A Guide to Shrubs in the Garden

Shrubs play diverse roles in the garden. You can use shrubs to induce color during summer and spring, brighten your backyard during fall and winter, create a structure to your shrubs garden, and enhance the privacy.

What Is A Shrub?

A shrub is a woody plant with several main hardy stems. Shrubs are either deciduous plants (plants that shed their leaves and go dormant during the winter months) or evergreen (plants that keep their leaves all year round).

The Differences Between Shrubs And Bushes

From a horticultural viewpoint, there are no definitive differences between bushes and shrubs. The perception of the differences between bushes and shrubs are regional – in some regions, shrubs are the plants grown in bushes are plants growing in the wild. On other regions, differences are in the leaves structure – bush leaves spread towards the ground while shrubs’ leaves stand tall.

The Differences Between A Shrub And A Tree

Shrubs are typically smaller than trees. Their stems tend to have a thinner build and a more rounded shape. That said, it is essential to note that many shrubs can be grown into tree shapes – for instance, the hydrangea tree. Conversely, many trees can also be trained into shrub form by having multiple trunks – for example, the crape myrtles.

Shrub Basics

Zone:

First things first, ensure the shrubs you intend to plant can grow in your growing region. However, if you want to grow your shrubs in containers, it is prudent to opt for shrubs that cold-hardy a zone lower. Given that the roots will have less insulation when compared to being planted in the ground, it is a good idea to but shrubs that can withstand much colder temperatures.

Exposure:

You need to plant your shrubs accordingly. Shrubs labeled full sun must receive over six hours of sunlight every day. Shrubs marked as part shade should receive four to six hours of sunlight every day. Shrubs labeled full shade should receive a few hours of sunlight, preferably the morning sun.

Pro tip: ensure your flowering shrubs get ample sun; otherwise they will not flower as well.

Soil:

As long the soil drains well, shrubs will survive on a wide variety of soils.

Buying The Right Shrub

Mature size:

Availability of space is an important consideration. Do not choose a shrub that has the potential of outgrowing the available space in the future. It will only make your work to care for the shrub unnecessarily more laborious. Keep in mind that the shrubs you purchase will have a permanent presence in your yard and moving them will be hard if not entirely impossible.

Compact or dwarf varieties are the best shrub choices when it comes to residential landscaping. Note that the term “dwarf” does not mean small; it merely means smaller than the typical species. Furthermore, you should note that dwarf might cost more than other species as they require more time and material investment to grow (they grow slower).

Structure:

For the best results, choose shrubs with good structure. To this end, the shrub should have symmetrical growth and branching. Do not select the tallest plant solely for the sake of size. Ornamental shrubs can be a beautiful addition to any shrubs garden and have a very precise structure and take more care than most shrubs – however they look great. Don’t these ornamental shrubs have the best fall color and an amazing shape.

Roots:

Inspect the roots of the plant. Gently ease the plant out of its container, and check whether the roots are healthy or not. Good root system should have a lot of healthy white and brown roots. Moreover, the healthy roots will hold onto the soil much better. A root-bound plant tends to have roots circling the perimeter.

Flowers:

Many will be tempted to purchase the plant with plenty of flowers. However, the shrewd choice is the plant with plenty of flower buds. Such a plant will ensure that you get to experience the full flowering cycle in your shrubs garden – from bud to bloom.

Overall health:

Choose a plant with healthy green leaves – unless you are buying a yellow-leafed variety. The soil should be moist. The plant container should show no signs of weeds or pests.

When Should You Plant Shrubs:

While you can plant shrubs almost any time of the year, the best time to introduce shrubs to your shrubs garden is fall and spring.

Warm climates: Plant your shrubs in early spring to give their roots ample time to adjust to the temperature rise. If you intend to plant in the middle of summer or if a heatwave hits, ensure you water your shrubs as needed. Plant in fall to give the shrubs ample time to prepare for spring growth.

Plant the shrubs springtime after the temperature rises and the ground thaws. If you are planting during summer, water your plant diligently if you are planting in fall, plant as early as possible to give the plant enough time to adjust to the ground freeze.

How To Plant Shrubs:

Measure the size of the plant container. Dig a hole with twice the width of the container and as deep as the container. Cautiously remove the plants from their pots. Gently loosen the roots with your hand. Place the plant centrally in the hole. Backfill the hole with native soil. Firm the soil in place. Ensure the top of the plant’s root is covered by at about ½” of the native soil. After that, a layer of 2 to 3” of shredded bark mulch.

Planting A Shrub In A Container

Container planting extends your garden closer to your house and your patio. For the best results with container planting, there are few considerations to have in mind. For instance, consider using flowering shrubs in container planting to broaden your plant scope.

Moreover, consider planting dwarf or compact species. If you plant a shrub in a container that will outgrow the available space, consider the container as its temporary home. Make plans on where to plant the shrub in your landscape.

Use shrubs that are hardier and able to thrive one zone colder than yours as the roots will be less insulated during winter months. The ground offers better insulation than containers.

You need to attentively water the plant, even during winter. Just because your deciduous plant goes dormant during the winter, it still needs water. This is especially important in the case of container planted shrubs. If there is limited to no precipitation, water your plants occasionally.

Consider training the shrubs into tree form. Doing so will create space for annuals around the base of the shrubs.

Shrub Care Tips

Consider deep watering with limited frequency to help establish a robust root system.

Pay careful attention to the shrub the first year, regularly watering the plant. After that, your plant can do well despite less watering.

Use controlled-release fertilizer when planting the shrub. Apply the fertilizer at the bottom of the planting hole.

Give your plant enough fertilizers to during springtime. The fertilizers will help the plant grow strong and healthy and better able to withstand diseases and pests.

You do not need to prune shrubs excessively. Shrubs will thrive even with infrequent pruning.

The best guide to pruning is to track when the plant blooms. For instance, early bloomers (lilac, forsythia, and azalea), the best time to prune is right after flowering. For late bloomers (butterfly bush, roses, and rose of Sharon), the best time to prune is early spring.

For evergreens (holly, boxwood, and arborvitae), the best time to prune is in spring right after the emergence of new growth.

Prune re-blooming shrubs right after their first round of blooms to encourage more blooms after the first round. All of this together should help you care for your shrubs and have a great looking outdoor space.

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