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.
01 of 10
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.
02 of 10
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.
03 of 10
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 10Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10
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
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
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
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
10 of 10
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.
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.