10 Best Ornamental Shrubs for Your Yard

Have a Fantastic Bush to Enjoy in Each of the Four Seasons

Beautyberry shrub branch with purple berries.

DigiPub/Getty Images 

For a bush to qualify as one of the ten best ornamental shrubs, it must meet one of the following two criteria:

  • It offers multiseasonal interest.
  • It has one feature that's so breathtaking that it can get away with being a one-trick pony.

To narrow down your plant-selection choices further, take into account factors such as favorite flower colors or leaf colors, maintenance needs, and a bush's ability to attract wildlife to your property. Your goal should be to have at least one bush in the yard that excites you every season of the year.

  • 01 of 10

    Tree Peonies

    Reddish tree peony flower.

    Josie Elias/Getty Images 

    You may not notice much difference at first between tree peony (Paeonia suffruticosa) and its better-known, perennial relative (P. lactiflora), but what makes the former a shrub is that it has woody stems that stick around for the winter. But this fact doesn't make it a multiseasonal star (the stems aren't showy enough for that): It's all about the spring flowers with this plant.

    Suited to zones 4 to 8 (full sun to dappled shade), the bush has blooms as showy as any you'll find in Northern landscapes. It can get as large as 5 feet.

  • 02 of 10

    Holly

    Variegated holly with berries.
    Variegated holly.

    Dragan Todorovic/Getty Images

    As an evergreen, holly (Ilex) automatically meets the requirement of affording multiseasonal interest. But this storied shrub doesn't stop there. Some of the English types (I. aquifolium) have variegated leaves, although they are cold-hardy only as far north as zone 6.

    Holly's berries add color to the fall and winter landscapes. These berries also feed some of the wild birds that come to your yard, such as blue jays. An excellent producer of bright red berries is I. x meserveae Blue Princess (maximum 12-foot height, zones 5 to 8, full sun to partial shade).

  • 03 of 10

    Stewartstonian Azalea

    Stewartstonian azalea with its fall foliage.
    David Beaulieu

    Nominees for best ornamental shrub that flowers in April or early May are numerous. A case can be made for Forsythia, with its yellow flowers as welcoming as the spring sun. But many feel azaleas rule the roost at this time of year.

    Even if you feel this way, it can be difficult to decide on a type of azalea to grow because there are so many available. Rhododendron x Gable Stewartstonian (zones 5 to 8, partial shade, 4 to 5 feet tall) may well help you make up your mind if you're a lover of fall foliage: Its leaves turn a fabulous red in fall. This early-to-mid-spring bloomer also boasts red flowers

  • 04 of 10

    Rose of Sharon

    Blue Chiffon rose of Sharon in flower.
    Blue Chiffon rose of Sharon offers bluish flowers.

    David Beaulieu

    Hibiscus syriacus is invaluable as a shrub that blooms in late summer when floral color in your landscaping is starting to run out of steam. Blue Chiffon, with its lavender-blue flowers, is a commonly-grown type. This full-sun plant reaches 8 to 12 feet in height and is best grown in zones 5 to 8. 

     

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Oakleaf Hydrangea

    Oakleaf hydrangea bush with red color in its autumn leaves.

    Cora Niele/Getty Images

    Slow and steady wins the race in the case of this workhorse of the landscape. It doesn't necessarily wow you at any particular time of the year, but it gives you a reason to come out into the yard and admire it all four seasons of the year. The Ruby Slippers cultivar is compact at 3 to 4 feet tall. 

    It's an early-summer bloomer, at which time it offers big clusters of white flowers. By autumn, those flower heads pick up a tinge of pink. More importantly, Hydrangea quercifolia is one of the best fall-foliage shrubs. In winter and spring, with the leaves out of the way, you can appreciate its branches' interesting peeling park.

  • 06 of 10

    Summerific Perfect Storm Hibiscus

    The large bloom and dark-colored leaves of Summerific Perfect Storm hardy hibiscus.
    David Beaulieu

    Perfect Storm is a type of hardy hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos). It stands 3 feet tall, is suited to zones 5 to 9, and likes full sun. The plant could make this list for its jaw-dropping bloom, alone, a bi-colored (pink petals surrounding a red center) flower that's 7 to 8 inches in diameter; the addition of the rich color of its dark leaves makes it a no-brainer. Like rose of Sharon, it's also convenient that it's a late-summer bloomer.

  • 07 of 10

    Roses

    Candy Oh! Vivid red rose flowers in closeup.
    Candy Oh rose doesn't need much care. David Beaulieu

    Many gardeners will want to grow at least one kind of rose in the yard. Unless you're a green thumb, you might as well pick a rose that doesn't need a lot of care and blooms all summer. Enter Rosa Candy Oh, one of the best no-fuss roses. 

    Candy Oh (zones 4 to 9, full sun) sports reddish flowers on 3-to-4-foot stems. Just when you think it can't flower any more for you, it puts out even more blooms, all the while asking for very little maintenance. You can more or less ignore it until (unless) you feel it's getting too big, at which time you can prune it. But even pruning isn't the fussy operation we expect with most roses. 

  • 08 of 10

    Common Lilacs

    Lilacs blooming in purple against blue sky.

    Larisa Gamayunova/Getty Images 

    Syringa vulgaris is the classic lilac for North American yards. The flowers of this European native give you breathtaking fragrance, as well as breathtaking beauty, in late spring. These qualities compensate for its offering nothing of interest in the yard after blooming season is over.

    The kinds with purple flowers are especially beloved. The Wild River Double lilac is one cultivar with purple flowers (12 to 15 feet tall, zones 3 to 7, full sun to partial shade).

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Gardenia

    Gardenia plant in bloom.
    Mas042/Getty Images

    Gardeners in the South can grow the marvelous Gardenia jasminoides as a landscape shrub, since it's a zone-8-to-11 plant. Grow it in partial shade. The bush can become 8 feet tall, has pretty, dark-green foliage, and bears white blossoms that are some of the most sweetly-scented around.

  • 10 of 10

    Beautyberry

    Beautyberry shrub branch with purple berries.

    DigiPub/Getty Images 

    Beautyberry (Callicarpa) offers interest in only one season (fall), when its arching branches are laden with berries. But the stunning beauty of the berries makes it hard to argue against including this shrub (4 to 5 feet tall, zones 5 to 8, full sun to partial shade) on a list of the ten best ornamental shrubs. The unusual color of the berries makes it one of the most fun plants to grow in the yard.

Types of Shrubs and Their Many Uses

There are many types of shrubs, from the short to the tall and from the deciduous to the evergreen. The most highly ornamental ones won't always be what you're seeking. Sometimes, you'll need a bush for privacy, other times, for a formal hedge; still other times, you'll need tough shrubs for plantings in challenging areas of the landscape.