Urban Garden Denver Blog

Think about shrubs

In an earlier column this winter I promised some thoughts on shrubs as you looked at winter interest in your garden and planned for spring. Since today in Denver is a garden planning day, not a digging day, I thought I’d talk about some shrubs I like in the garden. Most of these shrubs have a regular and a compact version, so be sure to shop and plan for the space you have in your garden. Shrubs and trees are an investment and my strong preference is to shop at locally owned nurseries where you can get horticultural advice. The big box stores might have cheaper shrubs, but over the course of time, the investment in quality and local horticulture is definitely worth it. Also, I’ve noticed some species at the big boxes that aren’t necessarily the best for Colorado conditions.  This entry is a little longer than normal, because of the specific details on shrubs.

Two of my favorite shrubs offer winter interest as well as nice structure for the rest of the year. Oregon grape holly (mahonia varieties) is an evergreen with small yellow blossoms in the spring, blue berries in the summer and is a great choice for places where others might plant the ubiquitous but not very interesting juniper bushes.  You can find a compact version if that works better for your yard. Barberry is another shrub with winter interest of berries and distinctive red-colored stems. Both of these shrubs are prickly, so if you have children in the garden, think about the placement.

Old-fashioned favorites in the deciduous category are forsythia, lilac and burning bush. These shrubs are good mixed into your plan. They each have a month or so of the wow-factor, then provide background for the rest of your landscape. After we moved into our current home I had a landscape architect friend walk around my yard and help me with some basic decisions on trees and shrubs. It was early spring and forsythia were blooming around the neighborhood. She advised on a good spot for one bush, but cautioned me from wanting to put forsythia everywhere in my yellow-glow-of-spring thinking, wisely noting that the rest of the year forsythia is a fairly bland background plant.

Lilacs are a popular back-of-the-property plant in my older neighborhood. Their size and hardiness makes them a reliable plant along the alley. If you don’t have space for the old-fashioned variety, there are some nice compact varieties that make a great planting in front of windows. A favorite feature of a previous office I worked in was a large hedge of lilacs that bloomed in a lavender cloud each spring. Now torn down for a condo — oh well.

Burning bush is on my list of favorites because the bright blaze of red brightens the garden when most of the rest of the plants are done. I had a large burning bush next to the front porch in my first garden. When we moved into the home in the winter, I didn’t know what the bush was, but a friend wisely advised me to live through a full year of the garden before making too many changes, to observe the plants and light through the seasons. Good advice because I might have prematurely dug up a stellar plant when I got bored with its basic looks in the summer. That fall I was rewarded with the bright blaze and now burning bush is a must-have in my garden. In my current garden I chose the compact variety so I could enjoy the blaze without committing too much space.

One last shrub I’ll mention is the purple-leaf sand cherry. The light pink blossoms in the spring are a nice feature but having the purple foliage from spring through fall provides a nice contrast to the greens and blooms of the garden. I have a sand cherry near my little side patio. Originally it was planted to provide some privacy from the front of my yard. It also is a nice area to provide different color options, as the purple leaves go well with grays such as dusty miller.

These are a my favorites, share yours in the comments. Since my yard is fairly small, a shrub has to earn its way into the plan. I also like spirea but the one I planted isn’t in the right spot and I am contemplating taking it out. I just don’t have space for it.

Enjoy planning your gardening season this weekend, and be thankful for melting snow that provides moisture for the garden.

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  1. Plant Shrubs « Gardora.net pingbacked on 9 years, 1 month ago


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