a Fatsia japonica will look after itself. It only needs watering in drought conditions. Feed with a good handful of blood, fish and bone in April and August. In July and August some of the leaves often turn yellow, these should be removed along with their stems.

As the shrub ages, occasionally remove any stems which have become bare and straggly. New shoots will quickly reappear from the base to take their place.

Prune to the required height and shape (no special techniques required) each year in late Spring. Overgrown plants can be pruned to half their height and width and will soon grow back.

For younger plants up to two years old, water if conditions become dry. A twice yearly feed with blood, fish and bone in spring and autumn will help it to establish a good root system. Keep the area around the base of the plant free from weeds and grass. There are no common pests or diseases of this plant.

GROWING FATSIA JAPONICA IN CONTAINERS


The plant should be fed monthly between mid March to mid August with a handful of blood, fish and bone. It will of course require regular watering. Wait each time until the top 3cm of the compost is dry and then water well. The larger the pot the better for this plant outside, fill with normal multi-purpose compost.

A new variety of Fatsia has been marketed recently called Fatsia japonica 'Spiders Web' which has variegated foliage. It has the benefit that it is grows slower than the normal variety and also reaches a smaller size at maturity. See our description above.

FATSIA JAPONICA SUMMARY


Below we list the key strengths and weaknesses of this shrub.
 
 
HARDY 4 star hardiness rating(to -10°C)
   
CLAY SOIL Yes 
SANDY SOIL  Yes 
   
DRY SOIL No
   
SHADE  Partial, full shade
   
EVERGREEN  Yes
   
EASY CARE 4.5 easy care rating 
SMALL GARDENS  Yes
   
POT / CONTAINER Yes
   
FLOWERING  2 star flowering rating
   
FLOWER TIME October to November

COMMENTS / QUESTIONS LEFT BY OUR READERS

Date: 27 February 2017 From: Richie
QUESTION: I have a fatsia japonica in a small terraced house front garden, I'm worried the root bowl is entrancing under my property. It is over 2 metres high by 1.5 width. It is well established and offers privacy but worried about roots it's about 25cm from hose. Comments welcome. Many thanks

ANSWER: I'm never specific about planting distances because there are so many different circumstances.
But if it was me I wouldn't worry about the roots of a fatsia japonica damaging your property. The roots aren't particularly invasive.
If it was in my garden, I would be very happy to leave it where it is.

Date: 3 January 2017 From: Sue
QUESTION: My castor oil plant was hit by a bad frost last night and is very very droopy, have I lost it?

ANSWER: It's not possible to know at this stage. All you can do is wait until the weather warms and see if it recovers. In the meantime, do NOT water or feed it. Best of luck.

Date: 21 October 2016 From: Maggie T
QUESTION: I moved two years ago and brought my potted fatsia with me. It was planted into a new bed. The soil here on the edge of the Tamar is free draining shillet. My fatsia put on a healthy spurt of growth and flowered last autumn. This year the leaves have started to yellow at the edges. Should I be feeding it? If so, with what? Thanks.

ANSWER: For those who don't know a shillet soil is shale on a clay base. Some of the clay particles work their way to the top soil but in very varying amounts.

Given the situation you describe I would suspect that the leaves have yellowed due to a nitrogen deficiency. Fatsias are very strong growing plants so I wouldn't go overboard with adding extra nitrogen fertiliser. Rather, I would add two good handfuls of blood, fish and bone to the surrounding soil now and then again in a couple of months time. From then on I would add the same amount every four months.

Date: 21 October 2016 From: Elaine S
QUESTION: Hi I have a lovely castor oil plant but getting a bit big. If I prune it from the top I assume it will look quite bare as there are no leaves at bottom. Will it come back or do I just let it grow? It stands at 8 plus tall.

ANSWER: You can safely prune your Castor Oil plant up to half of its current size. It will quickly produce shoots from the remaining stems. I would prune in late spring for the best results. A couple of handfuls of blood, fish and bone fertiliser sprinkled over the surrounding ground will greatly help.

Date: 8 June 2016 From: Irene L
QUESTION: I have repotted a mature false castor oil plant and I think I may have killed it can you give me any advice. Don't know if I should remove leaves that look like they are dying. Thanks

ANSWER: If the leaves are definitely dead then remove them. If they show any life at all then leave them on, they may still be able to provide some energy to the plant. As to what caused the problem I can't be sure. You may have moved it to a place where the conditions are not as good as previously. You may also have overwatered it. At this stage, water only if the plant is very dry and don't feed it until it shows signs of recovery.

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