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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.
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.
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.
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. They require 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 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.
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.
The waxy, perfectly shaped blooms of camellias plant cheer late winter landscapes, opening against dark, glossy green leaves. Thousands of double camellia hybrids offer a large palette of colors from snowy white and bicolors to the deepest coral-red. The upright plants develop into small trees in warm climates. A camellia looks stunning when espaliered against a warm wall; avoid full sun situations to prevent summer-scorched leaves.
A wonderful, easy-to-grow shrub, Carolina allspice features strongly fragrant dark red flowers in early summer. The show doesn't stop there; the leaves often turn a nice shade of yellow in the fall.
Carolina allspice is largely left alone by deer, probably thanks to its clove-scent foliage. The shrub thrives in full sun or part shade and in moist, well-drained soil. It's native to areas of North America.
Cotoneasters are some of the most versatile shrubs in the garden -- you can choose from compact, upright shrubs to groundcovers to big plants ideal for hedges. Most deliver bountiful red berries in autumn that persist into the winter. These fruits deliver cheer in a winter-drab landscape and attract birds for more winter interest.
Most cotoneasters do best in full sun and moist, well-drained soil. Some tolerate drought well; others do fine even in shade.
Crape myrtles are among the brightest blooming and most heat-tolerant trees available. Their array of summer blossoms is complemented by sculptural trunks and gold or red fall foliage. The contrast of reddish peeling bark and smooth trunk provides winter interest, too. Flower colors range from white to deep rose and magenta. Pick powdery mildew-resistant hybrids such as 'Natchez', 'Cherokee', and 'Wichita' for the best performance in humid summer regions. By planting crape myrtles against a warm, sunny wall, colder-climate gardeners can also enjoy this traditional Southeastern favorite.
Small but mighty, this petite Texas native thrives in high heat and poor soil. It is the perfect plant for areas that seem too hot and dry for traditional flowering perennials. Its sunny-yellow daisy-shape blooms unfurl almost year-round. It has a mounding habit and offers evergreen, needlelike leaves. While it is a shrub, many gardeners treat it like a perennial. Go ahead and plant it near walls, driveways, and other areas where reflective heat is intense. Damianita will bloom through it all. Like many Southwest natives, it demands well-drained soil.
A waterfall of white spring blossoms on cascading branches signals that deutzia is in bloom. Positioning this hardy shrub near a low wall or fence and allowing the branches of foamy flowers to spill over is the best way to showcase its late-spring beauty. The compact 'Nikko' is a dwarf slender deutzia cultivar that also boasts deep red fall color as well as spring blooms. Showy deutzia forms a large shrub up to 10 feet covered with large white flowers in spring. Hybrids between the two species don't grow quite as tall, but produce double pink flowers.
The lovely, butterflylike blooms of dogwoods herald the beginning of spring, and the show continues into winter with the cheery spectacle of red fruits clinging to bare branches. Dogwoods are versatile trees that do well in full sun and moist soil or shady spots. Most feature fantastic fall color in addition to the attractive blooms.
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