By Melanie Mathieson
The Gardening Guru
When planning a landscape or garden design, you should consider including a few shrubs. There are hundreds of shrub species, varieties, and forms available for our growing zone.
Shrubs are available in many shapes, sizes, and characteristics, as well as an array of leaf colours. Some shrubs are known for their foliage but others are known for their flowers and/or berries.
As you can see, the possibilities are endless. So depending on what you desire in your own design, there will be a shrub for you.
A shrub is defined as a woody plant that naturally branches at ground level, as opposed to a tree that has a definitive trunk. Shrubs also tend to be smaller than trees and have a shorter life span.
With the research and hybridization of plants today, you can find many shrub species that have been grafted to a single trunk so they take on more of a tree-like appearance.
Often these grafted shrubs look like topiaries.
There are many species like this available in regional nurseries that will grow well in our district (i.e., sand cherry, hydrangea, lilac, flowering almond, etc.)
Because there are endless species of shrubs with many different attributes to choose from, this column is intended to help you sort through the choices to help you decide what is best for your yard or garden.
First you must decide where you would like to place the shrub(s). Shrubs range in height from only a few inches (a groundcover) to many feet tall (up to 40 feet).
With the new hybrids available on the market, you also can get dwarf versions of shrubs that will grow to only a few to 10 feet tall, which normally would have been in the range of 25-40 feet tall.
These varieties are a great compromise when you are limited in space, or need a focal point in the middle of the garden or close to a building.
As well, check the reference tag or a book to see how wide a shrub will grow. Some species will grow wider than they grow tall, so you want to ensure you have ample space all around.
In general, however, the root system of a shrub is not as large and strong as trees, so shrubs can be placed closer to buildings without fear of damaging the foundation (always check the planting/spacing instructions on the tag before you plant just to make sure).
Shrubs work well in a garden dedicated just to shrubs, alone in the yard, or amongst perennials in a garden.
What features do you want the shrub to have?
Shrubs have leaf colours that range from bright yellow to deep purple or burgundy during the growing season. For instance, I have barberry with yellow leaves and ninebark, purple rain birch, Shubert chokecherry, and barberry with a dark purple/burgundy leaves in my garden in Thunder Bay.
Others (such as amur maple, cranberry, sumac, and burning bush) have green leaves during the growing season that turn brilliant red in the autumn. Some species with the coloured leaves also put on a spectacular autumn show.
Do some research beforehand to help you decide, as there often are species within the same family with different leaf colours. You even can find species with variegation or mottling on the leaves (I have dogwood and lilac shrubs with variegated leaves).
Some species of shrubs are trained or developed to maintain a specific shape. Some will maintain a globular form, others a cylindrical form.
Some species are grafted to have a single trunk and only upper branches, so they look like a topiary. Others are trimmed and trained to have certain shapes, such as spiral, non tree-like shapes (animal, etc.), or look like another species altogether.
Some species are not all that spectacular looking when in leaf, but have a fantastic shape and form in the winter months when the leaves have fallen (e.g., dogwoods, hazelnuts).
Some shrub varieties have weeping branches for added interest.
Almost all trees and shrubs produce flowers, but not all species have flowers that are pretty.
There are many shrub species with great showy flowers. Some bloom in the early spring (lilac; flowering cherry, almond, apple, and fruit shrub species; snowball and other Viburnum species; etc.) while other species flower in the late summer and early fall (like the hydrangea).
Flowers on the species listed above can range in size from about the size of your fist to almost the size of a dinner plate, and can be white to shades of pink.
If it is a flowering shrub that you desire, there are many choices. Some of the flowering shrubs produce edible berries for human or wildlife consumption.
If you desire berries for yourself or the birds, this can help you decide on the right shrub for your yard.
•Deciduous or evergreen
Shrubs come in both deciduous and evergreen species. Most of the deciduous species are broad-leafed, with the exception of tamarisk and tamarack shrub varieties, but many evergreen species exist with needles or broad leaves.
Examples of evergreen shrubs with needles are junipers, cedar, dwarf Alberta spruce, Mugopine, etc.
Some evergreen shrubs with broad leaves include boxwood (some are now for Zone 4), azaleas, rhododendrons, bearberry, bog rosemary, holly family, etc.
As you can see, there are a lot of decisions to make when choosing a shrub for your landscape.
This column provides a quick overview of what to consider, but taking some time to research the Internet or some good books will help you learn more about what shrubs have to offer and how they can enhance your landscape.