In a forest or a field, they are hardly noticed except by
foraging berry pickers. Trees and flowers are everywhere, but shrubs, filling in
the spaces where shafts of sunlight penetrate, are usually too small to be
noticed. They tend to blend in with the background, and in most gardens, are an
If this is the case, why have them in your garden?
First, they provide a gradation of height between trees and
buildings and flowers, ground covers, and lawns, allowing your eye to move
easily about the landscape. Foundation plantings, those grown in front of a
building, are often made up of various shrubs either by themselves or in
combination with other plants. Second, shrubs can often take the place of trees,
since many grow as tall as 40 feet or more. Third, they’re frequently used as
hedges. And fourth, shrubs can be used as ground covers to help stabilize a
All of these reasons are secondary to those attributes that
shrubs, themselves, possess: beauty of leaf or flower, fragrance, edible fruit,
and, in the case of evergreens, winter interest.
In addition, most flowering shrubs grow rapidly, generally
maturing in five years, and seem to do well for a long time with little
People often confuse shrubs with trees, because many varieties
can grow to heights of 40 feet. However, while both shrubs and trees are woody
plants–their stems and branches survive from year to year in areas where they’re
resistant to winter cold–shrubs have multiple trunks or stems and a tree
usually has only one.
While many shrubs can be trained to grow as trees by cutting
back their side stems, they are, nevertheless, still shrubs. They include both
evergreen and deciduous plants; most can be grown in Zones 5 through 10.
The variety of shapes and sizes of shrubs, both
evergreen and flowering, the colors of their fruits and blossoms, and their
individual textures provide you with a shrub to fit your every need, whether you
wish to enclose your garden with a hedge, create a background for your annuals
and perennials, or just to add color and fragrance to your landscape.
Deciduous vs. Evergreen
Many gardeners choose evergreen shrubs which hold
their foliage even when dormant in winter.
The term evergreen can be misleading, since not all plants in
this category are green. Some are yellow, blue, bronze, or deep purple,
depending on the variety, age, and season.
Evergreen shrubs are the basis for most landscapes. They’re
usually the first plants put in around a new house by the builder or new home
owner, and they’re the most often misplaced. They provide a constant green
backdrop for your house and garden and blend the seasonal changes of deciduous
shrubs, annuals and perennials into a harmonious whole.
Homeowners often use some, like the privet and boxwood, as
hedges in formal gardens. In addition, they’re most effective as screens to
provide privacy or pruned into fanciful shapes of animals as topiary.
There are two varieties of evergreen shrubs–needle-leaved
evergreens, or conifers, with narrow needle-like foliage, and broad-leaved
evergreens, with flat, broadened foliage.
Conifers, such as junipers and spruce, have wax-like leaves
shaped like needles or scales. Junipers are extremely hardy and will tolerate
drought, poor soils, and low winter temperatures.
Spruce, however, does best in rich soils under moist
The foliage of most broad-leaved evergreens resembles that of
deciduous shrubs. They’re flowering plants and many have beautiful blossoms
and showy fruit. Unlike the conifers, which have a fine-textured appearance,
broad-leaved varieties offer an assortment of textures for the garden.
Deciduous plants, on the other hand, lose their leaves in
autumn. Some appear early, like the flowering quince and forsythia, shrubs which
in the deep South bloom as early as January and in Maine as late as April.
Few plants are as versatile as flowering shrubs. While people
appreciate them for their colorful and often fragrant blossoms, they can also
fulfill utilitarian needs such as screening an unsightly shed or concealing
unattractive features of your house or yard. Sometimes, they’re used to keep
people or animals from going where they’re not wanted. And many varieties,
such as azaleas and hydrangeas, can thrive in containers to decorate a patio or
There are thousands of flowering shrubs to choose from.
Rhododendrens, for example, have more than 900 species and over 10,000 named
varieties, including those commonly known as azaleas. These feature a wide array
of colored blossoms and are hardy to very low winter temperatures.
Some flowering shrubs known for their fragrant blossoms
include mock orange and lilac, which will not only fill your garden but the
whole neighborhood with sweet smelling scents. These, as well as forstyhia and
flowering quince are relatively easy to grow and maintain.
Autumn brings another outburst of color as the green foliage
of many deciduous shrubs turns the colors of the rainbow, from golden yellow and
bronze to rich orange and scarlet. Even the leaves of some evergreens take on
darkened hues of red and purple for the cold winter months. The Japanese
snowball and cranberry bush, both in the viburnum family, are good
Before purchasing any shrubs, homeowners should make a list of
those that offer the best in each season in their particular climatic zone.