Selecting the Best Shrubs for Landscaping

When it comes to landscaping, the choice of shrub depends on the job you hope to do with the plant. Shrubs selected to hide a foundation will vary from those ideal to block wind or to add a privacy screen to an area. The environment in which you plan to plant will also help narrow the list of options — depending on whether you need a shrub tolerant to wet or dry conditions, one requiring full sun or partial shade or needing a certain soil type. For some, the potential degree of maintenance necessary to keep the plants in good condition may be a big influence on the final decision.

To Shelter

Privet is a common all-around choice for hedges because the shrub is quite easy to grow. It is tolerant of all but exceptionally wet soils, growing in a range of pH levels and soil types. The University of Illinois Extension recommends privet, along with serviceberry and spirea for windy areas. Foundation plantings can enhance the visual appeal of a home, softening harsh lines. Evergreen options like mugo pine or boxwood offer foliage year-round, while plants like burning bush can provide a flashier appearance and interest during specific seasons. In the yard, redleaf barberry is an excellent selection for a spot where you wish to discourage traffic from humans or animals, but it is best used in locations away from where young children play, as the thorns can be a problem.

To Appeal to the Senses

Brighten your area late into the season with colorful foliage. Staghorn sumac and burning bush come in brilliant reds, while hybrid witchhazel offers unusual yellow foliage. For a display of large flowers, try Rose of Sharon, Manchurian lilac, mountain laurel, bigleaf hydrangea or five stamen tamarisk. Dwarf flowering almond produces flower heads in pink or white. Spirea has long clusters of tiny white flowers on delicately bending stems.

Fruit-bearing shrubs can attract wildlife or provide you with tasty additions for jellies and teas. Hawthorn and burning bush offer food for birds. Scarlet firethorn develops showy clusters of miniature fruits, as does cornelian cherry dogwood. Flowering quince produces masses of early red flowers, then large fruits, but also comes with sharp spiky spines. Maintenance is particularly an issue with fruiting shrubs, as dropped fruits can leave a sticky, slippery mess beneath the branches and attract stinging insects and hungry wildlife. If you prefer a fruiting shrub despite these issues, simply locate it away from well-traveled paths. This removes the hazard, and the shrub can still be a pleasure to the eye.

For Problem Areas

While dry soils are welcome spots for scarlet firethorn, mugo pine, Japanese barberry and spirea, wet soils are acceptable for elderberry, viburnum and bladdernut. Arrowwood viburnum, bayberry and hedge cottoneaster are just a few of the many salt-tolerant shrubs available for those living near the coast. For soils that are difficult because they lack aeration and tend to clump or become compacted, bayberry, chokeberry and elderberry are all good alternatives.

Virginia Cooperative Extension: Privet
Virginia Cooperative Extension: Shrubs-Functions, Planting, and Maintenance
University of Kentucky: Trees, Shrubs, and Vines that Attract Wildlife
University of Illinois Extension: Selecting Shrubs for Your Home

Virginia Cooperative Extension: Tree and Shrub Planting Guidelines
Virginia Cooperative Extension: Trees and Shrubs that Tolerate Saline Soils and Salt Spray Drift
Virginia Cooperative Extension: Trees and Shrubs for Acid Soils
Clemson University Extension: Fertilizing Trees & Shrubs
Purdue University Extension: Trees and Shrubs-Problems


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