Shrubs are versatile. They can hide in the background while masking a home’s foundation, serve as a backdrop for showy perennials, or take center stage in a garden bed.
They come in a vast variety of sizes, colors, and shapes—and some welcome the pruning that can turn them into stylized forms.
They may remain permanently on view, or die back in the winter only to return with the warmer weather.
Whatever form they take, shrubs play a prominent role in any garden design and should be chosen with care. In addition to checking sun and watering requirements, you’ll need to take into consideration each plant’s final size, form, and look, and determine its purpose in the landscape. Fortunately, there are so many shrubs to choose from, you’re sure to find just the right ones for your yard.
You can find shrubs in all sizes, from a dwarf heath (Erica) that may only reach 6 inches high to a 20-foot-tall bottlebrush (Callistemon). Since most shrub purchases are made when the plant is still relatively small, be sure you know the plant’s predicted size (both in height and width) so that you will have sufficient room for it.
While shrubs can be pruned to keep them in-bounds, it’s a labor-intensive process that isn’t always a success. Plants do best if allowed to grow naturally, with pruning done just to keep them healthy and enhance their natural shape.
The exceptions to this rule are the plants that are often used for formal hedges. These plants do fine with more rigorous pruning; in fact, they often look best pruned rather than left to grow naturally. One of the most popular plants for hedges is the boxwood (Buxus), but any number of other choices will also work.
Some shrubs form compact, rounded balls, such as the mountain pieris (Pieris floribunda); others, such as the butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii), may be more loose and sprawling; still others may be more vertical, like some junipers (Juniperus). These distinct shapes can create a strong visual presence in your landscape, so place them with care.
Choose any color on the color wheel and you’ll likely find a shrub that will match it. When you think of colorful plants, flowering shrubs may be the first things that come to mind. But you can also find shrubs with colorful foliage and berries.
Roses are probably the most well known of the flowering shrubs, but you’ll find plenty of other shrubs that will provide color throughout the year, from lilacs in the spring to hydrangeas in summer and fall to forsythias for winter and early-spring bloom.
Shrubs that add color to the garden with their foliage include the yellow-spotted leaves of the gold dust plant (Aucuba japonica“Variegata”), the blues and greens of different hostas, the purple foliage of the aptly named purple hop bush (Dodonaea viscosa “Purpurea”), and the variegations of color on the leaves of the “Emerald ‘n Gold” euonymus (Euonymus fortunei).