Planting and Maintaining Shrubs
Spring: Azaleas, Rhododendrons, Ornamental quince, Cotoneaster, Forsythia, Fothergilla, Lilac, Viburnum
Summer: Butterfly bush, Scotch heather, Blue spirea, Summersweet, Hydrangea, Rose-of-Sharon, Saint-John's-
wort, Potentilla, Spirea
Fall: Butterfly bush, Rose-of-
Sharon, Witch hazel
- Slice off circling or tangled roots before planting shrubs grown in containers. Potted shrubs fill the container
with roots, which then twine around and around. New roots may continue this destructive pattern even when planted if the old circling roots are not removed. Eventually, the crown may be strangled by its own roots.
Use a pair of sharp pruning shears to slice off circling roots and to loosen up dense, matted roots. Releasing the healthy roots inside the root-ball, planting the shrub in good soil, and keeping the soil moist will encourage vigorous new root growth.
- Soak the roots of bare-root shrubs before planting. Bare-root shrubs are dug in fall or spring, washed
clean of soil, and shipped directly to mail-order catalog customers. Shrubs commonly sold bare-root include Chinese abelia, bloodtwig dogwood, buttonbushes, viburnums, some forsythias, winterberry holly, and beauty bush, as well as hedge shrubs such as spirea.
To ensure good results after planting, don't let the roots go into the soil dehydrated. An hour in a bucket of room-temperature water is all it takes. Plant immediately after soaking, and keep moist through the entire first growing season.
- Score the sides of the planting hole to encourage root penetration. In clay soils, slick-sided holes can dry to a glaze that is difficult for young roots to penetrate. Slicing into the hole perimeter with your shovel breaks up the glazing and creates openings where roots can move out.
- Thin out a third to a half of the branches of bare-root shrubs before planting. Your pruning shears will become one of your best planting tools, helping you put the shrub into a healthy balance before planting.
When shrubs are dug from the nursery field and processed for shipping, they lose most of their feeding roots, the delicate young roots responsible for absorbing moisture. Until the shrub is replanted and reestablishes new feeding roots, it can't support all the growth it once did. Pruning reduces shoots to balance root loss.
When pruning, begin by removing old, weak, damaged, or crowded branches at their bases. But don't indiscriminately shear off the top of the plant. The terminal buds on the branch tips release hormones that encourage root growth and maintain a slow, orderly pattern of growth. These are both desirable qualities worth preserving in your shrubs.
Once established, woody plants need surprisingly little maintenance.
- Deadhead hybrid rhododendrons and mountain laurels to increase next year's bloom. Once the flowers begin to fade, use your thumb and forefinger (or pruning shears) to cut off the soft, immature flowering cluster. Just be careful not to damage nearby buds or shoots, which will soon be sprouting into new branches.
- Consider changing an overgrown shrub into a multistemmed tree. This works nicely with flowering plums, black haw viburnums, chastetree, and lilacs, all of which can grow to be 12 to 15 feet tall.
Begin by removing small, crowded upright stems to reveal a handful of shapely mature branches that can serve as trunks. Remove side shoots from the trunks up to about 5 feet off the ground, creating a tree form. Continue pruning as needed to keep the trunks clear of growth.
Some Shrubs with Fragrant FlowersUse these species if you're looking to add some fragrance to your yard:
- Blue spiraea
- Burkwood viburnum
- Butterfly bush
- Dwarf Korean lilac
- Fantasy lilac
- Fragrant snowball viburnum
- French lilac
- Korean spice viburnum
- Miss Kim lilac
- Witch hazel
- Wrap boxwood and other broad-leaf evergreen shrubs with burlap to prevent winter burn. When the soil is frozen, the sun is bright, and the wind is strong, evergreens lose moisture from their exposed leaves
and cannot replace the moisture through frozen roots. The foliage scorches to brown and the stems may die back, or even worse, the whole shrub may die. Burlap makes a coat for the shrub and ensures that you will have a nice-looking plant waiting for you when spring arrives. This also works for coniferous evergreens like arborvitae. Be sure to water these shrubs well in the
fall so they'll have plenty of moisture stored.
- Build a temporary wire frame around tender shrubs
(the species most likely to suffer winter damage in
your area) and fill it with straw or leaves for winter protection. Like padding a carton of valuables, this provides insulation from winter's worst cold.
- Do not plant boxwood and other brittle-stem shrubs near the foundation of your house. Heavy, wet, melting snow or chunks of ice can slip off the roof and flatten shrubs residing below.
Designing with Shrubs
While you may think of shrubs as "just green bushes," they are actually much more. Shrubs come in a variety of shapes and sizes, with many different types of foliage. Some shrubs produce berries, and others even provide fragrance! No matter what effect you are trying to achieve, there is undoubtedly a shrub that will fit the bill.
Creeping shrubs, like junipers, can serve as evergreen ground covers. Low, bushy shrubs like spirea and potentilla blend nicely into flower gardens or the front of a planting around the house. Larger, rounded shrubs can be grouped into clusters to define space or create privacy. More compact cultivars that mature when around 4 feet high, like Newport viburnum, can be used around a house without any pruning. Taller shrubs, like Allegheny viburnum, are best kept at some distance from the house where they won't block the views. They make good screens for the property perimeter.
Shrubs can accentuate the design of your pathways.
Vertical shrubs that are shaped like an upright cone or pillar, such as Skyrocket juniper, create formality or emphasis in the yard. They can be striking when placed on either side of a doorway or garden gate.
Using a medley of shrub shapes creates design interest that goes much deeper than the leaves and flowers. And when you also take into account the other qualities shrubs have to offer, you'll see that they are an asset to any kind of garden. Here are some tips to help you get what you're looking for from shrubs:
- Plant fragrant flowered shrubs near doors or windows so you can enjoy their perfume both indoors and out.
- Cut flowering stems from your shrubs and bring them indoors to use in big bouquets. If you have large vases that dwarf ordinary annual or perennial stems, fill them with long branches of forsythia, lilac, or viburnum. What a wonderful way to celebrate spring!
- Plant shrubs that will flower in succession through the growing season. Get some spring, summer, and fall bloomers; then play them up, using other plants as supporting characters. Match the flower color of a viburnum with a cluster of daffodils. Echo the color of an azalea with a pot of pink pansies.
- Plant a coniferous shrub garden for winter fun. Use evergreens with a variety of different shapes and leaf colors: gold, blue, gray, and green. In northern climates where winter is long, this kind of planting brightens the garden.
Suitable shrubs include dwarf firs, pines, hemlocks, spruces, heathers, junipers, arborvitaes, and false cypresses. Specialty nurseries and catalogs abound with other, less common conifers as well. Interplant cone-shape and vertical evergreens with low and mounded forms. Add some spectacular weeping conifers for excitement, and contrast blue and gray foliage against green and gold. In summer, add some annuals, perennials, and ornamental grasses for variety.
Use a larger container with additional potting soil of the type preferred by the plant. Set the plant and its container in the right amount of sun or shade. In cold climates, use frostproof containers such as redwood or plastic.
Avoid terra-cotta, which can crack if the soil freezes. Other factors to keep in mind are the size and density of the shrub and its appearance at different times of the year.
Need a little height to your landscaping? Look no further than the next section for tips on planting vines in your garden.