11 Best Landscaping Plants You Should Know About

Some of the best landscaping plants are hardly household names. They tend to fly under the radar, unlike plants that even non-gardeners have heard of, such as shamrocks or roses. Yet these plants are just as effective at bringing beauty and interest to a garden. Here are 11 of the best landscaping plants that don't enjoy widespread fame. Selections were made based on variety (perennials, vines, bushes, and trees are all represented) and seasonal interest.

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  • 01 of 11

    Adonis (Adonis vernalis)

    bright yellow adonis flowers

    bksrus/Getty Images

    You might think "tulips" and not "Adonis" when you hear talk of spring flowers, but Adonis is no ugly duckling. And Adonis vernalis owns bragging rights over the tulip in one area: This perennial blooms much earlier in spring. Indeed, its cheerful yellow flowers are one of the true heralds of the season. Adonis prefers sunlight, but this generally isn't a problem because it flowers before the deciduous trees leaf out and begin casting shade. Water it regularly as it grows to maintain a moderate amount of moisture in the soil. 

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 7
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Average, medium moisture, well-draining
  • 02 of 11

    Lenten Rose (Helleborus orientalis)

    Dark purple-flowered hellebore (Helleborus x hybridus)

    Joshua McCullough/Getty Images

    Nearly everyone has heard of roses, but fewer people know about the lenten rose. In fact, the lenten rose isn't a rose at all; it's a hellebore. However, its cup-shaped flowers appear rose-like, growing in clusters of one to four per stem. The flowers range in color from whites to pinks and purples. The plant blooms early in the spring and can continue producing flowers for eight to 10 weeks. Provide regular waterings to keep the soil moist, especially during periods of hot and dry weather. A balanced fertilizer in the early spring might be necessary, especially if you have poor soil.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-draining
  • 03 of 11

    Crown Imperial (Fritillaria imperialis)

    Crown imperials (Fritillaria imperialis), Baden-Württemberg, Germany, Europe

    Wilfried Wirth/Getty Images

    Crown imperials can be quite the dramatic addition to your garden. This spring bulb doesn't take a backseat to tulips in terms of showiness. Each bulb produces a thick stem that can grow roughly 3 to 4 feet tall. Lance-shaped leaves cover the lower stem. And on top are brilliant orange, red, or yellow drooping flowers. Fair warning: Although the plant is beautiful, it tends to have a skunk-like odor. Maintain a moderate amount of moisture in the soil through watering and rainfall. And give your plant some afternoon shade if the weather is particularly warm.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 8
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, medium moisture
  • 04 of 11

    Hardy Kiwi Vine (Actinidia kolomikta)

    Actinidia kolomikta

    je_wyer/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    These kiwi vines don't produce the fruit you'll find in the produce section. Instead, they're the hardier cousin of that plant and typically grown for the beauty of their variegated (multicolored) leaves. These woody vines grow 15 to 20 feet tall with a 6- to 10-foot spread. Tiny white flowers bloom in the spring, though they’re often overshadowed by the foliage. Water regularly to keep the soil moist as the plant grows. Mature plants typically don’t need extra watering beyond rainfall unless you live in a dry climate. Fertilizer also usually isn’t necessary, though a light layer of compost can be beneficial. 

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Average, medium moisture, well-draining
    Continue to 5 of 11 below.
  • 05 of 11

    Golden Chain Tree (Laburnum × watereri)

    golden chain trees in an archway

    Richard Klune/Getty Images

    Golden chain trees are showy only in the spring, but they make up for it by lighting up the whole yard with their yellow flowers. These plants reach between 15 to 30 feet in both height and spread. They do best in moderate climates and prefer a protected planting site for the parts of their growing zone that have cold winters. You can grow golden chain trees as small specimen trees or large shrubs. They also can be trained on arbors and pergolas. Usually rainfall is enough for this plant unless you’re in a dry climate. But it can benefit from a layer of compost in the spring. 

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 7
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, medium moisture, well-draining
  • 06 of 11

    'Golden Shadows' Pagoda Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia 'Golden Shadows')

    Golden Shadows pagoda dogwood leaves in spring
    David Beaulieu

    'Golden Shadows' pagoda dogwood offers multi-season interest, but its foliage is particularly showy in the spring and fall. In between, its interesting branching structure is a plus. The plant features small yellow-white flowers in late spring, which turn to dark blue fruits in the summer. Use it as a specimen planting, or group it to create a shrub border. Water the plant weekly when there is no rainfall. Typically fertilizer isn’t necessary, though a layer of mulch or compost can be helpful.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 7
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, acidic, medium moisture, well-draining
  • 07 of 11

    Oak Leaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)

    Oak leaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)

    Cora Niele/Getty Images

    As a general class, hydrangeas are known for being one of the best landscaping plants for summer. But for four-season interest, it's hard to beat the oak leaf hydrangea. This shrub grows to around 4 to 6 feet tall and features white flowers in the early summer, along with oak-like, bright green leaves. Plus, its foliage turns to brilliant reds, oranges, and purples in the fall. These plants have moderate water needs, and watering should increase with the amount of sunlight they get. In warmer climates, they prefer some afternoon shade. 

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, medium moisture, well-draining
  • 08 of 11

    Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica)

    Virginia Sweetspire

    Fotosearch/Getty Images

    Virginia sweetspire is another bush that has the potential to be a fall foliage standout with its leaves turning to red, orange, and gold. For optimal fall color, grow this landscaping plant in full sun. Water young plants regularly to maintain consistent moisture, and then taper back to weekly for mature plants. Use a balanced granular fertilizer each spring to provide essential nutrients. Some people use Virginia sweetspire as a substitute for another star of fall: the burning bush (Euonymus alata). The latter is often avoided in North America because it has become an invasive plant.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Average, medium to wet, well-draining
    Continue to 9 of 11 below.
  • 09 of 11

    Korean Spice Viburnum (Viburnum carlesii)

    Viburnum carlesii 'Aurora'

    Wouter Hagens/Wikimedia Commons

    Korean spice viburnum also features good fall color with leaves ranging from red to purple. A related bush that can make the same claim is arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum). But there's another reason to include Korean spice viburnum in your garden: the pleasant fragrance of its white flowers that bloom in the spring. These plants like even moisture in the soil, so a regular watering schedule is typically necessary. Feed with a slow-release tree and shrub fertilizer in the spring. 

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 7
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Average, medium moisture, well-draining
  • 10 of 11

    Purple Beautyberry Bush (Callicarpa americana)

    Purple Beautyberry Bush

    Feifei Cui-Paoluzzo/Getty Images

    Instead of supplying fall interest via leaf color, the aptly named purple beautyberry bush does the job through its berries. This bush works well when landscaping for small spaces. You can cut it down to the ground each spring to minimize its size and generate new growth without harming the plant or interrupting its berry production. Water regularly to provide even soil moisture. Fertilizer isn’t necessary, but a light layer of compost can be beneficial. 

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 8
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist
  • 11 of 11

    Contorted Hazelnut Bush (Corylus avellana 'Contorta')

    corylus hazelnut bush

    ingwio/Getty Images

    The contorted hazelnut bush is a must-have for the winter yard. Also known as Harry Lauder's walking stick, this bush is at its best in winter when its leaves no longer mask the intricate twists and turns of its branching pattern. The bush grows to around 8 to 10 feet in height and spread. Many gardeners give it a prominent spot in their yard, such as along a walkway or near a patio, so they’re able to admire the branches up close. Water weekly during the growing season, but don’t allow the plant to sit in soggy soil. Usually no fertilizer is required unless your soil is deficient in nutrients. 

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-draining