Shrubs are the garden friends you've always dreamed of. Ever reliable, they ask little and give endlessly. These plants -- bigger than bed flowers and smaller than trees -- provide structure and year-round visual interest. They transform a backyard into a green, leafy haven without requiring the elbow room trees demand, and they create beauty without needing constant attention. Planted auspiciously, shrubs insulate your house in winter, cool it in summer, and create habitats for bees, butterflies, birds and other wildlife. Invite a few low-maintenance, high-impact shrubs into your garden, and you'll enjoy their many gifts all year round.
Holly Isn't Only for Christmas
The sprigs that deck your halls come from evergreen holly shrubs (Ilex spp.) that you can plant in your yard in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 through 10. All species offer shiny, brilliant-green leaves all year long, plus flowers followed by bright berries -- beloved by blackbirds -- in the fall. Some holly species, like American holly (Ilex opaca, USDA zones 5B through 9), grow into magnificent trees if left unpruned, but many -- like Japanese holly (Ilex crenata, USDA zones 6 through 9) stay in the shrub category even at full height.
Hydrangea Offers Form and Flowers
If your brain wants the practicality of shrubs but your heart longs for the glamor of showy flowers, consider 'Snowflake' oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia 'Snowflake'). Its large, attractive leaves resemble those grown by your oak tree, and like oak leaves, they turn colors in autumn. But its the flowers you'll fall for, long white panicles of double blossoms that blush pink as they mature. They cling to the bush into winter, a dramatic sight beside the shrub's exfoliating bark. Grow in USDA hardiness zones 5 through 9 in full sun, and expect a shrub some 6 feet tall and 8 feet wide.
Purple Smoke Bushes Light Up Your Garden
The leaves growing in on purple smoke bushes (Cotinus coggygria cvs.) in the springtime glow with a burgundy flame, but in fall they develop a burnished orange glow. The straight trunks of these bushes grow fast, and up to 15 feet tall, making them appropriate for borders and hedges. Plant this deciduous bush in full sun for best flowering in USDA zones 5 through 9.
‘Blue Star’ Juniper Offers True Blue Star Power
Here's a bush only 16 inches tall, but the true blue evergreen needles is a shrub diva. 'Blue Star' Juniper (Juniperus squamata 'Blue Star') grows in full sun or partial shade in USDA zones 4 though 9, spreading wide, to 36 inches, over time. The blue shade of the needles edges toward silver in winter and adds interesting texture to your borders and beds.
Barberry Shrubs Are Armed and Elegant
Like women in James Bond movies, Japanese and Korean barberry shrubs (Berberis thunbergii, zones 4 through 8; Berberis koreana, zones 3 through 8) arch gracefully in a corner, ready to rumble. These shrubs offer brilliant foliage, contrasting flowers and fruit beloved by wildlife. They also bear thorns sharp enough to do real damage to those pushing through, making them perfect shrubs for defensive hedges.
This Rose Knocks Your Socks Off
Four feet of shrub that never stops blooming, that's a Knock Out rose (Rosa 'Knock Out') for you. It doesn't matter what other rose shrubs you've tried, they won't bloom from spring into winter like Knock Out. Hardy in USDA zones 5 through 9, Knock Outs are virtually pest- and disease-free and require no pruning at all. Plant Knock Out roses in well-drained soil in full sun or light shade