April is a good time to plant new shrubs. Shrubs, along with trees can increase the value of your property and make it more attractive. Their beauty begins with spring and summer blooms followed by lush foliage and autumn color. The variety of forms and textures add interest to the landscape.
Shrubs may be used to screen views, soften hard edges, enclose spaces and visually connect the home to the ground. Many shrubs attract wildlife with berries and shelter. There are shrubs for both sun and shade.
Shrubs need not be just a dust ruffle around the house foundation. Grouping them together in a bed is beneficial for the shrubs and the gardener. If they share a bed, they have more root space than if individual holes are dug. A group tends to form its own microclimate with greater humidity, wind reduction and shading of roots. They are safer from the nicks and cuts of the lawn mower. It is less work to prepare one good-sized bed than to dig individual holes for the same number of shrubs. Maintenance, including weeding, watering and fertilizing is more efficient.
When planting a group of shrubs, they should complement each other and have unique characteristics. The group should have interest at all times of the year. Those that are not at their peak beauty at a particular time can fade into the background while other shrubs show off. Spring or early summer is usually the showiest period with pretty blossoms. However, some shrubs bloom later in summer and some have attractive features in fall and winter, like colorful fruits or bark, showy fall foliage and striking branch patterns.
Shrubs come in many sizes and shapes and are deciduous or evergreen. Care needs to be taken in their selection, as you do not want them to overgrow their space or look too small in it. Remember that different cultivars of a certain species can have quite a range of sizes. Most shrubs need some pruning each year, but if you have to do too much they lose their natural form and possibly their blooms.
In addition to blossom color, the foliage itself can be colorful. Yellow foliage can be tricky as it may add brightness, but then again it may look sickly or chlorotic. Many spirea cultivars, such as 'Goldmound,' 'Goldflame,' 'Golden Princess' or 'Magic Carpet' are yellow or reddish orange. Golden Mock Orange, 'Dart's Gold' ninebark and 'Southerland Gold Elderberry' are medium to tall hardy shrubs.
Shrubs with red or purple foliage should be planted in full sun to show their best colors. Barberries like 'Crimson Pigmy' or 'Burgundy Carousel' have red or purple foliage, but they are subject to winter dieback. Purple leaf 'Royal Purple' Smokebush is a beautiful large shrub which is also prone to dieback. However, after being cut to the ground it will grow again to 3 or 4 feet in a season. The ninebark 'Diabolo' wants to bolt to 8 feet and must be pruned to keep it smaller. 'Wine and Roses' Weigela has pink flowers and burgundy foliage and the cultivars 'Rumba' and 'Tango' may be hardier. The purple leafed sand cherry (Prunis x cistena) is popular but short lived
Add some highlights with a variegated shrub like 'Ivory Halo' Dogwood. It is a green and white variety with a full compact form growing to 5 feet.
The first shrub to bloom in spring is the Forsythia; however it may not bloom every year as late frosts kill the flower buds. The cultivars 'Meadowlark' and 'Northern Sun' are the hardiest. Lilacs, Bridal Wreath spireas, Nanking Cherries and Honeysuckle follow in late spring and shrub roses peak in June. Spireas such as 'Anthony Waterer' and 'Little Princess' bloom in summer along with Potentillas. Potentillas are extremely hardy and come in white and pink as well as the yellow varieties. Cut them back hard each spring.
The American Cranberry (Viburnum trilobum) is tops in providing food for birds and brightening up a winter landscape. Its large white flowers in spring leave behind bunches of decorative red berries. The variety 'Wentworth' is very colorful if you don't prune it too hard. Winged Euonymus or Burning Bush is a large shrub with spectacular fall color and the interesting winter feature of 'corky wings.' It can be grown in sun or shade, but has its best color in sun. Do not plant Euonymus alatus 'compacta' as it is not hardy in our area. Add winter color with 'Flame' willow, a large shrub with brilliant orange branches, and red or yellow twigged dogwoods.
It is best to look for northern grown shrubs because of their known hardiness. It may still be possible to purchase bare root plants, but they should be fully dormant when you plant them. It is also desirable to plant container-grown shrubs when they are dormant. The idea is to get the roots a good chance to grow before the energy goes to top growth.
Breitling is a longtime West Fargo resident and avid gardener always in search of new ideas.