Uses for Landscape Shrubs

Information on How to Deploy Them to Maximum Effect in the Yard

Rhododendron bushes in an alpine scene, with lake and mountains in background.
Roberto Moiola/robertharding/Getty Images

There is great variety in landscape shrubs, both in terms of appearance and uses. Some of these bushes are compact, or even dwarfs. But others are tall enough virtually to be small trees and, in fact, may be just that in warm climates. Some lose their leaves in winter, while others are evergreen bushes (that is, shrubs that stay green all year). Yet there is variation even among the different evergreen types.

Uses for landscape shrubs include foundation plantings, formal hedges, informal privacy hedges, and specimen plants. This article mentions only a fraction of the desirable plants available; check out some additional recommendations here. Please use the links below to browse through more detailed articles (pictures included) and locate information on other beautiful bushes that may interest you.

Rose of Sharon and Informal Privacy Hedges

A popular use of landscape shrubs is to group them together along a property border to screen your yard from prying eyes. Rose of Sharon is just one of many landscape shrubs introduced in this article as useful for providing privacy. Don't feel like having to trim formal hedges? Discover how to group bushes into an informal hedge or "loose border," instead.

Landscape Shrubs as Specimen Plants: Mountain Laurel

Some homeowners fall in love with a particular plant and let it stand alone, as a specimen.

Mountain laurel can serve admirably as such a plant in late spring. Pictures of mountain laurel are provided, as well as information on growing the plant.

Pussy Willow, the Harbinger of Spring

Pussy willows are usually thought of as being wild plants, but don't let that stop you from using them as landscape shrubs.

In fact, varieties of pussy willow a bit fancier than the wild type are available at nurseries. For the observant, pussy willows have a prominent place in the cycle of the seasons. When these harbingers of spring unfurl their furry catkins, it means better weather is right around the corner.

Forsythia: Spring Triumphant

If pussy willow tells us of spring's imminence, then forsythia announces spring's unequivocal arrival. This profile of forsythia discusses the classification, characteristics and uses for this landscape shrub. Also learn about pruning forsythia -- the when, what and why. Among the uses of forsythia is a rather unusual one: by forcing its branches in early spring, you can enjoy its blooms prematurely.

Azaleas and Rhododendrons

Sometimes we speak of "flowering bushes" and "evergreen bushes" as if they were mutually exclusive. But such is not the case. A subset of the evergreen bushes is comprised of those classified as "broadleaf" evergreens, among which stand a popular choice in landscape shrubs for foundation plantings, the azaleas and rhododendrons. Not only can these shrubs stay green all year, but they also produce blooms.

The Butterfly Garden: Butterfly Bush

Landscape shrubs are not limited to looking pretty or serving practical functions.

Some attract wildlife, the sightings of which can be a great source of enjoyment for nature lovers. Enter butterfly bush, renowned for attracting those dainty winged friends, the butterflies.

Roses

Roses bloom so profusely that non-gardeners just think of them as "flowers," not making the connection that they are, in fact, landscape shrubs. Some rose varieties, however, are climbers, mimicking vines. The climbing roses are excellent choices for covering arbors.

As you continue to browse through the articles linked to from this page introducing shrub plants, there is a piece of landscaping advice that you ought to keep in mind. Namely, when making your selections, aim at creating year-round interest in the yard, rather than simply selecting a handful of varieties that you find to be the prettiest.

The rationale behind this landscaping advice is simple: If you make your selections based on beauty alone, you may end up with a great-looking yard in, say, the spring, but a rather plain-looking yard at other points of the year. Instead, try to stretch out your enjoyment over the course of the whole year.

Shrubs of Spring: Flowering Quince

While forsythia is one of the earliest bloomers in spring, it is also very common. Do you prefer to grow plants that no one else in your neighborhood grows? Then consider flowering quince. You will not encounter flowering quince in people's yards as much as forsythia. Flowering quince makes this Top 10 list for spring trees and shrubs, a list headed by dogwood.

Crape Myrtles: Trees in the South, Shrub Plants in the North

Crape myrtles are a popular tree choice for Southerners, with their long blooming period (mid-summer to fall). During the hot months of summer, when the blooms on many specimens have long been exhausted, crape myrtles continue to color the landscape. Northerners can sometimes get away with treating them as shrubs that die back in winter but come back in spring. In the latter case, their size will be limited (perhaps 4 feet tall), but you still get to enjoy their fantastic floral clusters.

Shrubs for Fall Foliage: Oakleaf Hydrangea

Spring and summer may come to mind at first when considering uses for shrub plants, but do not forget autumn. Oakleaf hydrangea is just one of the fall foliage standouts considered in this article.

Sumac for Fall Foliage Splendor

Like pussy willow, sumac is known best in the wild. But sumac's potential as a landscape shrub is underrated. Don't believe it? If you live in the Eastern U.S. or Canada, keep your eyes peeled this fall for the first wave of stunning foliage color. Most likely, that color is coming from sumac.

Red Osier Dogwood Provides Winter Cheer

Still more neglected than the use of shrub plants in autumn is their use in winter. Yet Northerners perhaps never have a greater need for their beauty than in winter, when the barrenness of the yard threatens depression.

The information in this article pertains to shrub plants that bring cheer to the winter yard, including, among many other varieties, red osier dogwood.

American Holly

Speaking of winter and bushes, American holly is certainly a classic component of the winter yard. This article on American holly discusses not only the evergreen's use as a shrub plant to bring winter joy, but also the reason why we have traditionally attached so much sentimental value to holly.

Winterberry Holly

Winterberry is a very different kind of holly from American holly. Valued mainly for the brilliance of its berry clusters, winterberry holly loses its leaves in winter. It is just as well: Who would want leaves obscuring these fantastic berries?

English Boxwood Shrubs

English boxwood is another evergreen that will bring life to the winter landscape, although, in colder climates, the foliage may turn a bronzy color. It is also a classic plant for formal landscape design, including in formal hedges.

Yews

But one can't conclude a series on shrubs for winter interest -- or, for that matter, an introduction to landscape shrubs in general -- without including at least one needle-bearing evergreen. Yews are among the most popular bushes in this category, due to their versatility.