11 Best Landscaping Shrubs

Lilac bush with purplish flowers.
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    Which Shrub is Right for Your Landscape?

    pink azaleas at a grand home
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    It would be difficult to over-estimate the importance of the role that landscaping shrubs play in the homeowner's yard. Along with trees, they have often been called the "bones" of the landscape, because they furnish structure. But, unlike many trees, shrubs will generally not take up too much space in your yard. They are also not as difficult to transplant, should you change your mind at some point regarding just what the structure of your yard should be.

    The problem is, with a great number of selections available, beginners often need help choosing between all of the different varieties. What are the best landscaping shrubs for you, personally, to grow? Read on and get inspired.

    Note: All of the plants discussed in this article are cold-hardy to at least USDA zone 5.

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    Pink Flowering Almond

    Prunus glandulosa. Alba Plena. North Korea
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    The pink flowering almond (Prunus glandulosa) is a beautiful option, but the argument against this shrub is that it is a one-hit wonder, giving you color only in spring. Once its spring flowers drop off, the bush has little to offer. But its benefits may outweigh this drawback:

    • It grows quickly.
    • It holds up well during dry periods.
    • It puts on a spectacular floral display in spring.
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    Stewartstonian Azalea

    Azalea Stewartstonian
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    If you'd prefer a shrub that flowers more regularly, consider the red azalea bush known as the 'Stewartstonian" (Rhododendron x Gable 'Stewartstonian'). Because this bush is an evergreen, it has something to offer (namely, foliage) even outside of its prime-time periods. It is at its best both in spring, when it flowers and in fall, when its leaves turn reddish.

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    North Pole Arborvitae

    Emerald Green arborvitae shrubs growing in a loose hedge.
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    The​ North Pole arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis 'Art Boe') is both drought-tolerant and fast-growing, which adds to its appeal. This is a tough, evergreen shrub that holds up well to road salt and dry conditions. It is not even especially bothered by poor soil. Plant several in a row if you desire a privacy screen.

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    Common Lilacs

    Lilac bush with purplish flowers.
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    Some shrubs have one special quality that sets them apart. They may not give you multi-season interest, but this special quality makes them must-haves. One such plant is the common lilac bush (Syringa vulgaris). What makes it so special? The smell given off by its blooms is the closest thing to a superpower that you will find in the plant world. If fragrant flowers are not enough to convince you to grow a bush that offers nothing outside of spring, here is another selling point for the plant: The flowers that it puts out in spring are pleasing to the eye, as well.

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  • 06 of 12

    Oakleaf Hydrangea

    Oakleaf hydrangea
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    Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) may be the ultimate four-season shrub. It is at its peak in fall, when it gives even the best of the fall-foliage trees a run for their money. It bears large flower heads in summer. Even during the winter and spring, it is not without interest, due to its interesting peeling bark.

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    Rose Bushes

    Roses on white fence
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    There are all sorts of ways to categorize the different varieties of shrubs. The most basic groupings are:

    •  The deciduous shrubs, which are known for their flowers.
    • The evergreen shrubs (note that some of these bear pretty flowers, too).

    Among the best deciduous kinds are the various types of rose bushes. The rose has been a favorite for centuries. Like lilac shrubs, its flowers often combine good looks with a great smell. The only thing that has kept even more gardeners from growing this popular shrub is the thought that roses are hard to grow. If this thought has stopped you from growing rose bushes, rest assured that some types of roses that are easy to grow are now widely available at nurseries.

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  • 08 of 12

    King's Gold, Cripps, and Gold Mops

    Background of a Chamaecyparis pisifera aurea falsecypress
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    The evergreen group of shrubs is actually divided into two sub-groups:

    • The needled evergreens.
    • The broadleaf evergreens.

    An interesting fact about evergreens is that their leaves are not always green in color. Chances are that you have seen King's Gold, Cripps, Gold Mops or similar shrubs with golden foliage on other people's properties. If you are a beginner at gardening, you may not have known the name of what you were seeing, but they are very popular. And for good reason, as their golden foliage really shows up. This color also combines well with shrubs of just about any other color, including Blue Star juniper (Juniperus squamata 'Blue Star') and red barberry shrubs (Berberis thunbergii) such as 'Crimson Pygmy.'

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    Doublefile Viburnum

    Doublefile viburnum (Viburnum Plicatum) flower and leaves top view
    Viktor Wallon-Hars / Getty Images

    But there are many other classification schemes possible for these landscape workhorses, besides just the deciduous and evergreen types of shrubs. One is based on what conditions the plants need: sun or shade. A standout shrub for a sunny spot is the doublefile viburnum (Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum 'Mariesii'). Its name says it all: The flowers line up in two rows along the branches. The resulting look is not only unusual, but also quite showy.

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    Mountain Laurel

    Mountain laurel shrub with pink flowers (Kalmia latifolia 'clementine churchill').
    Paul Tomlins/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images

    There are also shrubs meant to be grown in shady areas. One of the best is mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia). Mountain laurel is another of the broadleaf evergreens, like rhododendrons and some kinds of azaleas.

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    Red-Twig Dogwood

    Cornus stems - Dogwood
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    We have seen shrubs grown for their flowers, others for their foliage, and still others for multiple features. Red-twig dogwood (Cornus alba) is a bit different. As its common name reveals, it is valued for the color of its bark. As a bonus, the 'Elegantissima' cultivar sports bicolored leaves (green with white edges). This shrub has the most to contribute to the landscape in late winter. Its bark color is at its brightest during this time. That is most convenient​holds since it is exactly at this time that the landscape is most lacking in shrub color.

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    Rose of Sharon

    Rose of Sharon shrub sporting pink flowers with red centers.
    Masahiro Nakano / Getty Images

    Another possible way to organize the varieties of landscaping shrubs is to focus on the time of bloom and/or which season they are valued for. As was just mentioned, red-twig dogwood is a great shrub for winter. Another challenging time of year in the landscape is late summer. Why? Because it is an in-between season. That is, most of the flowering shrubs are already done blooming by then. Yet it is too early for the autumn color given by the top shrubs for fall foliage. You need something in late summer to bridge the gap. Two of your best choices actually belong to the same genus, despite being very different-looking plants:

    Rose of Sharon is the taller of the two. In fact, many mistakenly call it a "tree." By contrast, H. moscheutos is barely a shrub. It dies back to ground level in winter, the way your perennials do. And it takes its sweet time about popping back up out of the ground again in spring. Many beginners panic and think it is dead, but do not worry: New shoots will eventually appear.

    Both shrubs are late-summer bloomers that help you distribute color in your landscape throughout the year.