How to grow Garrya elliptica common name Silk Tassel Bush

garrya with wind scorch

Garrya is an easy to grow, evergreen shrub which produces from December through January & February, long attractive catkins, or tassels which gives rise to its common name 'Silk Tassel Bush'. Not all varieties of Garry are frost hardy, G. elliptica  which originates from California is classified as ** hardy which is around -10 degrees. Despite this hardy classification, I have seen Garrya growing successfully in some fairly cold areas, such as part of landscaping around a Co-Op in the Pennine area. The preferred growing conditions for Garrya is a sheltered spot away from cold winds, but clearly Garrya can grow in colder areas.

 Garrya is suitable to grow in most soil types, including moist soil and in semi shade. If Garrya is exposed to too much wind, they can suffer from wind scorch (image left) which will brown the leaves.  Garrya will grow to around 2 - 3m, (6.5' to 10') larger in a more sheltered spot.  Garrya elliptica is ideal to grow against a wall to provide shelter and to display the catkins, see below. 

Garrya grows at a medium rate and it will take up to 20 years to reach full size and maturity, which is around 4 meters. 

Garryas will also tolerate some salt,  making them suitable for a coastal garden

If Garrya is not suitable for your garden for more ideas, check out Fast Growing Evergreen shrubsSpring and Summer flowering shrubs and other shrubs with Autumn and Winter interest.

Varieties of Garrya to grow

Garrya elliptica growing against a wall
Garrya elliptica growing against a wall

Both male and female plants have catkins, although the male plants have the best catkins. On G. elliptica the tassels are up to 15 cms long. G. 'Evie' is male with long catkins up to 30cms.

The most commonly sold and seen in the UK is G.'James Roof' with dark green leaves and a profusion of catkins up to 35cms long ( if growing conditions are ideal,) making it an attractive for winter interest. There is a variety G. x issaquahensis 'Pat Ballard' which has slightly mauve tinged catkins and G. x issaquahensis 'Glasnevin Wine' with reddish catkins, although these are less commonly grown. 


How to prune Garrya

Garrya needs no maintenance to speak but they can get large, up to 4 metres, and an equal spread when mature. Garrya can be regarded as a large garden shrub, almost a small tree. Males have the most ornamental tassels, and 'James Roof' has the RHS merit award which is always a good sign to look for when selecting a garden shrub or plant.  The catkin like tassels on James Roof can be up to 35 cms making an impressive winter show.  If the shrub is damaged in a bad winter you can prune out the browned leaves.  Unfortunately, it can be a difficult shrub to move as Garrya resent transplanting.

Garrya does not require pruning, and it is not recommended to prune it hard. This means it is difficult to contain the size of the shrub by pruning and it best grown where there is enough space to accommodate it as a large shrub.  Garrya is pruning group 8  which refers to evergreen shrubs which flower between winter and early spring on the previous year's growth.

The general rule when pruning Garrya is to do so early to mid-spring just after the display of tassels is finished.

The  late winter tassels are formed over the previous months, which makes it important to prune after the tassels have finished. Pruning earlier will risk cutting away the wood on which the tassels are forming and miss a years flower. Garrya can be tidied up to remove any dead branches and to create symmetry.  

As the images below show, Garrya is an eye-catching shrub and which looks great in the winter. It combines well with other winter shrubs such as Cotoneaster horizontalis and with Cornus both with red stems (above right ) C, alba 'Sibirica'and yellow stems (below right), C. sericea Flaviramea.

The Tassels are interesting, viewed in close up as the images below illustrate. 

Green Wheelbarrow easy to grow

Garrya elliptica is an easy to grow shrub, low maintenance and reliable.

Last updated 01.12.2021