Loropetalum (lor-o-peta-lum) may be hard to say, but it sure is a pleasure to grow. This large, handsome shrub is a native of China and Japan, but it seems to be pretty happy growing here in the Southern states. Gardeners who want to avoid trying to pronounce loropetalum may simply call it by its common name, Chinese witch hazel or Chinese fringe.

The white-flowering type, Loropetalum chinense, has been around for years and is truly a good dependable shrub, but it has never been widely grown. A pink-flowering version, Loropetalum c. rubrum, a relative newcomer to garden centers, has really popularized the plant. Some of the pink bloomers can be found under names such as 'Blush,' 'Burgundy,' 'Sizzlin' Pink,' 'Razzleberri,' and 'Rubrum.' Their airy ribbonlike blooms are striking, and some selections sport showy purple-green to burgundy foliage.

When you see knee-high plants at the nursery, don't be misled. At maturity some selections will grow up to 12 feet tall and 6 to 8 feet wide. They tend to have a vaselike shape. You can remove lower limbs from older shrubs to make small trees. Read the label or tag on the plants you buy for guidelines and spacing recommendations. They don't waste much time filling out and can grow up to 3 feet in a season.

These shrubs prefer loose, well-drained, acid soil. Full sun to partial shade is needed for plants to maintain a full shape and bloom heavily. Some of the burgundy-leaved selections have high fertilization requirements and need lots of sun to retain their dark foliage.

Loropetalum shrubThey seem to perform best in the middle to lower and coastal South. Subzero temperatures can kill or knock plants back to the ground. In cooler climates, apply a thick mulch to protect roots, and plant in a protected area.

Loropetalum makes a nice accent plant in a large container or planted in a shrub or flower border. Be careful using them in foundation plantings--many of the pink selections are so new that their mature sizes are unknown.

LOROPETALUM At a Glance Flowers: stringy pink or white blooms in spring Culture: full sun to partial shade, needs well-drained nonalkaline soil; no major insect or disease problems

Size: 12 feet or more tall, 6 to 8 feet wide (Mature sizes of some new selections are unknown.) Uses: borders, containers, hedges, specimens