False pepper – Skimmia japonica – Skimmia japonica – Garden plants – False pepper – Skimmia japonica – Shrubs

The skimmia japonica or false pepper is a small or medium sized shrub originating in Japan; it has dark green foliage, bright, slightly leathery, evergreen, oval or lanceolate shape.

The flowers of this variety are white, or cream, with reddish buds, blooming towards the end of winter, at the apex of the stems, but usually the buds appear on the plant already in autumn.

These shrubs are easy to grow, and tend to maintain a compact and roundish shape; there are numerous cultivars with a dense and usually dwarf habit. The adult specimens can reach the metre of height, the hybrids keep under the 50-60 cm.

Insert a skimmia japonica in our garden is a good idea, especially if we live in an area with winters not too harsh and we have a soil of forest or tendentially acid.

In these conditions its cultivation is really simple and can give great satisfaction in every period of the year: in mid-winter for the beautiful flowering, in summer with the production of berries and in every period for the beautiful persistent leaves.

Skimmia japonica


skimmia japonica The plants of skimmia japonica are easily cultivable, even if they have a rather slow growth. The false pepper shrubs are planted in a very bright, sunny or even semi-shady place, or in almost complete shade. Better to avoid that the plant receives the sun rays when these are warmer, preferring to place it in a place where they arrive in the morning.

They are not afraid of the cold and are very resistant to the weather. They can withstand temperatures as low as -15 °C.


Famiglia, genere, specie

 Rutaceae, skimmia japonica

Tipo di pianta

 Arbusto di piccole-media dimensionsi, dioico


 Persistently, alterno, verde medio

Altezza a maturità

 Da 1 a 2 metri

Larghezza a maturità

 Da 1 a 2 metri


 Bianca o crema

Distanza di piantumazione

 50 cm (with a fire of 40 cm per cubic metre)




 Di foglie, fresco ma ben drenato



Necessità idrica

 Media, terreno sempre fresco


 Media (meglio not scendere sotto at -5°C) Consigliate pacciamatura e copertura della chioma




 Thalea; semina (molto lenta)


 Fine inverno; granulare per acidofile

pH del suolo

 Da subacido ad acido

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Origins and characteristics of the skimmia

Skimmia japonica is a small to medium-sized persistent leaf shrub from the temperate areas of Southeast Asia, particularly in the mountainous areas of China, Japan and northern India.

The genus, belonging to the family of the Rutaceae, is composed by 8 species even if, in Italy and in Europe, only the Japonica Skimmia is known and diffused at horticultural level. It is sold especially in the winter months, even as a pot plant: it is in fact appreciated for the beautiful flowering produced in the coldest months of the year, combined with the elegance of the foliage.

However, we must bear in mind that, although it grows slowly, over the years it will reach its final size: about 1.5 m in each direction. It will therefore need very large containers or to be transferred to the ground.

The individual leaves have a pleasant oval shape and a medium green colouring. Some cultivars have spots or edges with contrasting colours, for example pink, ivory or red.

The flowers and fruits

The cream-coloured flowers are gathered in cobs and are appreciated not only for their beauty, but also for the sweet scent they give off, especially during the hottest hours of the day. Almost all the subjects on sale are females (it is in fact a dioecious plant): the inflorescences will evolve into beautiful shiny and round berries, of a bright red colour.

We will be able to enjoy their presence for a long time, as they remain until November-December (when it is recommended to eliminate them to stimulate the emission of new flower stems). However, we pay the utmost attention in case there are children: they are poisonous and should not be swallowed at all!


skimmia japonica obsession False pepper plants should be watered regularly throughout the year, especially during the warmer months.

It is recommended to wait for the soil to be dry between one watering and the other because water stagnation can be very dangerous for the health of the plant and could cause the onset of root rot.

Every 20-25 days, mix flowering plant fertiliser with the water from the watering.

The most delicate aspect of skimmia cultivation is the water supply. Its root system, in fact, always wants a fresh substrate, but water stagnation (which could cause rottenness) must be avoided.

Irrigation must therefore be frequent, especially during the summer months; an important aid to maintaining optimal conditions can come from abundant vegetable mulching, which must be renewed often.

This shrub is also very sensitive to calcium salts and a high pH of the soil: they can cause leaf chlorosis. To avoid this serious problem we try to use rainwater or demineralized water as much as possible. It may also be useful to spread iron sulphate on the ground from time to time.





 Summer-end of autumn


 November (Centre-South), March (North)

Removing berries



 End of winter

Skimmia cultivation

The cultivation of skimmia is not difficult: in Italy it can be done almost everywhere since, apart from the mountain areas, it will hardly suffer the cold elsewhere. A little more care will be needed to ensure the right substrate and environmental humidity.

Cultivation in pots

The cultivation in pots is possible thanks to the slow growth of this shrub. However, it is necessary to opt immediately for a very large container: the roots are very delicate and manipulations can cause prolonged stops in growth. We will have to pay particular attention to the draining layer: a minimum thickness of 5 cm is ideal. A suitable compound is obtained by combining equal parts of acidophilic soil, garden earth and sand. A few handfuls of manure can help us enrich the compost.


skimmia japonica The multiplication of the skimmia japonica can be done by cutting or by sowing.

For the first technique, that with the cuttings, we proceed in July – August, we take from the lateral shoots cuttings eight centimeters long, with a portion of the load-bearing branch and we plant them in the sand.

In April-May of the following year, the rooted cuttings are transplanted into pots.

To proceed with sowing, however, you can operate in September by sowing the seeds in small pots.

When the false pepper seedlings are large enough and have acquired the right strength, they are transplanted into pots.

Planting Skimmia

In almost all of Italy the ideal period for transplanting (or for repotting) is late autumn. However, as it is not a completely rustic shrub, it is advisable, where the winters are particularly harsh (we should go down for long periods below -5 ° C) to postpone the end of February-early April, when the frosts are certainly over.

In any case, but especially in the Centre-North, in the first years, a thick mulching, based on rubble and leaves, is due. It is also very useful to cover the canopy with a special fabric: we will avoid large copper dehydrations in case of sudden drops in temperature.

Each specimen will need at least 50 cm free in each direction to develop easily. If we want to create a hedge we can, however, leave only 40: in this way it will “close earlier” and fully fulfill its function as a barrier or background for green areas.

Soil Skimmia

skimmia cespuglioSkimmia japonica plants are a variety that prefers a soft soil, very rich in organic matter, with a low pH; we periodically add peat to the soil in which they are grown, to avoid the onset of iron chlorosis.

These plants are very sensitive to the presence of limestone, an element that can cause leaf yellowing.

The false pepper can be cultivated in pots, in this case, we will have to provide for the repotting, when the plant has had a certain development, being careful to use a soil rich in nutrients, well drained and soft.

This shrub, to grow well and not run into physiopathy, requires a substrate acid or subacid, resulting from the degradation of plant tissues. Therefore, the soil of wood or leaves mixed with about 1/3 of garden earth is ideal. If the chosen area is too clayey and compact, it will only be necessary to dig deep to make a complete replacement.

Excellent insulation from the outside environment is obtained by burying large pots without a bottom or large cubes of cement (such as those used in construction). We prefer to choose a mixture specifically designed for acidophilic plants.

Let’s also remember to take particular care of the bottom of the hole by creating a draining layer with expanded clay or pozzolana.

Where to place it?

In general, it grows well in the shade, especially if it receives full light in the morning hours, but is screened in the warmer hours. In northern regions or mountain areas, however, it can be placed in a more exposed area, while in the south it becomes an ideal essence for shade (but not very dense). Let’s remember that cultivars with light leaves have less chlorophyll and therefore need more light to grow.

Pests and Diseases

skimmia japonica rubella Japonica skimmia plants can be affected by pests and diseases that must be effectively controlled to prevent the plant’s health from being compromised.

The shoots and young leaves of the false pepper are attacked by the Aphids which cause them to deform. If the leaves turn yellow, it is necessary to fertilize with a fertilizer rich in nutrients such as seaweed, or spray with special foliar fertilizers. Root rot is caused by waterlogging.

The skimmia is a fairly resistant shrub in this respect. The most common problems are due to sub-optimal growing conditions: rottenness and leaf chlorosis.

In the first case, there is yellowing and large foliar droppings: it is necessary to regulate the irrigation and modify the soil as soon as possible (the most suitable period is autumn), improving the draining of the water.

The chlorotic leaves are characterized by a pale green, almost yellow, coloration of the leaves, but with veins in evidence. Also in this case it is necessary to intervene on the ground as soon as possible; in the meantime it is advisable to do one or more interventions with chelated iron (making sure that the iron is soluble in a wide range of pH). Foliar treatments are also very effective, but to be carried out early in the morning or in the evening (some chelates degrade quickly to light).

The most common parasite is without any doubt the Scudetto cochineal: it can be seen on the branches, often on the central ones or in the lower parts in the shade. In case of light attacks we can intervene by manually detaching the insects. If the presence is massive, we recommend the use of white oil activated with a systemic insecticide (on the market there are premixed products). The doses vary significantly depending on the season in which the treatment is carried out.

Rusticity of the skimmia

skimmia rubellaThe skimmia is not completely rustic. Intense cold (below -5/-10°C) can damage it, especially if it is very prolonged or in the presence of wind (which causes widespread drying out). An important factor to keep in mind is the quality of the soil: the greatest damage occurs with low temperatures combined with insufficient drainage.

In general, if we live in harsh climate areas, we recommend thick mulching and the use (at least in the first few years) of sheets to cover the aerial part.

Skimmia fertilization

It is a slow-growing plant and does not need a strong supply of nutrients. However, it may be useful in the spring to distribute slow release granular acidophilic fertiliser in the area covered by the canopy. For the doses we follow the manufacturer’s instructions, always choosing the lowest parameter in this case.

Skimmia cleaning and pruning

skimmia pabella Pruning is not necessary as the skimmia is already naturally growing slowly. The only useful intervention is the removal of the fruit cobs in November: the plant will be stimulated to produce flowers again around February.

False pepper – Skimmia japonica: Skimmia variety

In Italy is on the market are found almost only cultivars of the species “Japonica” . Due to the success of this shrub, the hybridizers have committed themselves to the search for new interesting characteristics.

Very interesting are for example the cultivar “Fragrans” and “Kew Green” Both are very small and are suitable for pot cultivation, the first floor of the borders or the creation of low hedges.

The Fragrans and Rubella varieties are only male: excellent for those who do not want fruits, dangerous for children and animals.

On the other hand, the last of these has leaves bordered with red and can therefore be valuable to give a touch of liveliness to the garden, especially in the cold months.

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