Shrubs are a key foundation planting for many gardens. They offer structure and organizing points; many also supply year-round color, as well as food and shelter for wildlife. But selecting the right shrub for your landscape and particular gardening need can be difficult. Luckily, the Better Homes and Gardens Plant Encyclopedia provides information that will help with both practical questions and design problem-solving. For starters, you can choose shrubs that are sized to fit your landscape -- dwarf, mid-size, or full-height varieties, for example. You may also look for shrubs based on both scientific or common name and find shrubs that work best for your particular site constraints, such as USDA Hardiness Zone and amount of sunlight. You can also ensure the success of your shrubs with information on growth habit and design potential. View a list of shrubs by common name or scientific name.
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Hailing from South Africa, Leucadendron 'Red Gem' has an unusual appearance that makes it right at home in a mixed shrub or perennial border in a mild-climate garden. The bushy shrub has green leaves with a section of red near the leaf tips. The leaves take on a bronze appearance in late fall, and striking red-and-yellow flowers decorate the tops of the stems in winter and spring. The flowers are excellent for cutting.
Leucadendron 'Red Gem' grows well in sun and well-drained soil. It tolerates drought with ease after a strong root system is established.
An elegant tree or large shrub for tropical regions, Michelia 'Allspice' will form a striking privacy hedge or backdrop for an annual or perennial border. Fuzzy, copper-color flower buds open in spring and summer to reveal richly fragrant white blossoms that resemble magnolia flowers. The cup-shape flowers have a sweet banana scent and continue to open from time to time throughout summer. Glossy green leaves and a pyramidal form give Michelia 'Allspice' pleasing texture and shape in the landscape.
Plant Michelia in sun or part sun and moist, well-drained soil. Water regularly after planting to establish a deep, extensive root system.
A native of Japan, andromeda (Pieris japonica) is a handsome broadleaf evergreen shrub that makes an ideal foundation or specimen plant. It’s a slow-growing shrub that can reach 10 feet tall if left unpruned. In the early spring, andromeda develops arching clusters of white flowers that resemble lily-of-the-valley blooms (there are also pink-flowering forms, as well as types that have reddish or pinkish new growth). The plants’ deer-resistant leaves are glossy green all year long.
A relative of rhododendrons, azaleas, blueberries, and mountain laurel, andromeda does best in a sheltered location that has rich, slightly acidic soil in partial sun. Avoid planting it in an open, exposed windy location.
Angel's trumpet is a heat-loving tropical or subtropical shrub that likes warm (80 -85 degrees F) days and cool nights. In cold-winter regions, you can grow it in a container and take it indoors over winter or simply treat it as an exotic, amazing annual. Grow it in moist, well-drained soil. Its fragrant, trumpet-shape flowers dangle from upright stems and appear in shades of white, yellow, pink, orange, and cream.
Note: All parts of the plant are poisonous if eaten, and the plant has been banned in some communities. Check local restrictions before planting it.
Arborvitae will flourish where no other evergreen does, spreading a lush screen of fan-like foliage that provides privacy and gives winter shelter to the birds. For garden sculptors, arborvitae offers just the right texture and growth habit for topiaries. Many dwarf varieties are available as fillers and vertical accents for smaller gardens. Arborvitae prospers in deeply cultivated, moist and fertile soil in full sun.
A charming tree for mild climates, Australian tea tree has artistic qualities. Its sculptural spreading branches take on a twisting and curving habit in time. They have a tendency to arch along the ground. Give this large shrub or small tree plenty of space to spread out. Plant it with other shrubs in a mixed border, or make it a focal point in a planting bed.
Australian tea tree grows best in full sun and well-drained soil. It is drought-tolerant after it is established, and it tolerates seaside conditions.
Looking for a small palm that tolerates shade? Check out bamboo palm and its relatives. Most stay under 10 feet tall, so they fit perfectly in the yard. Try it as a foundation planting, at the back of the border to create a textural backdrop for your other plants, or as a unique hedge
A grand Southern lady, banana shrub is a member of the magnolia family. Its lovely springtime flowers resemble magnolia blooms but have a bold banana fragrance. The evergreen shrub's flush of flowers in spring is followed by sporadic flowering through summer. Plant this lovely shrub in beds or borders, or use it as a fragrant hedge. It tolerates pruning well and can be maintained at 4-5 feet tall. Water banana shrub regularly after planting. After it is established, it tolerates drought with ease.
Barberry paints the landscape with arching, fine-textured branches of purple-red or chartreuse foliage. In fall, leaves brighten to reddish orange and spikes of red berries appear like sparklers as the foliage drops. The mounding habit of barberries makes for graceful hedging and barriers, and the thorns protect privacy.
Japanese barberry is considered an invasive plant in the Eastern U.S. and the species is banned from cultivation in some places, so check local restrictions before planting.
A culinary classic, bay's glossy green foliage is a flavor favorite in soups, stews, and meat dishes. Bay only survives to 25 degrees, so it's commonly grown in containers, sounding a steady evergreen note on patios during the growing season and gracing sunny interior windows after frost. In the landscape, established trees are fuss-free and drought tolerant. Potted bay is susceptible to scale insects; hand-pick any offenders. Protect potted bay from intense sunlight in hottest zones. If you love to cook, keep dried leaves on hand; they're an essential herb for bouquet garni.
Bayberry forms a beautiful semi-evergreen shrub that tolerates either wet or dry soils. The shrub also withstands salt spray, making it a good choice for coastal landscapes. Plants gradually spread from underground suckers, eventually forming a thicket. Pruning is rarely necessary.
Bayberry has long been prized for its fragrant, waxy gray berries, which can be used to make candles. Plants are either male or female; to ensure berry production, plant several shrubs in the same landscape. The berries are also attractive to a wide range of songbirds.
Beautyberry is one shrub that's really earned its common name. In fall, the plant becomes a showstopper thanks to its clusters of small violet-purple fruits. The bright color stands out, especially after the plant loses its leaves. The fruits develop from summer's clusters of small pink flowers and may attract several species of birds to your yard.
Beautyberry blooms on fresh growth, so if you need to prune it, the best time to do so is late winter or early spring. In the coldest areas of its range, it's sometimes grown like a perennial in that the stems die back to the ground every year and are replaced by new shoots in the spring.
This adaptable shrub blooms well in full sun or part shade and is relatively drought tolerant.
Offering rare blue late-season flowers, bluebeard grows into a compact and flattering companion to other late bloomers such as asters and black-eyed Susans. The wispy bunches of flowers develop along the stems in midsummer to early fall. Silvery bluebeard foliage adds a little extra shine to the landscape.
Two tricks to growing bluebeard well: Prune the plants hard in spring when they begin to show new growth, and plant in well-drained soil to ensure the best bounceback after cold winters. A plethora of new varieties are available, including those with variegated green and white leaves, gold leaves, and pink flowers.
Tasty blue fruits and colorful red fall foliage make blueberries outstanding additions to the landscape. Use them in mixed shrub borders and perennial beds for structure and interest as well as fruit production.
Blueberries demand the right climate and soil but take little care if you provide a site suitable to their somewhat exacting conditions. Growing blueberries requires a fair amount of cool weather in the winter and won't grow well in mild winter climates. They grow best in full sun, and well-drained, sandy, acid soil.
Plant at least two varieties of blueberries for cross-pollination. The most commonly grown blueberry is highbush. Lowbush blueberries grow just 1 foot tall and spread by underground stems to form a dense mat.
An evergreen shrub ideal for sculpting, boxwood can take the shape of a neat mound or grow into small green clouds of foliage if left unmanicured. It's one of the most popular choices for garden topiaries. This fragrant shrub is frequently used as an outliner and definer around garden beds and path; it forms graceful short hedges. Garden neat freaks will want to wield the pruning shears frequently to keep boxwood in bounds. Provide a well-drained soil for boxwood to prevent problems with root rot.
Most buckthorn varieties are easy-to-grow shrubs that make great privacy or backdrop plantings thanks to their dense habit and lustrous, dark green foliage. Many produce fruits that are poisonous to humans and animals, but attract birds.
Note: Unfortunately, many buckthorn varieties are invasive pests. In fact, common buckthorn is a noxious weed in many areas. Check local restrictions before planting them.
A tough shrub for challenging sites, bush poppy adds a sunny splash of yellow to dry, quick-draining planting areas. Covered with 2-inch-wide flowers from March through June, it is native to California and will quickly reach 6 feet tall in about two years. When not blooming, bush poppy's gray-green leaves provide pleasing texture and form in the garden. Plant bush poppy in full sun or part shade in well-drained soil. It does not tolerate clay well. Do not fertilize bush poppy. It grows and flowers best when it is lean on nutrients.
The sparkling white flowers of bush anemone will cool down the hottest afternoon. An evergreen shrub native to California, it is a great plant for the back of a perennial border or an informal hedge. Bush anemone grows well in full sun or part shade and tolerates a range of soil conditions but does best in well-drained soil. It thrives on neglect: do not fertilize, and water only during periods of extended drought.
Drenching the air with a fruity scent, butterfly bush's flower spikes are an irresistible lure to butterflies and hummingbirds all summer long. The plants have an arching habit that's appealing especially as a background in informal flower borders. In warmer climates, butterfly bushes soon grow into trees and develop rugged trunks that peel.
To nurture butterfly bush through cold Northern winters, spread mulch up to 6 inches deep around the trunk. Plants will die down, but resprout in late spring. Prune to the ground to encourage new growth and a more fountainlike shape. Avoid fertilizing butterfly bush; extra-fertile soil fosters leafy growth rather than flower spikes. Remove spent flower spikes to encourage new shoots and flower buds.
Note: Butterfly bush can be an invasive pest in some areas; check local restrictions before planting it.
Although your garden visitors may not believe you, this horticultural kaleidoscope is only one rosebush -- even though it blooms in three colors and varying shades thereof all at once. New foliage and bud sheaths are a coppery-bronze, and the established foliage is clean green and shiny to boot. And adaptability? The butterfly rose is disease-resistant, shrugs off humidity, and grows taller the more shelter it is given. This arching shrub is at its best covering a wall or tall fence, with its splayed, wrinkled petals flitting in a soft breeze. Spiffy, huh? That said, one proviso -- this is most certainly not the hardiest rose in the galazy. Mutabilis is almost exclusively a southern or western beauty.
Here's how the petal coloring works: At first a vivid orange, the buds open to a honey yellow, then the next day, after pollination, they become pale pink, deepening in the following day or two to nearly crimson.