Tips for Growing Shrubs


Shrubs bring beauty, shade, and fragrance to your landscape.
Shrubs bring beauty, shade, and
fragrance to your landscape.

While you may think of shrubs as "just 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 Japanese 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. 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 offers 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.

  • 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, lilacs, or viburnums. 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 a rhododendron 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 garden brightens the yard. Suitable shrubs include dwarf firs, pines, hemlocks, spruces, heathers, junipers, arborvitaes, and false cypress. Specialty nurseries and catalogs abound with other, less common conifers as well. Interplant cone-shaped and vertical evergreens with low and mounded forms. Add in some spectacular weeping conifers for excitement, and contrast blue and gray foliage against green and gold. In summer, add some interplanted annuals, perennials, and ornamental grasses for variety.

  • Consider changing an overgrown shrub into a multi-stemmed tree. This works nicely with flowering plums, black haw viburnums, winged euonymus, 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. Cut side shoots off 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.
­New shrubs need some special care right from the start to ensure a healthy life and good growth. Keep reading for tips about planting shrubs in your garden.

Some Shrubs for Seasonal Blooms
Spring
Summer
Fall

Want more gardening tips? Try visiting these links:

  • Gardening Tips: Learn great helpful hints for all of your gardening needs.
  • Annuals: Plant these beauties in your garden.
  • Perennials: Choose great plants that will return year after year.
  • Gardening: Discover how to garden.

Planting Shrubs in Your Garden

Take time to follow these simple steps before putting your new shrubs in the ground or in a container. A little bit of extra care will help your shrubs grow well.
  • Slice off circling or tangled roots before planting shrubs grown in containers. Potted shrubs fill the pot 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 loosen up matted roots. Releasing the healthy roots inside the root ball, planting the shrub in good soil, and keeping the area moist will encourage vigorous new root growth.

    Trimming off circling or tangled roots helps to release healthy roots inside the root ball.
    Trimming off circling or tangled roots helps to release healthy roots inside the root ball.


  • 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 privet.

    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 burrow out.

  • Thin out a third to 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 trims back shoots to balance root loss.

    When pruning, begin by removing old, weak, damaged, or crowded branches at their base. 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 your shrubs are in the ground and growing well, they won't need too much maintenance. Keep reading for tips about caring for your shrubs.


Want more gardening tips? Try visiting these links:
  • Gardening Tips: Learn great helpful hints for all of your gardening needs.
  • Annuals: Plant these beauties in your garden.
  • Perennials: Choose great plants that will return year after year.
  • Gardening: Discover how to garden.

Caring for Garden Shrubs

You can plant shrubs in the ground or in containers.
You can plant shrubs in the ground
or in containers.

Give your garden shrubs the extra attention they need, and they'll reward your efforts with vigorous growth.
  • 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-stemmed 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.

  • Wrap boxwood and other evergreen shrubs with burlap to prevent winter burn. When the soil is frozen, the sun is bright, and wind is strong, evergreens lose moisture from their exposed leaves and cannot replace it through frozen roots. The foliage scorches to brown and the stems may die back -- or even worse, the whole shrub may die.

    Burlap, although far from elegant, makes a neat 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.

  • 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.

Some Shrubs with Fragrant Flowers

Want more gardening tips? Try visiting these links:
  • Gardening Tips: Learn great helpful hints for all of your gardening needs.
  • Annuals: Plant these beauties in your garden.
  • Perennials: Choose great plants that will return year after year.
  • Gardening: Discover how to garden.