11 Best Landscaping Shrubs

pink azaleas at a grand home
Jon Lovette/ Getty Images

It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of the role that shrubs play in home landscaping. Along with trees, shrubs are considered the "bones" of the landscape because they provide structure. But shrubs are more versatile than trees and can be planted in more areas. 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 the great number of selections available, beginners often need help choosing from among all of the different shrub varieties. For starters, you can narrow your options by focusing on easy-to-grow shrubs that can reliably thrive in your climate. All of the plants listed here are cold-hardy to at least USDA zone 5.

  • 01 of 11

    Pink Flowering Almond (Prunus glandulosa)

    Prunus glandulosa. Alba Plena. North Korea
    znm / Getty Images

    The pink flowering almond 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 fundamental benefits may outweigh this drawback: It grows quickly; it holds up well during dry periods; and it puts on a spectacular floral display in spring.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, well-drained soil
  • 02 of 11

    Stewartstonian Azalea (Rhododendron x Gable 'Stewartstonian')

    Azalea Stewartstonian
    Captain-tucker / Wikimedia Commons / CC By 3.0

    If you'd prefer a shrub that flowers more regularly, consider the red azalea bush known as the '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.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 8
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade
    • Soil Needs: Fertile, evenly moist, well-drained soil
  • 03 of 11

    North Pole Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis 'Art Boe')

    Emerald Green arborvitae shrubs growing in a loose hedge.
    DEA/RANDOM/De Agostini Picture Library/Getty Images

    The​ North Pole arborvitae 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.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 7
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part sun
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained, regularly watered soil
  • 04 of 11

    Common Lilacs (Syringa vulgaris)

    Lilac bush with purplish flowers.
    Michael Davis/Photolibrary/Getty Images

    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. 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.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 7
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Rich, well-drained, loamy soil
    Continue to 5 of 11 below.
  • 05 of 11

    Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)

    Oakleaf hydrangea
    Masahiro Nakano/a.collectionRF/ amana images/ Getty Images

    Oakleaf hydrangea 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 also bears large flower heads in summer. Even during the winter and spring, it is not without interest, due to its attractive peeling bark.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, well-drained, slightly acidic soil
  • 06 of 11

    Rose Bushes

    Roses on white fence
    Joanna McCarthy / Getty Images

    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 shrubs are the various types of rose bushes. The rose has been a favorite for centuries. Like lilac shrubs, rose 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 belief that roses are hard to grow. If this 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.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 11, depending on type
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained, slightly acidic soil
  • 07 of 11

    King's Gold, Cripps, and Gold Mops (Chamaecyparis pisifera)

    Background of a Chamaecyparis pisifera aurea falsecypress
    robcocquyt / Getty Images

    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 catches the eye. 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'.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Clay or silty or loamy well-drained soil
  • 08 of 11

    Doublefile Viburnum (Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum 'Mariesii')

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

    Classifying shrubs as deciduous or evergreen is not the only way to group them. Another characterization is based on what conditions the plants need: sun or shade. A standout shrub for a sunny spot is the doublefile viburnum. Its name says it all: The flowers line up in two rows along the branches. The resulting look is not only unusual, it's also quite showy.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 8
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained, loamy, slightly acidic soil
    Continue to 9 of 11 below.
  • 09 of 11

    Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia)

    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. Mountain laurel is another of the broadleaf evergreens, like rhododendrons and some kinds of azaleas.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade
    • Soil Needs: Cool, rich, well-drained, acidic soil
  • 10 of 11

    Red-Twig Dogwood (Cornus alba)

    Cornus stems - Dogwood
    gardendata / Getty Images

    Many shrubs are grown for their flowers, others for their foliage, and still others for multiple features. Red-twig dogwood is a bit different. As its common name suggests, 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, when its bark color is at its brightest, and when most other plants in the landscape are lacking in color.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, fertile, moist soil
  • 11 of 11

    Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus)

    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. In addition to 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 finished blooming, yet it is too early for the autumn colors displayed 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 they do not need to worry: New shoots will eventually appear.

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

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich soil