Landscapers favorite shrubs should be plants that earn their keep in the garden. They should be low-maintenance and reliably contribute year-round interest.
If a plant looks good for only one or two weeks, landscapers should be reluctant to use it and so should you. Well at least in any quantity.
As accent plants that are used in limited number, they may be OK. The classic example is the traditional lilac (Syringa vulgaris) with it’s wonderful fragrant Spring blooms, but after that it’s just a bush that gets powdery mildew. Forsythia is another example.
There are way too many shrubs that produce flowers just as nice as the forsythia in Spring, but ALSO have great summer foliage or fruit, Fall color change or a presence in the winter. Just think of witchhazels and dogwoods, for instance.
Landscapers favorite shrubs have multi-season interest
Taking a look at the shrubs that professional landscapers use in their installations, is a great way to help find plants that look great for longer periods of time.
If a landscaper creates designs that look like “hot garbage”, they are probably not going to get as much work as one that creates landscapes that look great year around.
Last post, I wrote about how I have found the various Hydrangea to be among the most used shrubs by landscapers in my Midwest landscape. To keep this post from becoming a small book, I am going to cover some of the most popular shrubs, the Viburnums in a future post.
Now lets talk about five of landscapers favorite shrubs in the Midwest. They are in alphabetical order by botanical name. None of these plants are natives to the US.
While I don’t love any of these plants myself, they are all tough plants that add more than a week or two of interest to your garden and are therefore recommended. Well, except for the 1st one!
Dwarf Burning Bush
Euonymus alatus ‘Compactus’
- Zone: 4 to 8
- Sun: Full sun to part shade
- Height: 9 to 11 feet (Not so compact is it?)
- Spread: 9 to 11 feet
This is certainly an impressive plant in the fall when it’s blazing red fall color lights up. It also is a sturdy tough grower that does not demand much care. It has also been a staple in landscaping for decades.
Unfortunately, it has been found to be an invasive plant that happens to have this habit of popping up where ever birds happen to deposit their seed.
I have recommended this plant in the past and even defended it as not being that invasive in my climate. Well, I have to say I was wrong. This is an invasive plant that should not be planted by landscapers or anybody else any more.
If you need to see alternatives, look at part 2 of 12 common invasive plants and natives to use instead.
The Knockout® Rose family
(Rosa ‘Radrazz’ and others)
- Zone: 5 to 9
- Sun: Full Sun to Part Shade
- Height: 3 to 4 feet
- Spread: 3 to 4 feet
The blooms of these shrub roses, which are 2 to 4 feet tall and wide, come from mid Spring well into Autumn. They can provide blooms for the majority of the year in warmer climates. From my experience the Double Knockout cultivars are preferred to the single flower cultivars.
These are great low care landscape plants that provides months of blooms. Recommended as long you are not in a zone too cold. My experience is they can have winter damage in zone 4, but will grow out of it most years.
Spiraea japonica of various cultivars
- Zone: 3 to 8
- Sun: Full Sun
- Height: 4 to 6 feet
- Spread: 5 to 7 feet
As an industry, Landscapers just can’t seem stop using spirea. The biggest reason is that they are tough low care plants. My first landscape design teacher saying they were so tough you prune them by running them over with a lawn mower. And, yes I actually have tried that!
Another reason they are still one of landscapers favorite shrubs is that they will repeat bloom if dead headed. A process best done by shearing with hedge trimmers right after bloom. A process that I did several times each year at Anderson Gardens.
A third reason Spirea are used is there are cultivars with yellow colored foliage. These include the ever popular ‘Goldmound’ and ‘Goldflame’. One nice thing about these cultivars is the reddish foliage when they first leaf out as well as in the Fall.
I personally think the pink blooms on the yellow foliage clash more then a little. Some people like the look.
For a pink flowered Spirea, I prefer the green leaf ‘Anthony Waterer’ with it’s non clashing foliage and deeper pink color.
Miss Kim Lilac
(Syringa pubescens subsp. patula ‘Miss Kim’)
- Zone: 3 to 8
- Sun: Full Sun
- Height: 4 to 9 feet
- Spread: 5 to 7 feet
Yep, I did start off this post bad mouthing lilacs for not being interesting except for that brief time they are in bloom. Apparently getting rid of the mildew problem, making them smaller, and giving them decent Fall color is enough to make this one of landscapers favorite shrubs.
This is a plant I am familiar with as it is used extensively at Anderson Japanese Gardens. I was not super impressed with it. It seems to be water needy and it’s Fall color never impressed me. It’s not my favorite choice, but is a better choice then traditional French lilacs for most landscapes.
Wine and Roses Weigela
Weigela florida ‘Alexandra’
- Zone: 4 to 8
- Sun: Full sun
- Height: 4 to 5 feet
- Spread: 4 to 6 feet
Weigela have always been nice Spring flowering shrubs. After blooming they are lackluster plants. Kind of like the Lilac and Forsythia discussed earlier.
This one is different, it offers vibrant rosy pink flowers held over deep wine-colored foliage. The purplish foliage lasts through the summer to provide a contrast with the greens of most plants. The flowers of this non native also attract hummingbirds.
This is a purple plant for the masses. It should be used with restraint as it’s color can overwhelm a scene. It is certainly a better choice than another commonly used purple leaf plant, the invasive barberry.
Landscapers favorite shrubs vary by region
Plants used definitely vary by region and climate. Some of the plants covered are just as good and used just as much in Georgia or Montana as they are here in Illinois. Some however are not. There are also plants that are used in Florida that don’t grow here.
So of course, consider looking at what landscapers favorite shrubs are in your area to find others that might work for yours.
I need a replacement for my Azela/hydrangeas. Morning sun to shade. I have too many spirea, so looking for alternative? Dappled willow do they come dwarf? Do they need full sun? Thanks
I do like the list of shrubs.
I planted a Miss Kim Lilac several years ago. It has grown quite a bit but does not produce blooms. One blossom last year and the year before and none this year. Is there something I could do to make it bloom? I have not cut it back as it was small when I planted it.
Thank you for any suggestions.
My guess is it does not get enough sun. Short of moving it or pruning whatever may be shading it, you could try some bloom fertilizer (high in phosphorus) which could help. Put it down now for helping form flower buds for next years blooms.
Helen Voris says
I am a home gardener who has made lot of mistakes, and I very much appreciate the wisdom in your newsletter. I also go for leaf color and texture rather than flowers (much as I love them) when deciding what to plant since I know I will be looking at leaves/needles and plant form for a much longer period of the year than flowers. Let me recommend to you “Fiesta Forsythia” which has a beautiful variegated leaf that is a joy to look at all season (it is of course deciduous so I don’t mean winter). I have grown it successfully in the Chicago area and here, where we now live, in western North Carolina, a short ways up a mountain. It likes full sun.
Thanks for the suggestion Helen. I’ll be on the lookout for it, it does look like an improvement over the species.