How to Choose, Plant and Grow Flowering Shrubs
Photo by Lynn Coulter
You might not think of smoke bush as a flowering shrub since its fall foliage is so striking. But when its clusters of small, greenish flowers are covered in fuzzy pink or purplish hairs, they look like puffs of smoke and the shrub becomes a real standout.
Flowering shrubs are a versatile addition to any landscape. You can grow them as specimen plants, prune and shape them into hedges, or let them serve as a backdrop for annuals, perennials, vines and bulbs.
Some gardeners plant blooming shrubs to transition between a manicured lawn and a natural or wooded area, while others grow them to form a border around edible gardens.
Shrubs can provide privacy, offer food and habitat for wildlife or simply add beauty to your garden. Some peak in spring or summer with a burst of showy blooms, but if you choose carefully, you can find flowering shrubs that provide almost year-round interest.
Choosing Flowering Shrubs
Consider the growing conditions in your landscape before you go shopping, and read plant tags or labels to be sure the shrubs you want will thrive in your hardiness zone.
Also, select plants that require about the same amount of sunlight they’ll get in your landscape or garden, whether it’s full sun to shade or something in-between.
You’ll need to water most shrubs regularly for the first year after planting, if there’s insufficient rainfall, so also think about how far they’ll be planted from a source of water.
Soaker hoses and drip irrigation systems are efficient watering methods. But if you live in a dry, hot climate, or in any region that suffers from periods of drought, you may need shrubs that don’t need a lot of water. Drought tolerant, flowering shrubs include butterfly bush, abelia, and Hydrangea paniculatas such as ‘Bobo’ and ‘Limelight’, among others. Natives are also a good choice, as they have adapted over time to your climate and soil type.
While most flowering shrubs put on their most beautiful show in spring and summer, some bloom into fall, including reblooming azaleas, Blue Mist spirea, camellias, loropetalums and hydrangeas such as the ‘Endless Summer’ series.
By winter, there are fewer choices, although witch hazel, Leatherleaf mahonia, flowering quince, winter jasmine, Japanese pieris and daphne are among the late bloomers that help bridge the gap between seasons.
When you’re choosing a shrub, make sure you have enough room for it to reach its mature size or you’ll have pruning chores in your future. Research how and when to prune your particular plant; cutting back too much or at the wrong time can remove the next year’s flower buds.
For multi-season interest, pick shrubs that produce fruit after their flowers fade or those with brilliantly colored autumn foliage, stems or branches.
Planting Flowering Shrubs
When you bring your shrub home, water it thoroughly and dig a hole twice as big as its root ball and about as deep. Loosen the soil in the bottom of the hole, working in plenty of aged manure or compost, and remove any rocks, sticks or other debris.
Turn the pot over and tap on the bottom to loosen the shrub. Put it in the hole no deeper than it was previously growing.
If you’re planting a shrub that’s balled in burlap, leave the wrapping on when you place the root ball in the hole. The root ball should sit slightly above ground level. Position the shrub the way you want it, then take off the burlap.
Finish planting your container-grown or burlap-wrapped shrub by backfilling the hole. Use some extra soil to form a basin around it; this will help hold water around the root zone until it can soak into the soil.
Water thoroughly and deeply, and apply a few inches of mulch around the shrub, keeping it away from the stems. Mulch will help hold moisture in the ground and insulate the roots when and if the winter temperatures drop in your region.
Growing Flowering Shrubs
Remember to keep your shrub well and deeply watered during its first growing season, unless it’s a plant that prefers to stay on the dry side. Replenish the mulch as it packs down or begins to decompose.
Read about your plant to know when and how to fertilize and prune. With a little care, most flowering shrubs will ornament your garden or landscape for years to come.