Green Thumb – Sensational Shrubs for Your Garden

Posted: March 19, 2020

Between the worlds of large trees and smaller annuals and perennials, we often overlook the beautiful and diverse family of shrubs. These plants are capable of supplying seasonal garden interest from early spring all the way through the winter months. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular shrubs for your home landscape.

Forsythia heralds the arrival of the spring season every year with its bright, yellow blooms. This versatile plant now comes in a variety of sizes from 3’ to 10’ with multiple uses for your landscape. To increase flowering, plant it in full sun and immediately following bloom, remove at least one-third of the branches to the ground. Can’t wait for spring? Forsythia is the ideal plant for forcing inside. Stems from the plant can be picked and brought in during January.

Lilacs remain one of the most beloved of the flowering shrubs. With color choices of white, pink, lavender and purple and enhanced by its famous fragrance, lilacs are a great choice for spring. Lilacs of the ‘Boomerang’ cultivar series will now re-bloom intermittently in both the summer and the fall. To maintain lilacs, simply deadhead the blossoms after blooming.

As we ease into summer, we encounter one of Grandma’s favorite shrubs that is still immensely popular today. Spirea is a huge family of shrubs. ‘Bridalwreath’ and ‘Vanhoutte’ produce the familiar white, cascading variety. Minimum pruning immediately after bloom will produce new growth for next year’s flowers.

Hydrangeas are considered to be one of the major players for summer gardens. The large, abundant flowers make a dramatic statement. Morning sun and afternoon shade are recommended. Patience is the secret to successful hydrangeas as they may take a while to grow to their full potential.

Though less known, viburnums are a real asset to your home landscape. Presenting in a variety of colors, bloom shapes and sizes, they bloom from early summer to fall producing amazing flowers and interesting berries for the birds. Deadhead spent blossoms.

In the fall, we turn to foliage type shrubs as they light up our gardens with stunning autumn color. Shrubs to consider for fall foliage include, nine-bark, smoke bush, burning bush, barberry and Virginia sweetspire.

Winter interest can be accomplished by the use of red-twig dogwood and winterberry (holly) both of which offer bright red displays for the winter months.

In 2019, extremely low winter temperatures and the spring late snow events combined to cause severe damage to some of our shrubs especially burning bush and boxwood. This spring we will need to evaluate our shrubs to determine is they have recovered or will need to be replaced. Test your shrubs by scratching a stem to see if green tissue is present. Green means the stem is alive, and brown/tan means that the stem is dead. If replacement is necessary, hopefully some of the above mentioned shrubs will find a new home in your landscape. Shrubs can be a great addition to your existing landscape. With careful attention to the preferred location, necessary growing conditions and proper pruning techniques, these shrubs will reward you with years of sensational blooms, fall color and winter interest.

Barb Lindholm – University of Illinois Extension, DeKalb County Master Gardener


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