Top Flowering Shrubs for the South

Choose any of these flowering shrubs for your southern garden and you're guaranteed colorful blooms.

Flowering shrubs are the hard-working heart of a garden. These cheerful stalwarts can be planted on either side of a front door, or to frame a patio, and they contribute form, texture, and structure to flowerbeds. In southern gardens especially, flowering shrubs bring color and grace to gardens over a long growing season. The best choices adapt gracefully to long, hot summers and don't need a chilly winter to encourage luxurious blooms.

Jimmy Turner, former director of gardens at the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden, recommends some modern cultivars of old-time favorites. Turner's top recommendations are tough, adaptable, and attractive plants. They bloom reliably without pampering, aren't bothered by pests, and will not outgrow their spots in the garden.

red double take flowering quince chaenomeles
Justin Hancock

Flowering Quince

"My new favorite flowering shrub is Double Take flowering quince (Chaenomeles spp.)", Turner says. "These quinces surprised the living daylights out of me." Double Take cultivars are compact, drought-tolerant, thornless, and vigorous spring bloomers. Their ruffled double flowers are up to 2-1/2 inches across; at first glance, the blooms look like a camellia or a rose. Double Take Pink Storm, Orange Storm, and Scarlet Storm are rounded, multistemmed shrubs and they grow to about six feet tall in light shade or full sun. Zones 4–8

Crape Myrtle

Dwarf crape myrtles open up new possibilities for southern gardeners. These compact shrubs are sized for mixed flowerbeds, and they also flourish in pots. Razzle Dazzle dwarf crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia) was developed by the renowned plantsman Michael Dirr. Like full-sized crape myrtles, they bloom from summer into fall, and their showy flowers last for up to three months. Six cultivars (Berry Dazzle, Cherry Dazzle, Diamond Dazzle, Dazzle Me Pink, Strawberry Dazzle, and Sweetheart Dazzle) all grow to three to four feet tall in full sun. They're drought-tolerant and mildew-resistant. Cut them back to about eight inches every other year, Turner suggests. They'll bounce right back. Zones 6–9 Learn more about crape myrtles.

Oakleaf Hydrangea

Oakleaf Hydrangea

The U.S. National Arboretum's shrub-breeding program in Tennessee has produced two promising oakleaf hydrangeas (H. quercifolia): 'Ruby Slippers', and 'Munchkin'. They're destined for the big time. "Southern gardeners are going to go crazy," Turner says. Both are medium-sized deciduous shrubs with beautiful quilted leaves and large inflorescences covered with creamy white flowers that mature to rich, tawny pink. The blooms remain showy into fall. 'Munchkin' grows to three feet tall, and 'Ruby Slippers' is a little larger, up to three-and-a-half feet tall. They thrive in sun or shade. Zones 5–8 Learn more about hydrangeas.


Hybridizers working on the old-time favorite sweetshrub (Calycanthus), also known as Carolina allspice, made a stunning breakthrough with 'Venus.' The snow-white flowers look like miniature magnolia blossoms. Sweetshrubs bloom primarily in spring. 'Venus' is a prolific flowering hybrid that continues to produce fragrant, up to four-inch flowers off and on all summer long. It was nominated as a 2011 Showstopper plant by the North Carolina Nursery and Landscape Association. This undemanding shrub flourishes in well-drained soil in sun or part shade and grows to ten feet tall and wide. With judicious pruning, it can be kept to about five feet tall. The handsome leaves turn golden yellow in fall. Zones 5–9 Learn more about sweetshrub.

bright red camellia 'coquettii' blossom
Justin Hancock


Camellias flowering in fall and winter are the delight of southern gardeners, but it can be a challenge to find the right spot for them. "They can be gawky in the landscape," says Scott Aker, horticulturist at the U.S. National Arboretum. Camellias are evergreen shrubs, pretty in mixed borders or woodland gardens. Camellia sasanqua 'Agnes O. Solomon' is one of Aker's favorites. This fall bloomer has graceful, soft pink flowers. It grows slowly to about six feet tall in light shade and is hardy in Zones 7–9. Aker also likes C. japonica 'Anacostia,' which was introduced by the U.S. National Arboretum. "It's wonderful, with a rounded habit, and it's hardier than most," he says. 'Anacostia' grows to about 12 feet tall and is hardy in Zones 7–9, as well as in protected areas in Zone 6. Learn more about camellia.

blue rose of sharon hibiscus syriacus azurri satin
Marty Baldwin

Rose of Sharon

Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) comes into glorious bloom in midsummer with countless flowers. Turner especially likes two newer groups: the Satin series (Azurri Satin, shown here—Blue Satin, Blush Satin, Rose Satin, and Violet Satin) and the Chiffon series (China Chiffon, Blue Chiffon, White Chiffon, and Lavender Chiffon), all of which have sterile flowers and will not self-seed. "People need to stop growing all the rest of the varieties and just grow these," he says. Rose of Sharon attracts butterflies and hummingbirds and looks great as a shrub or small tree. Most varieties will grow eight–12 feet tall, but since they bloom on new growth, they can be pruned ruthlessly. "If you cut them back they grow to four to five feet tall," Turner says. For the best show of bloom, they need a spot in full sun. Zones 5–9 Learn more about rose of Sharon.

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