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Bushes - The Beautiful Workhorses

Updated on July 28, 2017
Juli Seyfried profile image

Juli has been gardening in her yard for 17 years. She has been growing houseplants for longer than that!

Limelight Hydrangea is a giant flower bouquet in summer.
Limelight Hydrangea is a giant flower bouquet in summer.

Workhorses of the yard. That’s how some people describe bushes. Often they're planted to solve a problem. But more than being hard working, it’s also a joy when your eyes discover them. Bushes serve a purpose and make us happy at the same time. Let's see how they do it.

Flowers and Leaves and Trunks

A flower's fragrance is seductive. The air smells so sweet. Where’s that coming from? Follow your nose and you could find the Korean Spice Bush with its light, spicy scented flowers - mmm. Or the strong, sweet perfumed blooms of the lilac bush. Yellow easy-care roses leave a light citrus tang in the air. Bushes are giant bouquets of fragrant flowers!

Many bushes have flowers that can be cut and brought inside to fill a vase. For example, the summer flowering hydrangeas are great for cutting and bringing indoors. And their flowers change colors as they fade while still on the bush, so there’s a variety of color to cut throughout the season. Experiment with cuttings from other flowering bushes. A trick to remember: cut stems long enough for the flowers to stay in the vase.

All-summer colorful leaves of Purple Leaf Sand Cherry.
All-summer colorful leaves of Purple Leaf Sand Cherry.

Leaves are also colorful. Some bushes like the Crimson Barberry begin the spring red or almost purple. Trim them back and the leaves are green. New growth quickly becomes red or almost purple for the summer. Purple Leaf Sand Cherry leaves are rust-colored in spring, purple in summer. Burning Bush is green all summer, becoming bright red in the fall, giving it its name.

Many leaves are aromatic. Bayberry leaves are part citrus, part spice if you brush by them or give them a hug. The sometimes pungent smell of Boxwood lets you know it’s not just a quiet green-all-year bush. Evergreen needles have their own deep smell too. Stronger in summer, they’re a pleasure to smell in winter – a reminder that bushes are alive even in a mostly leafless winter. Evergreens have their own ornaments: tiny cones or berries that are for show not eating unless you’re a bird. Their name says it all too. They’re green all year. The color may fade a little during winter, but count on seeing green every day.

Trunks and branches of deciduous bushes stand out in winter, with their leaves gone. Shapes revealed look graceful, statuesque, and artful. Red or Yellow Twig Dogwoods change trunk color in winter. The color really shows up in a grey winter landscape.

An evergreen, while its color may fade in winter, stays green all year. It's also a good place for spiders to make webs and catch some insects.
An evergreen, while its color may fade in winter, stays green all year. It's also a good place for spiders to make webs and catch some insects.

Green and Sustainable Side

Bushes take care of the earth. They clean the air of toxins. They help protect water runoff by bringing rainwater into the ground. Bushes support wildlife. Birds find shelter from predators in bushes. Thorns in some bushes may also give protection. Birds eat insects and berries from the bushes. After the leaves are gone, some bushes keep their colorful berries into winter, continuing to feed the birds.

Butterflies and bees are attracted to nectar in the flowers on bushes. Watch butterflies wander from flower to flower on a Rose of Sharon in bloom. Spice Bush leaves are food for the caterpillars of the spice-bush swallowtail butterfly. The praying mantis makes an ootheca - a small, hard egg case that overwinters in bushes. Their young emerge in late spring to feed on other insects in the summer garden.

Animals find shelter in bushes too. Hiding, sleeping without disturbance, and even building a nest on the ground underneath, like cottontail rabbits, supports wildlife. Berries provide some food.

Privet hedge marks the border of the yard and screens the street from view.
Privet hedge marks the border of the yard and screens the street from view.

Define a Space

Bushes define a space. They’re a living fence if you want to mark the border of your yard. Surround a special area such as a patio or play area with bushes - a sign that this space is reserved for relaxing and that one is for busy children. Like guides, bushes mark the entrance or exit to a path. Line a pathway and follow to a door, a gate, another area of the yard. Bushes make excellent screens for privacy. Evergreens are great for year-round screens.

Bayberry shades the side of the building and has a wonderful scent when brushing by.
Bayberry shades the side of the building and has a wonderful scent when brushing by.

High and Wide

Bushes grow to varying heights. Some can be as tall as small trees, some very low to the ground acting like a ground cover. The height can help screen or block a view and provide shade. On the south side of a house a row of deciduous bushes will keep the building cooler by blocking the hot summer sun. In winter when they lose their leaves, the heat from the winter sun helps keep the building warmer. The sun’s heat warms the side of the building. Bushes, especially evergreens, also protect the house by blocking the cold winter winds. These are some small ways to reduce heating/cooling energy use.

The width of bushes, once fully grown, cover a lot of space. Again, bushes act as screens. In addition to cooling what’s behind them, they cool what’s planted beneath. Many small shade loving plants grow well under the bushes' protective shade.


Flowers, leaf color and shape enhance a wall or fence behind bushes. Or bushes are the backdrop. Create a scene by placing a statue or yard ornament in front of bushes. Include small bushes or flowers in the scene. Many bushes have natural shapes that are architectural such as Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick - a living statue. Bushes can be pruned into all sorts of shapes – geometric, topiary, even animal shapes.

Commemorate an event, like a birthday, or a person with bushes. Bushes, if suited to your soil and climate, are also reminders of a place you’ve been. For example, a spring flowering bush that grew in the park where you first met a loved one, bought and planted in your yard, is a forever reminder of that time.

Bushes are multi-functional. They solve problems and they look good. So many reasons to enjoy these beautiful workhorses and plant a few in the yard!

More Information:

1) Location, location, location

The general rule of a "green thumb" is to plant the bush in the right place. It will thrive, making you a member of the "green thumb club," that is, a plant grower! The right place depends upon:

  • How much sun?
  • How much water does it need?
  • What type of soil does it grow best in?
  • How tall and wide will it grow?

Look at the plant's tag, ask a knowledgeable nursery person or check with the local cooperative extension service.

2) Native Plants

  • Using bushes native to the area where you live supports local insects and wildlife. They’re usually low maintenance once established because they’re used to the soil, temperatures and rainfall. Go online to find native bushes for your area:
  • Locate your local cooperative extension service and get a list of what is native for your area.

  • Ask if they know of a supplier, or
  • Search online “where to buy native bushes.”

© 2017 Juli Seyfried


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