Showy Shrubs for the Southern Garden
Shrubs are the “glue” in the garden, providing a connection between towering trees and small perennials and annuals. They form the middle layer of plants in the landscape to give a cohesive look. Once established, most shrubs require less maintenance and will flourish for years to come.
Fall is the perfect time to plant new shrubs, since it allows the roots to get established before spring growth. Before planting shrubs, ask yourself what you want them to accomplish and then select shrubs to fit your purpose. Shrubs are versatile and can be used to solve many gardening challenges. They can provide a privacy screen, deflect noise, soften the foundation of your home, attract wildlife, serve as a backdrop to highlight specimen plants and add color, blooms, texture, scent and drama. (What’s not to like?!) As you decide what type of shrubs to plant, note the sun/shade requirements of the area and make sure the shrubs you have chosen will thrive in that environment. If you are planting an entire bed of shrubs, till and amend the soil first with compost.
There are many wonderful shrubs to choose from that will thrive in our Southern gardens. Here are a five of my favorite showy shrubs that are sure to please and become mainstays in your own outside space.
Cherry Dazzle ® Crapemyrtle (Lagerstroemia ‘GAMAD I’ PP#16,917): This slow-growing, sun-loving, compact shrub has three-season color and only grows 3-5’ tall. New growth starts bronze then turns to green. In mid-summer when many flowers have faded, this shrub erupts with masses of vivid red bloom clusters that last for weeks. The purple-red fall foliage is also attractive. The Cherry Dazzle is disease-resistant and needs very little watering once established. It is deciduous, however, and looks like dead sticks throughout the winter and early spring, so would not be the best foundation shrub around the house. But for a mid- and late-summer show with little maintenance, this shrub excels!
Fragrant Tea Olive (Osmanthus fragrans): As its name implies, this large (10-30’ tall) evergreen shrub releases an intensely fragrant scent, often compared to orange blossoms or jasmine, from its tiny white flowers for weeks during the fall. It has been designated a “Georgia Gold Medal Winner” for its easy maintenance and few pest problems. Plant the tea olive in sun to medium shade where you can enjoy the sweet scent. It is works well as a backdrop in a border or as a screen or hedge, and it can be trained into a small tree near a patio or to soften the corners of the house.
Bottlebrush Buckeye (Aesculus parviflora): Another Georgia Gold Medal Winner, this large (8-12’ tall and wide) native, deciduous shrub shows off each summer with an amazing display of upright spiky white flowers. It has a pleasing mounded shape and does best when planted in partial or full shade areas. It performs well planted under trees. Plant it in mass for impact. The bottlebrush buckeye’s foliage turns yellow in the fall with showy fruit for added interest. It’s also attractive to butterflies but does not seem to appeal to deer and other pests, making it practically trouble-free and a welcome addition to the low-maintenance garden.
Camellia: Every Southern garden needs a camellia or two. Camellia sasanqua has smaller leaves and blooms in late fall through the end of the year. Camellia japonica has larger leaves and flowers in late winter and early spring. Both types are considered medium-to-large evergreen shrubs that thrive in partial shade and can be massed to make great foundation plants, hedges or screens. There are an abundance of species to choose from with blooms in colors of white, pink and red.
Abelia (Abelia x grandiflora ‘Rose Creek,’ ‘Canyon Creek,’ ‘Mardi Gras’): These compact abelias have evergreen leaves and a mounding growth habit. They only get about 2-4’ high with a spread of 3-4’ (although ‘Canyon Creek’ gets a little taller). The ever-changing color and variegation of the leaves are the showiest features, giving a different look throughout the seasons. You’ll enjoy pinkish tints, moving to green, yellow and purple, with flowers in white or pink. Abelias do best in partial shade, are drought tolerant, deer and pest resistant but attractive to butterflies and bees. Plant where you need a spot of color or to provide a backdrop for perennial beds.
Add some of these showy shrubs to your garden this fall and enjoy their color, scent and blooms next spring! For more information on other Georgia Gold Medal Winner shrubs, go to http://www.georgiagoldmedalplants.org.