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The Complete Guide to Shrubs and Hedges

Many factors play into designing the landscape of your home. From climate to lot size to Home Owners' Association restrictions, designing a beautiful garden can seem overwhelming. To make the challenge less daunting, look at your space and assess its strengths and weaknesses. Does your garden slope? Is it shady or sunny? How's the soil? Is drainage an issue? By first looking at the site, you can select plants that will thrive in your garden.

Whatever your needs, our vast collection of shrubs can help solve your garden challenges and create a lovely, peaceful oasis that adds curb appeal and value to your home.

The Top Shrub Varieties

Your choice of shrubs depends on your garden's characteristics and needs. Are you looking to create a privacy hedge to block the view of your neighbor's garage? Are you seeking a little aromatherapy next to your deck? Do you need a burst of bright spring color, or does your landscape lack winter interest? Whether you crave roses for bouquets or reminisce about the lilacs in your grandmother's garden, we offer perfect plant specimens to complete your landscape.

When deciding which shrubs to add to your garden, you'll find both deciduous and evergreen shrubs. Most gardens need a marriage of the two, with a hedge of evergreen boxwoods surrounding blooming rose bushes, for instance. Each type of shrub also comes in a wide array of varieties, sizes, and bloom colors. Before you buy, examine your space in the garden. Also, look carefully at the plant information. Some families of shrubs contain multiple cultivars that are evergreen or deciduous, such as barberries.

With thousands of shrubs available, the options can overwhelm. Here are a few of the best performers and top sellers:

Evergreen Shrubs

Encore® Azaleas offer a full year of interest, with a fantastic burst of blooms both in spring and fall. While the flowers offer spectacular color, the foliage provides seasonal interest, adding color and texture to the garden throughout the year. The ‘Autumn' series is a best seller: ‘Autumn Royalty,' ‘Autumn Angel,' ‘Autumn Bells,' and ‘Autumn Debutante.' 4-5' height, 4-5' width, zone 6-10.

Who doesn't love the scent of old-fashioned gardenias? Now, breeders have introduced new varieties that tolerate those late spring frosts that can kill buds. Frost Proof gardenia is unaffected by cold snaps and thrives on neglect. It's highly adaptable to all types of soil, performs well in sun or partial shade, resists insects and disease, and even is deer-proof. It's such a fabulous performer that it won the Garden Writers Award for Best Plant in 2007. Its compact size works well as a short hedge or as a specimen in the garden. 3-4' height, 3-4' width, zones 7-10. ‘Kleim's Hardy' gardenia is the most cold tolerant variety on the market, ensuring you'll have many blooms to enjoy regardless of frost. Plant these beauties near a porch or entranceway to enjoy the delicious fragrance. 2-3' height, 2-3' width, zones 7-11.

Just as the garden winds down for the season and blooms fade, camellias save the day with brilliant blooms and lush foliage. ‘Yuletide' bursts into bloom in September and provides four months of flowers to add color to drab fall days. 8-10' height, 6-8' width, zone 7-9. ‘Kramers' Supreme' waits until winter to put on a show of spectacular, fragrant 5-inch blooms. Perfect as a flowering hedge or shaped into a topiary, the camellia also adds elegance to indoor floral arrangements, with its rose-like flower and glossy foliage. 6-8' height, 6-8' width, zone 7-10.

For the tea lover, Camellia sinesis allows you to grow your own black or green tea. Not only is it a lovely plant with small white flowers in winter, it serves a dual benefit of beauty and practicality—with a few snips, tea leaves are harvested and ready for the kettle. 10-15' height, 10-15' width, zone 4-11 (potted), 7-11 (in ground).

Fabulous spring blooms of rhododendrons bring your garden to life. We offer specimens in lavender, red, and white, with sizes ranging from 3' to 8'. Zone 3-8.

Tea Olive
The fragrance of Tea Olives belongs in your garden. The evergreen foliage offers practical use in hedges, but the scent is sublime. One of the most popular shrubs in the southern garden. 10' height, 6-8' width, zone 7-9.

The classic evergreen hedge for gardens. Used both in formal landscapes to highlight features, such as sculptures or fountains, or as individual plantings in perennial beds to add texture and color. ‘Dwarf English' boxwood is slow growing, with the added benefit of being pest and deer resistant. It's perfect for formal knot gardens. 2-3' height, 2-3' width, zone 5-8. ‘Wintergreen' boxwood is ideal for borders and hedges. 2-4' height, 3-5' width, zone 5-8. ‘Green Velvet' offers fragrant spring blooms, a rarity in boxwoods. Excellent foundation planting, as well as practical for hedges and borders. 4-6' height, 3-5' width, zone 4-9.

Barberry (evergreen in southern zones)
For easy, no maintenance plantings, barberry is the ideal shrub. ‘Crimson Pygmy' offers dark red foliage with yellow flowers in spring, followed by purple berries that turn red in winter. Pest, disease, and drought resistant, the shrub provides food and shelter for birds. 2-3' height, 2-3' width, zone 4-8.

Deciduous (some shrubs remain evergreen in southern zones):

A perfect multipurpose plant in the garden, hydrangeas offer architectural interest, beautiful blooms, and fabulous foliage. ‘Endless Summer' changed the game with hydrangeas. No longer is frost a concern. These plants are cold hardy, while performing well in extreme heat. Their 8-10-inch blooms last six months, changing color depending on the soil's pH, and blooming on new growth. Because the plant blooms on new growth, a late spring freeze no longer means a summer without blooms. 3-4' height, 3-4' width, zone 4-9. ‘Vanilla Strawberry,' with its white, cone-shaped blooms that mature to blush then age to strawberry red, was selected as the top plant in 2010 by the American Nursery and Landscape Association. The flowers make excellent additions to bouquets. 4-6' height, 4-6' width, zone 4-8.

The fragrance of lilacs adds old-world charm to the garden. Now, southerners can enjoy lilacs with ‘Miss Kim,' a heat-tolerant variety. 6-8' height, 5-7' width, zone 3-8.

Butterfly Bush
If you want to attract pollinators to your garden, add a butterfly bush. The bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds will thank you as they provide hours of entertainment, enjoying their nectar and pollen. ‘Black Knight' is the hardiest, most fragrant butterfly bush, sporting deep purple blooms from June through September—or longer in the south. 4-6' height, 4-6' width, zone 5-9.

For a show stopping display of color in the garden, ‘Goldmound' spirea is the solution. Muted red foliage changes to yellow-green in spring, then to lime green as summer arrives. Light pink blooms appear in spring and remain through the summer. 3-4' height, 3-4' width, zone 4-9.

‘Goldflame' provides another option for outstanding color, with leaves changing from red-bronze to yellow-green, and then to orange-copper in the fall. Pink flowers accent the foliage, adding extra dimension to the landscape. 3-4' height, 3-4' width, zone 4-8.

The Queen of the garden…roses add elegance and fragrance to the landscape. In the past, roses intimidated new gardeners with their finicky nature: diseases and pests ran rampant, and only dedicated gardeners planted these beauties. Now, however, everyone can enjoy roses with the Knock-Out® series. Single blooms, doubles, and roses trees in a wide variety of colors are also disease and pest resistance—even against black spot. Their easy care and drought tolerance make them a perfect bloom for the garden.

The compact size of Drift roses add blankets of blooms to the garden. This repeat bloomer in a wide range of colors is low maintenance and highly disease resistant. 1-2' height, 1-3' width, zone 4-11.

For gardeners desiring a classic rose to accent the garden and use in floral arrangements, ‘Peace' is one of the few fragrant hybrid tea roses. Its lovely blooms of yellow tinged with orange, pink, and white make it perfect for bouquets. ‘Peace' was inducted into the World Federation of Rose Society's Hall of Fame in 1976.

Rose of Sharon
With a wide variety of foliage and bloom options, Rose of Sharon is a garden classic. Our pink variety is the most cold hardy, blooming all summer until frost. From hedges to small trees in the landscape, Rose of Sharon is the perfect low maintenance plant for your garden. 6-10' height, 5' width, zones 5-9.

Viburnum (evergreen in south)
With so many viburnums to choose from, a classic shrub like ‘Snowball' belongs in the garden. Perfect for privacy, its enormous blooms add brightness to the garden and create perfect bouquets inside. 10-20' height, 10-20' width, zone 4-8.

Weigela (evergreen in south)
Boost curb appeal with the fabulous flowers and foliage of the variegated weigela. The arching branches add elegance to the garden, while the blooms provide a sweet citrus fragrance. The low maintenance shrub is highly desirable for butterflies and hummingbirds. 3-4' height, 3-4' width, zone 5-9.

Abelia (evergreen in south)
For an incredibly colorful shrub in your garden, ‘Kaleidoscope' lives up to its name. From yellow to pink to red, the foliage changes colors throughout the seasons, contrasting with the plant's pink flowers. 2-3' height, 3-4' width, zone 6-9. ‘Little Richard' offers fragrant blooms that last 9 months in a nice, compact shrub. 3' height, 3' width, zone 6-9.

Background Information on Shrubs and Hedges

Shrubs and hedges are integral design features in the garden, offering privacy, defining property lines, and enhancing beauty of the landscape. With hundreds of options available, including evergreens with lush foliage or highly florific shrubs that provide color and fragrance, the choices can be overwhelming.

Shrubs provide year-long interest in the garden. Most shrubs are low-maintenance, as well as disease and pest-resistant. Plus, shrubs can turn your garden into a Backyard Wildlife Habitat, as many provide food and shelter for birds and other wildlife.

How to Select the Right Shrubs

Before you purchase your shrubs, look carefully at your site and decide how you want the plant to perform. Do you intend to grow a privacy screen along your property? Need a wind screen to reduce your energy costs? Are you looking to make a statement at the entrance of your home or along the driveway? Also, what is your hardiness zone? Many shrubs tolerate a wide range of climates, but check the growing information carefully prior to purchase.

Whether you love the beauty of roses, want to attract bees and butterflies to the garden, or hope to hide your neighbor's unsightly chain-link fence, there's a wide variety of shrub options for your garden. Shrubs range in size from small trees to short, compact ground covers. Consider foliage color, texture, and blooms when selecting shrubs. Read the plant's information, paying particular attention to the plant's mature height. While most shrubs are typically low-maintenance, you may need to groom hedges to maintain their shape. Also, look up. Ensure that the area is free from power lines and roof overhangs, and plan the site so that the width of the mature shrub does not encroach on pathways.

As always, if you need assistance selecting the shrub that is right for your garden, we're happy to help. Just give us a call at 800-399-9514.

How to Plant Shrubs and Hedges

As soon as you receive your shrub, give it a good drink, particularly if you plan to wait a day or two to plant it.

Proper site selection and preparation will help grow a happy plant. Check the plant's specifications for sun and soil needs. Full to partial sun, good drainage, and adequate airflow are all ingredients for a healthy shrub or hedge. Remember to check your site for overhead power lines or structures that might become a problem for larger shrubs. If you spot obstacles, choose another location.

Most shrubs can tolerate a wide variety of sites and soils. However, amending heavy, compact clay soils with compost will improve the health of your shrub, allowing water to drain adequately so it won't rot the plant's roots.

Late fall or early spring are ideal times to plant shrubs, allowing the plants to settle in without severe heat stress or impending freezes before roots establish in their new home.

Dig a hole approximately twice as large as the plant's root ball. A well-dug hole gives you the opportunity to breakup any compacted soil, add amendments, and give your plant a good start without overcrowding its roots. Your plant will thank you.

Loosen the plant in the container, carefully removing it, and massaging the root ball. Place in the center of the hole, making certain the soil lines of both the root ball and the hole align. You want to ensure that you don't plant the trunk too deep in the hole. Back fill the hole, pressing the soil into place. Water well. Add a layer of mulch over the site, but avoid the "volcano" effect—simply spread mulch over the site to conserve moisture. Never mound mulch around the plant's trunk, which can promote disease. If planting as a privacy screen, align plants along the border and space accordingly to the plant's recommendations. Remember to consider the mature width of the shrubs when planting to ensure they don't encroach on your neighbor's property.

Each spring, add a layer of compost over the planting site, as well as a good, organic fertilizer. However, do not over-fertilize flowering shrubs, as too much fertilizer will provide lush foliage—and few blooms.

Keep the shrub or hedge well watered through the first growing season, approximately one inch per week. As it becomes established in your garden, normal rains should suffice. Most shrubs are fairly drought tolerant once established.

While most shrubs we offer are pest and disease resistant, some pests can sneak into a garden. Aphids and powdery mildew can easily be eliminated with organic controls as needed. Deer can be trickier, but selecting deer resistant varieties of shrubs can help.

How to Prune Shrubs and Hedges

Most shrubs we carry require little pruning when planted in the correct space and location. New spring growth can be clipped to keep plants tidy, but flowering shrubs require care. Prune inappropriately, and you risk losing next year's blooms. A good rule for pruning flowering shrubs is to snip and shape just after the plant finishes blooming for the season. Some plants, like butterfly bushes, benefit from deadheading after blooms are spent to encourage a second flush of blooms. To keep your shrubs healthy, remove dead, sick, and injured stems, as well as any stray stems, to maintain a clean shape. Check the plant's growing guide for additional information about pruning.

Fun Facts about Shrubs and Hedges

The largest hedge in the world is the Meikleour Beech Hedge, planted in autumn of 1745 by Jean Mercer and her husband, Robert Murray Nairne, on the estate of the Marquess of Lansdowne. The hedge is the tallest and the longest in the world, reaching 100 feet in height and 1/3 mile in length. It's cited by the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest hedge.

The largest hedge maze is found at Longleat in Warminster, England. Planted in 1975, the maze contains 16,000 English yews, covers 1.48 acres, and contains 1.69 miles of pathways.

The first gardenia in America was planted in 1762 in the Charleston garden of Dr. Alexander Garden, a Scottish physician and naturalist—and the gardenia's namesake. Although he did not discover the gardenia, his friend, English merchant John Ellis, who found the plant growing in a garden outside London, convinced the famous Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus, to name the plant for Dr. Garden. Blossoms are used as a yellow dye for fabric and food in China and Japan. Fruits of gardenia are used in traditional Chinese medicine for their clearing, calming, and cooling properties.

In France, gardenias are traditionally worn as a boutonnière in men's evening dress.

Tea Olives are found in Chinese mythology. According to legend, sweet osmanthus grows on the moon, with Wu Gang endlessly cutting the shrub. Some versions of the story say he was forced to cut it every 1,000 years so that its growth wouldn't overshadow the moon. Other versions say he cut it constantly, only to have it regrow an equal amount each day.

Camellia sinesis is native to southeast China. The first tea plant was discovered, recorded, and used to produce tea more than 3,000 years ago. The leaves are used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat asthma and coronary artery disease. Buddhist priests who studied in China brought tea back with them to Japan in 600 AD. Britain residents consume 165 million cups of tea each day.

Lilacs were introduced into the American colonies in the 18th century. Their blooms mean "youthful innocence and confidence." According to mythology, Pan, god of the forest, became enthralled with the nymph, Syringa. She was frightened by Pan's pursuit of her through the forest, so she turned herself into a fragrant flowering bush to escape his advances.

Hydrangeas denote friendship, devotion, and understanding. According to folklore, hydrangeas could be used to break a witch's spell. The Native Americans used the roots as a diuretic and detoxifier, while the bark was used to ease muscle sprains and burns.

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