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Common Shrubs

Updated on January 13, 2013

Common Landscaping Shrubs

When filling the landscape, consider one of the popular common shrubs that have been used successfully in front and back yards for years. These traditional shrubs will fill a space nicely and are proven performers. They will be reliable shrubs and will also be easy to find in your local nursery or from any number of online shrub vendors.

It's great to mix some unique shrubs and plants into the landscape, since they can set your landscape apart. However, be sure to mix in some common bushes and shrubs as well. They will look fitting to the neighborhood, helping to tie the landscapes together, and will offer a familiar feel. When added with your less common choices, the landscape that you create will still be uniquely yours.

Here are the most common, and most reliable, shrubs to consider.

Evergreen shrubs like Juniper create a stunning backdrop for bright flowers like these Black-Eyed Susans.
Evergreen shrubs like Juniper create a stunning backdrop for bright flowers like these Black-Eyed Susans. | Source

Best Evergreen Shrubs for Landscaping

When filling a landscape with plants, it's important to include at least some mix of evergreen trees and shrubs for that constant green color throughout the year and in winter. Evergreen shrubs make a fantastic backdrop for perennial flowers and can create a traffic barrier or privacy screen where needed.

Arborvitae

The Arborvitae is perhaps the most popular small evergreen tree for landscaping. The main reason is that it grows rather quickly and creates a very good screen between your property and the neighbor's. There are many varieties that remain small that will fit in a tight spot.

One of the many offerings of "globe" Arborvitae works nicely if you are willing to prune it annually into a round shape. Golden Globe is one of the best, and can easily be kept to under 4 feet wide and tall.

Other small versions of Arborvitae worth a look include Danica and Hetz Midget. They remain dwarf and won't get too big for a small space. One thing that you need to know about Arborvitae is that the tree-style plants may grow very big. Even though small Arborvitae trees are often sold as "small trees", they may grow to 30 feet or more over time if not pruned, so read the label.

Juniper

Junipers are the classic low matting evergreen shrubs that you often see in a rock garden or near the front of the landscaping bed. While Juniper describes a group of shrubs and trees that grow from 3 inches high to more than 60 feet, when looking for shrubs you are looking for those that remain low to the ground.

The best thing about Juniper is that it grows low and in a thick mat, yet has outstanding color. Many varieties are icy blue in color or even golden streaked. These plants can really make a bold statement in the garden.

Blue Rug is a great option for color and a low growth habit, but there are so many it is worth just looking around to see what you find near you. Pay attention to not only the height but the spread of these low growing shrubs, because some of them will extend 6 feet or more.

Yew

Adding a few Yews to your landscape is a great idea. These evergreens are soft and will sway slightly in the breeze, and they usually have a deep green color, darker green that most other evergreens.

Yews are easy to grow but most do require an annual pruning to retain shape. Like Juniper, you will find Yew pants in every height from very dwarf to very big, so pick wisely to be sure you have the room.

Nigra is a great option for a sizable 6-8 foot shrub that will offer a rich backdrop for flowers and screen for privacy. Like other yews, it will do well in sun or shade, and likes to be pruned each spring.

Goldmound spirea looks great against a dark plant like Palace Purple Heuchera.
Goldmound spirea looks great against a dark plant like Palace Purple Heuchera. | Source

Excellent Shrubs With Color in Fall and Summer

When you want to add color throughout the growing season, there are some shrubs that are better than others. Among the best are Barberry and Spirea. Both offer stunning color that can really make a garden bed pop out.

Barberry

Barberry is used both for its compact and full growth habit as well as for its color.The best way to mix Barberry into the landscape is to use the deep burgundy shrubs or bright lime green or yellow shrubs in the family to add interest to the garden. This works really well if a plant with a contrasting color is planted next to them.

Favorites for the landscape include Crimson Pygmy Dwarf and Golden Nugget Dwarf. These are the most brilliant crimson and golden color, respectively, and both will remain small to medium-sized. You can find full-sized Barberry plants, but unless you have plenty of room, stick with the dwarfs and include them in plantings of 3 or more to make a statement.

Spirea

There is no doubt that Spirea is my favorite shrub in the landscape. What makes them so great is that they bring something interesting in spring, summer, and fall. While it's not true of all varieties, many come with colored leaves in spring, an explosion of blooms in summer that literally cover the plant, and striking fall color. Others are superb for all-season color from the leaves.

Those looking for the best of the best in a small but beautiful shrub should first look at Little Princess, Goldflame, and Goldmound. All will easily remain under 3-4 feet tall and wide with a quick pruning each year.

Little Princess is the choice for green summer foliage, but it will be so covered by pink flowers in summer that green will vanish for an extended period. Goldflame starts each spring with bronze leaves before they turn yellow. Summer flowers are pink, and in fall the leaves put on a show of orange and red - hence the name "flame". Goldmound is a striking option for planting next to burgundy plantings as it retains a golden color all season, turning more vibrant yellow in fall. Summer flowers are light pink.

Potentilla brightens up the landscape with cheerful flowers all summer long.
Potentilla brightens up the landscape with cheerful flowers all summer long. | Source

Great Small Flowering Bushes

Hydrangea

When it comes to finding a flowering shrub for shade, the Hydrangea ranks near the top of the list, and for good reason. This easy-to-grow plant does not require much sun, though at least partial sun is best to achieve more blooms. Without a doubt the favorite is Endless Summer, with its big pink or blue flowers. The bloom color depends on your soil and whether is it acidic or alkaline. Blue blooms are produced by acidic soil. For pink blooms, alkaline soil is required. Don't worry, if you really want to you can amend the soil and get the flower color you're looking for.

For areas of more shade, don't overlook Annabelle or Limelight. They offer a more neutral flower color, but are great producers, even under a tree.

Lilac

Of course everyone knows about the big old lilacs that we see around, but there is a huge new batch of these plants bred to grow much smaller. In fact, these petite lilacs will fit in a space unimaginable not that long ago. They also come with a wider range of flower color, ranging from white to pink to red to blue.

Among the most exciting small lilacs are Dwarf Korean and Miss Kim, though you will find dozens more. Dwarf Korean Lilac has the same purple blooms as the big huge shrubs, but in a neat rounded multi-stemmed plant. You will need to prune it, however, to keep it inside a 5 foot area. My favorite is Miss Kim, a truly dwarf lilac that has great summer color in a compact upright growth habit taking up less than half the space of the Dwarf Korean. The bonus with this bush is that you get superb purple or burgundy fall color - rare for a lilac bush.

Potentilla

When it comes to color in summer over a very long time, it's hard to beat a nice Potentilla. Most commonly seen with yellow, white, or pink flowers, this is a shrub that you can prune whenever you like and it will just keep growing. Plant in groups of 3 or more to get some fantastic color in the middle of the garden.

Dogwoods make a fine privacy screen and include pretty flowers in summer and the option of bright red stems in winter.
Dogwoods make a fine privacy screen and include pretty flowers in summer and the option of bright red stems in winter. | Source

What's your favorite on this list?

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Fast Growing Privacy Shrubs

Sometimes you are looking for a privacy shrub that will grow quickly, such as in new construction or when you have lost a favorite shrub.

Dogwood

For a quick fix to a bare spot that has the height to work as a screen, dogwood will do the trick. It grows like a weed, is pretty, and will not only bloom profusely in summer, but offers winter interest as well. There are varieties that are dwarf and those that grow 30 feet high, with everything in between. The favorite in shrub form is Red Twig, with it's fire engine red twigs that show off all winter - a dramatic contrast to white snow.

You need to know that Dogwood will grow and grow, so you will need to prune a fraction of the stems back each year to keep this one in shrub form, but it's an easy task. Retaining a perfect shape is really no big deal at all, and it's well worth it.

Plant a Classic Shrub

Don't feel like you need to search high and low to find a suitable shrub for your landscape. These common shrubs are likely sold at a nursery near you, and at a fair price to boot. Go ahead and work some of these classics into your garden this year.

Got Any Shrub Questions or Advice?

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    • Megan Machucho profile image

      Megan Machucho 

      12 months ago from Milwaukee, WI

      Great informative article!

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