Best Flowering Shrubs by Season

Top Bushes for All Year Round

Forsythia bush in bloom.
Forsythia is a symbol of spring. Arthur Tilley/Getty Images

Display value goes beyond mere blooms when it comes to determining what the best flowering shrubs are. Let's organize some of the top bushes for temperate regions by the season in which they offer the most display value. Many provide terrific fall color. In cold climates, any winter interest that they offer comes from the form or texture of their branches, placing a premium on plants with a contorted shape or interesting bark. 

Strive for year-round interest in the yard when you make your selections (rather than just an indiscriminate collection of plants) because, without such a focus, you could end up with a group of flowering shrubs that shine during the spring, say, but don't look like much for the rest of the year. We will begin, though, with bushes that put on a colorful display in spring.

Flowering Shrubs for Spring

It's easy to find flowering shrubs that sparkle during the spring season. Your main challenge may come simply from having to choose from all of the different types that bloom at this time:

The popularity and beauty of Forsythia place it at the front of the list of flowering shrubs that bloom in spring. Its bright yellow blooms in early spring are the light at the end of the tunnel, winter. If you like to force flowers, you can do so with forsythia even before spring arrives. But don't go crazy pruning this bush: It looks best when you largely leave it alone.

If you assembled a group of people with very little plant knowledge and asked them to name some types of flowering shrubs, rhododendrons and azaleas would be two of the names mentioned. That's how popular these beautiful bushes are. They are related, both being classified under the genus, Rhododendron. An added bonus is that some types bear evergreen foliage.

Lilacs are late-comers to the spring floral parade, but it's easy to forgive such fragrant plants for their tardiness. You haven't lived until you've opened the windows on a late spring evening to smell the aroma of the common lilac (Syringa vulgaris).

Although flowers will dominate your display in spring, you can also mix in some bushes that offer great spring foliage color. Spiraea japonica Gold Mound and Goldflame are two of the most popular. They bloom in early June, but it's the golden leaves that appear earlier in the season that you'll appreciate the most.

Stars of the Summer

If you live far enough south, mountain laurels (Kalmia latifolia) will bloom in spring, but, in places like New England (U.S.), their blooming marks the transition from spring to summer. In most regions where they are native, you'll find far more laurels out in the woods than you will in people's landscapes. But cultivated laurels do exist, such as Minuet laurels.

The Rosa genus is legendary for its beauty and its fragrance. Unhappily, its reputation also includes a severe knock against it. Many gardeners think roses are too hard to grow. But this broad-brush argument simply doesn't apply to all kinds of roses. Many are easy to grow

Blooming in the latter half of the summer is rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus), which isn't really a rose at all. The blossoms of rose of Sharon aren't as large as those on the hardy hibiscuses (Hibiscus moscheutos cultivars), to which they are related. But these flowering shrubs overwhelm you with the sheer number of their blossoms.

Shrubs for Autumn Splendor

Just because so-called "flowering shrubs" are grouped together due to their blooming displays earlier in the year, don't think that all members of this class are devoid of interest during the fall and winter. When we think of fall color, trees probably come to mind first. But there are many fall shrubs that give even the best fall foliage trees a run for their money, albeit on a smaller scale.

Arrowwood viburnum shrubs (Viburnum dentatum) produce white flowers in spring. But they contribute more autumn color to the yard than spring color. Arrowwoods bear not only attractive fall foliage but also bluish berries in clusters.

Fothergilla gardenii is commonly known as "bottlebrush shrub" because of the shape of its spring flowers. These blooms also have a pleasantly odd smell, which reminds you of licorice. But bottlebrush saves its best display for autumn, with its colorful fall foliage. It's not a bush with great name recognition, but, once gardeners grow it, they become sold on it.

Keep Your Yard Interesting in Winter

Finally, even winter, that Scrooge of the seasons for landscaping interest, is not without its shrub stars (in addition to the obvious choice, evergreens). Since, in winter, there will be neither flowers nor (by definition) foliage on deciduous shrubs, any visual interest they offer will have to come from elsewhere. Woody plants with peeling bark or unusual branching patterns can come into their own during this season.

Few shrubs can lay claim to an unusual branching pattern as confidently as Harry Lauder's walking stick (Corylus avellana Contorta). Not surprisingly, this winter shrub also goes by the names "corkscrew hazel" and "contorted filbert."

Oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia) sport a wonderful peeling bark that is revealed in winter when only the plants' branches remain. Oakleaf hydrangeas produce clusters of white flowers in summer, after which point the attention turns to their leaves. Their distinguishing characteristic is their oak-leaf-shaped, leathery leaves, which turn purple, orangey-bronze, or red in fall.