SEATTLE — Gardening guru Ciscoe Morris shows us how to grow fatsia japonica, or aralia, and what to do when it starts looking a little sad.
Although it is often grown as a houseplant, Fatsia japonica (aralia) is an incredible evergreen shrub that will add a tropical look to a shady area of the garden. Grown outdoors, Fatsia japonica forms a multi-branched shrub capable of growing to over 12 feet tall with shiny-green, huge, deeply-lobed leaves. In fall, alien-looking clusters of white flowers appear above the foliage, followed by berries that mature to shiny black by mid-winter and are a favorite cool-weather food source for hungry birds.
As incredible as the standard Fatsia japonica is, there are even more spectacular cultivars that occasionally show up at local nurseries and plant sales. A cultivar guaranteed to cheer up any dark corner is Fatsia japonica 'Camouflage'. This colorful cultivar features leaves heavily splotched with lime green and yellow.
Equally attractive, the cultivar Fatsia japonica ‘Variegata’ produces dark green leaves, irregularly edged in bands of white. The knock-down beauty of the clan, however, has to be Fatsia japonica ‘Spider’s Web’. The leaves on this elegant shrub are infused in creamy white web-like speckling that intensifies as the plant ages. This gorgeous plant is guaranteed to light up any shady nook in the garden.
Fatsia requires well-drained soil to flourish. They are occasionally bothered by sucking insects causing an ugly sooty mold, but you can easily control it by blasting the troublemakers off the back of the leaves with a powerful spray of water. Any Fatsia that begins to look unsightly can be cut to within a foot of the ground in February or March and they will quickly grow back fuller and more attractive with fresh, new foliage. All Fatsia japonica are total shade lovers. Don't plant 'Spider’s Web', or any Fatsia for that matter, where it gets any sun because the foliage will turn an ugly yellow. That would be a true waste of such a great tropical-looking shade-lover.