By Dr. Susan Hamilton
Whether valued for their foliage or their flowers, used in foundation planting or as screens, shrubs are an integral component in any landscape. We love them because they are woody plants that persist in the garden year after year and help form the backbone of the landscape around which annuals and perennials are adorned. Although planting season for most shrubs begins in November, you may add them to your landscape as late as March as long as the ground is not frozen.
With careful selection, I’ve been able to enjoy shrubs in my home garden all year long with the following:
Firepower Nandina (Nandina domestica ‘Fire Power’): A compact evergreen that is valued for its vibrant red and orange winter foliage, this plant thrives in full sun and grows 2 feet tall and 2 feet wide. For high impact, use in groups of three and five. Nandina is good for planting along your home’s foundation or in a mixed border.
Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata): Attract birds with this deciduous holly valued for its showy red berries from fall through late winter. The plant has a suckering habit (sending out shoots of secondary growth from its roots).and grows from 3 to 12 feet tall and wide. Tolerant of moist conditions, this holly variety also grows in well-drained soil and requires full sun to partial shade. Plant both male and female plants to ensure fruit set, when the flowers mature into berries. For high impact, use with colorful blue or yellow evergreen backdrop. ‘Winter Gold’ is a selection with orange- to gold-colored berries.
Japanese Cornel Dogwood (Cornus officinalis): Valued for flowering in the drab months of January and February, this plant is covered with small yellow flowers that later develop into showy red, edible fruit in the summer. Variable fall color ranges from pale yellow to burgundy. It grows as a large, spreading, multi-stemmed, deciduous shrub up to 15 to 25 feet tall. The dogwood thrives in full sun to partial shade, attracts birds and is best used in the landscape as a single specimen for a seasonal focal point.
Hybrid Fothergilla (Fothergilla x ‘Mt. Airy’): White, bottlebrush-like flowers cover this shrub in April and May, and the deciduous foliage turns vibrant yellow-orange in fall. It grows 4 feet tall and 4 feet wide with an upright, open-vase habit. The bush thrives in full sun to partial shade and moist to well-drained soils. Its ideal use is as a single focal-point specimen in a mixed border.
Chinese Snowball Viburnum (Viburnum macrocephalum): Valued for its outstanding softball-sized, hydrangea-like flowers, this white-blooming semi-evergreen shrub blooms in spring and often again in the fall. Maturing to 12 feet or more, this plant needs plenty of room in a sunny to partial-shade location. Plant as a single focal-point specimen or in mass as a screen.
Carolina Allspice, Sweetshrub (Calycanthus raulstonii): A native spring-flowering shrub valued for its fragrant burgundy flowers, this plant has a suckering habit and round form, growing up to 10 feet tall and wide. It thrives in full sun to partial shade and a moist, well-drained soil. ‘Hartlage Wine’ is an impressive hybrid selection with flowers blooming up to 4 inches across.
Flowering Abelia (Abelia x grandiflora): Valued for its glossy, semi-evergreen leaves and summer-long flowers, abelia’s bell-shaped blossoms are about three-quarters of an inch long, fragrant, white to pale pink in color and great for attracting butterflies. Popular selections such as ‘Canyon Creek’ and ‘Kaleidoscope’ are valued for their colorful variegated foliage that remains showy all year round. This shrub thrives in full sun to partial shade and a well-drained soil. Use it in a mixed border or as a single focal-point specimen.
Chastetree (Vitex agnus-castus): This showy shrub is valued for the loads of spiky, lavender-colored blooms it produces all summer. This vase-shaped shrub grows up to 10 feet tall and 8 feet wide. It requires full sun and a well-drained soil. Use this shrub as a single focal-point specimen or in a mixed border. Chastetree is also great for attracting butterflies.
Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius): This unique shrub grows 5 to 10 feet tall and just as wide, producing deeply cut, maple-like leaves. Cultivars such as ‘Diablo,’ ‘Coppertina’ and ‘Summer Wine’ have dark burgundy- to copper-colored foliage. Small pink or white flower clusters in late spring to early summer give way to drooping clusters of reddish fruit (inflated seed capsules) that are striking against the dark foliage. Use in a mixed border or as a single specimen.
American Beauty Berry (Callicarpa americana): The foliage of this shrub turns bright yellow before dropping in fall and exposing brilliant violet-purple fruit clusters that cover the arching branches of this deciduous shrub. It grows 3 to 8 feet tall and wide and thrives in full sun to partial shade in a moist but well-drained soil. The hybrid ‘Welch’s Pink’ has pink berries. Use it in a mixed border or as a single specimen.
Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica): The fall foliage of this shrub outshines its spring fragrant blooms. The foliage turns a beautiful red-orange to crimson color in the fall and retains its leaves well into November. Two readily available cultivars are ‘Henry’s Garnet,’ which grows to about 6 feet tall, and ‘Little Henry,’ topping out at 3 feet. The suckering growth habit make this plant great for mass plantings, and it’s tolerant of sun or shade and damp to well-drained soils.
Tea Camellia or Tea Bush (Camellia sinensis): This shrub’s leaves are a source of the tea used in everyday English tea and good ol’ Southern iced tea. The finest teas are made from the top two leaves and buds, the plant’s shoots. This evergreen makes a dense, round shrub that grows between 4 and 6 feet tall and just as wide. It produces leathery, dark green narrow leaves and covers itself each fall with fragrant white or pink flowers about 1.5 inches in diameter. Flowering typically starts in September and can continue into early December. Several varieties are available, some with variegated foliage. Tea bush thrives in partial shade and a moist but well-drained soil. Use as a background plant especially in shady recesses where its bright flowers will shine. It is also effective when used in mass and makes a nice foundation plant, too.