Strategically select shrubs when landscaping

Brilliant blooms of Pride of Barbados (Caesalpinia pulcherrima)

The weather has changed, and the garden breathed a sigh of relief. The intense heat and cloudless skies of the last few weeks has abated thanks to showers rolling in from the coast. 

Hot, dry weather makes you take stock of your garden design. While trees are an important part of a successful landscape – shrubs, perennials and annuals are equally important. Plants and shrubs add visual interest and can camouflage unsightly equipment while providing privacy. Strategically sited shrubs can reduce noise from streets.

When selecting shrubs for your landscape, be sure to choose the right plants for your climate and soil. The right plant will be easier to maintain, supports pollinators and wildlife while providing beauty to your garden. While no landscape is totally maintenance free, hardy natives require less while keeping the integrity of their appearance. 

Not only do evergreen shrubs need to withstand the heat and drought, they need the ability to withstand severe cold which we experience from time to time. Dwarf yaupon holly, firebush and nandina are good choices that will tolerate the vagaries of our climate while providing color and food for the wildlife. 

When selecting shrubs, be sure to consider the height and width of the mature plant. A common mistake made by gardeners is to plant shrubs too close together, or too close to a path or building. This will definitely keep you busy with years of extra maintenance issues – requiring lots of pruning. Know the growth habit of your plant before you attack it with pruning shears. Pruning should encourage the plant toward its natural form unless you are developing a shaped hedge. If you prune against the plant’s natural growth pattern, you will be fighting the plant which will require regular maintenance. Shrubs planted too close together will not reach their full potential. Have patience, a garden takes time to develop. Enjoy it in all its phases.

When choosing a shrub, consider its location. Does the plant need full sun to reach its full potential or does it need shade. Planting a crepe myrtle in an area that receives shade will cause the plant to be spindly with few if any blooms. Better to pick a holly or a viburnum which will thrive in shade. 

Don’t forget to select shrubs that are deciduous. They drop their leaves in winter after putting on a display of fall color or have flowers and lush growth in the spring. The graceful shape of their bare limbs in winter gives the garden a different look. Seasonal change provides continuous interest in the garden. 

When planting shrubs, be sure to dig a hole large enough to hold the root ball at the same level as it was in the container. Water thoroughly. Even if a shrub is drought tolerant, it will need to be given extra water until it is fully established.

American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) is one of my favorites for partial shade. The shrub will reach 3-6 feet in size and needs well drained soil. The cold hardy, deciduous shrub is an attractive addition to the garden, providing tiny pink blooms in spring which are followed by clusters of purple berrylike drupes. The tight clusters of purple fruit will last from fall until long after they lose their leaves. Birds and other animals enjoy the fruit. The ease of growth and visual interest make Beautyberry a welcome addition to the garden.

Yaupon Holly (Ilex vomitoria) is a shrub that provides great interest to the garden. The small, glossy evergreen leaves provide an attractive background to the shiny red drupe on the female tree. It isn’t a fussy plant and will grow in a variety of soil types. It is cold hardy and moderately drought tolerant.

Yaupon is a great landscape plant that can be grown as a multi-trunked tree. The shrub’s dense branching and foliage make it attractive as a hedge or topiary. 

Texas Lantana (Lantana horrida) is another deciduous native that provides color during the heat of summer until the first frost. The brilliant yellow and orange blossoms on each flower head resemble a miniature bouquet and are attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies. 

Lantanas have a sprawling growth habit and can reach 2 to 6 feet in height and width. If you have rich soil, be prepared to cut them back severely every winter to keep them from taking over your garden. I cut mine to the ground a couple of times through the year, and they come back in a nice compact shape. 

Cenizo (Leucophyllum frutescens) is another native that provides beauty to your garden. The soft gray, evergreen foliage with soft purple to pink blooms has a long bloom season. The rapid growing shrub has dense foliage and will survive harsh conditions. The erect, rounded shape makes it ideal for mixed plantings. With shearing, it can be made into a hedge. If they get rangy looking, just prune severely every few years to keep the foliage dense.

Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus drummondii) is root hardy and moderately drought tolerant. The scarlet flowers are a favorite of hummingbirds while wildlife loves the small apple-like fruit. The shrub will grow 2 to 6 feet in height and width. Be sure to give it plenty of room – in our area, it can reach 8 to 10 feet in size. It will freeze to the ground; otherwise prune severely each year to maintain a compact shape. It will grow in full sun, partial shade and shade making it versatile plant for the garden. It’s only drawback: it is an enthusiastic plant and will root wherever a limb lies on the ground.

Rock Rose (Pavonia lasiopetala) is a deciduous open-branched shrub that is a member of the mallow family. The 2 inch pink blooms remind you of hibiscus blooms. It is root hardy and grows 2 to 4 feet in height and width. It isn’t finicky and will grow in most well-drained soils. It enjoys sun, partial shade and shade. The more sun it gets, the more it will bloom. For best results, plant Rock Rose where it will receive morning sun and afternoon shade.

Pride of Barbados (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) is a sun lover. It will bloom from summer to fall and reach a size of 12 feet. The deciduous shrub will grow back from the roots after a freeze. The blooms are attractive to hummingbirds.

Firebush (Hamelia patens) a native of Mexico is a root-hardy shrub that can be planted in full sun or partial shade. The more sun it receives, the more it will bloom. The blooms attract hummingbirds and butterflies.

Duranta (Duranta erecta) or Brazilian Sky Flower is a root-hardy shrub in South Texas but should be treated as an annual or tender perennial in most of the state. Make plenty of room for durantas, for they are rapid-growing and can reach 12 to 15 feet in height and width. They have small glossy leaves and pendulous racemes of small flowers of light blue to purple which are followed by golden ball-like drupes. The light blue variety is enthusiastic about reproducing. 

Don’t forget the roses! There are many varieties that will add beauty to your garden. Plant them close to the house for they need more water. One of my favorites is ‘Old Blush’, one of the old roses, also known as antique or heritage rose, is an excellent choice for today’s gardens. It is hardy, fragrant, disease resistant, easy to maintain, has luxuriant flower shape and soft color. It also provides seasonal interest with colorful edible hips and is adaptable to many landscape uses and tolerant of extreme climates. The hips are rich in vitamin C, but you will have to fight the birds for them!

The rose was imported from China to Europe. It is a repeat bloomer and long-lived. The China roses, as a group, are the perfect choice for our area. They have a delicate, sweet, fruity scent with single or loosely double flowers – tolerant of high heat and humidity as well as alkaline or clay soil and are disease resistant. They are ideal for zones 7 -10.

Old Blush has classic pink blooms that darken with age. They bloom year round without frost and have sweet hips. Shrubs reach 4-6 ft. tall and excellent as specimen or hedge. Mutabilis is of unknown origin reaching 6 ft. tall. Known as the butterfly rose because its blooms resemble those graceful insects. The single flowers open buff-yellow, changing to pink and finally crimson; often flowers of all three colors appear simultaneously. Others to consider include Martha Gonzales – red; Archduke Charles – pink to deep rose-red; Cramoisi Superieur – rich crimson flowers. 

You can’t go wrong if you add some of these shrubs to your garden. They will provide beauty while attracting butterflies, birds and other wildlife to the garden. If I could just find a way to dis-invite Mr. Dillo!

Happy gardening.

Texas Master Gardener Columnist: Down the Garden Path

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