10 Super Shrubs
Each year about this time I get questions in the nursery about what shrubs/trees have the best fall color display. And it’s something I think about too when planning my garden each year, but I include three or four season interest in my choices, not merely fall color. What happens after all the leaves have dropped? Do you get any berries? Is there peeling bark? Are the branches twisted?
There are many trees and shrubs for multi-season interest, so I am going to focus on just shrubs this time. When my mother in law said she wanted to start removing perennials and planting shrubs in their place for less maintenance, my first reaction was to say “Can I design it for you?” I was excited. Don’t get me wrong, I love perennials, but shrubs command a larger field of view and can create living fences, walls, and screens much better than perennials. And many have so much to offer!
The first shrub I will describe is Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa). Also known as one of the super berries, this shrub produces marble sized blue to black berries in late summer and they ripen through early fall. Great for jellies and juice, both humans and wildlife enjoy the fruits. If left on they become instant winter interest. In the spring, Black Chokeberry is covered with wonderful white flowers and shiny green foliage. And in the fall? Amazing orange red color on the leaves makes this one of the best shrubs for autumn magic. Some of the best cultivars are ‘Autumn Magic’ and ‘Viking’.
Blueberries in my landscape? Why not? Blueberry bushes (Vaccinium corymbosum) make great landscape shrubs with their year round interest. In the spring get ready for lovely clusters of fragrant white flowers and hang down for a weeping look. The flowers are followed by thick clusters of berries that grow on every branch both young and old. Berries are usually ripe and ready by July Fourth, making the holidays a lot brighter. In the fall, leaves turn a rich shade of orange and red, mingled with yellow. And in the winter, the reddish canes add variety to any landscape. The only thing to watch with blueberries is a little acidic fertilizer and water close to the plant. Best cultivars are ‘Sierra’, ‘Bluecrop’, and ‘Blueray’.
Saskatoon Serviceberry is next. Amelanchier alnifolia or serviceberry is a beautiful shrub for any landscape. Native to two thirds of the country, this berry producing wonder is a boon to any yard. It can take drought, rain, sun, shade, and competition and keep on going. Springtime brings wonderful white flowers. In the summer blue black berries are both edible and delicious. If you don’t want the worry of putting down acid fertilizer on your blueberries, then try serviceberries! Tasting similar to blueberries, but slightly seedier, they are a favorite of both man and bird. In the fall, be ready for wonderful brilliant orange and red colors! Best cultivar is ‘Regent’.
Arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) is a wonderful native shrub with many interesting characteristics. In late spring there are flat corymbs of soft white flowers which linger into summer. Summer gives way to small blue black berries which birds love. In the fall, expect bright reds, oranges, and yellows, depending on the cultivar. In some years, the berries will linger into winter, adding some interest in the snow. Of the many cultivars available, I recommend ‘Blue Muffin’, ‘Chicago Lustre, ‘Deam’, ‘Indian Summer’, and ‘Red Feather’.
American Cranberrybush Viburnum
The American cranberrybush Viburnum is another great shrub with edible berries and year round interest. Viburnum trilobum has large, flat corymbs of white flowers in spring, which are followed by hanging clusters of red, cranberry-like berries in the fall. These berries have been prized for centuries by Native Americans and pilgrims for the taste and color. Great in jellies or just eaten raw, these berries are the best part of this shrub. Other attributes are yellow fall color, and graceful branching for winter interest. Best cultivars are ‘Alfredo’, ‘Bailey Compact’, and ‘Wentworth’.
Red Osier Dogwood
The red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea), which is the true red twigged dogwood has been a blessing for many landscapes. Able take drought and heat, sun and shade, this little shrub does wonders in the winter landscape. There are white flowers in the spring and white fruit in the summer. The fall foliage is the only disappointing attribute, sometimes red or yellow, many times just brown. But what it lacks in fall color it more than makes up for in winter color. Red or yellow stems shine through the snow and into my heart, warming and cheering me through the grayness of winter. Cultivars include ‘Alleman’s Compact’ and ‘Yellow Twig’.
Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) is the next native shrub for everyone’s landscape. This beautiful shrub has wonderful cut leaf foliage throughout the year, red cones of edible berries in the fall, orange to red fall color, and interesting scaly bark in the winter. The berries which grow in clusters can be steeped in boiling water and used for tea or to make jelly. Or you can grab a handful and suck on them for a citrusy flavor. ‘Tiger Eyes’ is the most common cultivar of this sumac, with yellow leaves and orange fall color. The straight species is also a wonderful plant for your landscape.
I am hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t wish to have a beautiful, red leaved, cutleaf Japanese maple in their landscape. Acer palmatum, the Japanese maple, is one of the few non-native shrubs I will promote. It can be considered a tree or shrub, depending on habit and size. For this note I will refer to the more shrub-like forms. With wonderful lacy foliage, colors ranging from green to red to burgundy, and fall colors of yellow, red, orange, and rust, this plant shines as a centerpiece in any landscape. And with twisting, arching, and delicate branching, winter interest is still there. I like ‘Tamukeyama’, ‘Orangeola’, ‘Hogyoku’, and ‘Kasagi Yama’.
The other chokeberry, Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) is also a great addition to our landscapes. With the same white flowers as its cousin, black chokeberry, red chokeberry adds red berries in fall and brilliant red fall color. The berries linger into winter, bringing a dabble of red into our snow filled landscapes. The only cultivar I know of is ‘Brilliantissima’.
The last shrub on my list is Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia). This hydrangea has all the interest it needs to be a permanent addition to your landscape. Peeling bark, white panicled flowers, oak leafed foliage, and brilliant fall color make this shrub a worthy competitor. The fall color can be purple, orange, red, and burgundy. They really steal the show in the shade garden. These shrubs prefer a little shade and moist soil to shine. Great cultivars are ‘Sikes Dwarf’ and ‘Snow Queen’.
Keep on planting!