Shrubs, the name doesn’t inspire much, but they give a garden interest for three or four seasons and are low-maintenance. It can’t get much better than that! If you choose the right shrubs for your region, they can add color, shade, create habitats for wildlife, and even improve soil. But what are the best shrubs for your region? We have come up with our top five shrubs that are low-maintenance and easy to love!
Low-Maintenance Shrubs: Virginia sweetspire Itea virginica
Toping the list of low-maintenace, sweetspire comes with all the wonderful benefits that make native shrubs so appealing. This is an attractive shrub with semi-evegreen foliage that is paired with lovely white flowering wands. It is perfect for the watershed area of the Chesapeake Bay for is resiliency and its ease in acclimating to the wetter areas of your gardens.
For early-spring color: Forsythia
Forsythia is a vigorous, beautiful shrub that pushes out bright yellow blooms early in the season when grown in full sun. They provide a cheerful backdrop, border, or centerpiece for any yard.
Plant in late fall or early spring while the plants are still dormant in Zones 5-8 in full sun.
The biggest care needed to keep forsythia thriving is to prune regularly. Pruning is done just after they have bloomed in the spring, because the following spring’s flowers will bloom on wood produced the previous year. Prune about a third off of the oldest branches, cutting them right down to the ground. This will encourage new growth and a more compact form. Beyond this “renewal” pruning, you can also selectively cut newer branches to improve upon the overall shape of your forsythia.
There are many varietals of Forsythia; our favorites for our region include:
‘Sunrise’: This compact shrub grows to be between 4 and 6 feet tall and wide. Its flower buds are able to withstand colder winter temperatures than many other forsythia varieties.
‘Meadowlark’: A varietal that grows around 7 to 10 feet tall with a similar spread, it’s known for having very few issues with pests and diseases.
‘Lynwood Variety’: This varietal boasts larger yellow flowers and leaves that turn an attractive yellow with purple tinges in fall.
For fragrance: Lilac (Syringa)
Lilac’s purple flowers appear as soon as the forsythia fades, keeping interest and color alive in your garden. These easy-to-grow shrubs are perfect as a focal point in a garden and are great for building privacy, and of course, fragrance. Once they’re established, lilacs don’t require much maintenance. They will typically only need watering during prolonged periods of drought, and they prefer annual fertilization.
Plant in late fall or early spring in Zones 3-7 in full sun.
Pruning is important to promote flowering and prevent disease. Prune just after flowering is over, as lilacs bloom on old wood. Cut out interior branches and shape the shrub. Thin out the growth for better air circulation and to keep the height of the shrub in check. Also, prune any weak or damaged branches. But don’t take off more than a third of the total branches.
There are several types of lilacs that thrive in Maryland climates, including:
‘Wedgewood Blue’: This compact lilac variety attains a height at maturity of only 6 feet with a spread equal to that. The flowers are contained in thick clusters of lavender blue. It thrives in Zones 3 through 8.
‘Yankee Doodle’: A small lilac bush with deep purple, fragrant blooms, Yankee Doodle is a bit more cold-hardy than the main species, suitable for Zones 2 through 8. It grows 6 to 10 feet tall and 5 to 6 feet wide.
‘Madame Lemoine’: Blooming with bright white double flowers, this lilac variety stands tall at up to 15 feet high and 12 feet wide. It is suitable for Zones 3 through 8.
For summer color: Hydrangea ssp.
Hydrangeas bloom in too many shapes and sizes to count, but each are beloved by many for their beautiful flowers. Most put on a showy display from early spring all the way into fall. The flowering shrubs can grow in partial shade to full sun. Reblooming varieties of hydrangeas produce flowers on new growth. This ensures loads of colorful blooms throughout the summer.
Plant in part shade in evenly moist, well-drained soil in Zones 3-9 depending on variety.
There are over 600 named varieties, but we love these for Maryland gardens:
‘Endless Summer’: This mophead variety bears clusters of pink or blue flowers. It grows 5 feet tall.
‘Alice’: This oakleaf hydrangea offers extra-large blooms and more spectacular fall color. It grows 10 feet tall.
‘Firefly’: The most unusual member of the hydrangea family, climbing hydrangeas, are slow-growing and thrive in full shade in Zones 4-8. Firefly bears green leaves edged in gold and clusters of white flowers.
For fall interest: American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)
American beautyberry makes a striking addition to any fall garden thanks to the gorgeous display of berries for which it is named. The plant’s leaves emerge a yellowish green in spring and by late summer, the purple (or white) fruits appear.
This perennial shrub is not only gorgeous in fall, but it’s a nutritional powerhouse, providing spring nectar for bees, and year-round sustenance to about forty species of birds, deer, and smaller mammals. The seeds and berries are important foods for many species of birds, particularly the Northern bobwhite. And although American beautyberry’s flowers attract some insects, its foliage strongly repels others. Crushed beautyberry leaves can be used to keep mosquitos from biting.
And, you’ll be thrilled to know this native is easy to grow in Zones 6-11.
As a bonus for those looking for an understory shrub, this plant is quite shade tolerant; it prefers a shady spot. It’s not picky about soil, either, and it’s quite drought-tolerant, though it does perform better with regular watering, especially when it’s young.
For winter interest: Holly (Ilex)
This shrub is more than just for decking the halls during the holidays. Holly shrubs are evergreen, meaning they look good year-round, add structure and color in the winter, plus a green backdrop for flowers in the summer. With fragrant flowers in spring and berries in autumn, they are a double-duty shrub, too. The berries are a source of food for songbirds and other wildlife.
Nearly all varieties of holly are dioecious, meaning male and female flowers occur on separate plants. This means that female plants, which produce berries, need to be planted near a male in order to bear fruit. One male can pollinate 5 females, and should be sited within 40 feet of female plants.
They prefer full sun but can tolerate part shade and should be planted in Zones 3-10, depending on variety.
Pruning will ensure the shrub keeps a nice compact form rather than becoming leggy and scraggly. If you find that your holly is being damaged in the winter by snow and wind, wrap it in burlap to protect it from the weather.
Our favorite varieties for Maryland gardens include:
‘Myrtifolia Aurea Maculata’: We could have chosen any one of many variegated hollies, grown for the beauty of their leaves. This is a male, so it does not fruit. However, it has small, sparkling leaves and a bushy, branched habit, which makes it ideal to plant in a shady corner or under trees. Bright, reflective and altogether cheerful.
‘Mr. Poppins’: This compact male winterberry is the ideal pollinator for any winterberry holly.
‘Berry Poppins’: Winterberry holly is an awesome plant for winter landscapes, but many don’t have room for a traditional variety. Berry Poppins® winterberry holly solves that, with a dwarf habit that can be used nearly anywhere. This deciduous holly loses its leaves every autumn but makes up for it with a heavy berry display that truly shines in the winter landscape.
‘Berry Heavy Gold’: This winterberry has the biggest, brightest gold fruit yet. You will treasure this plant for gardens, mass plantings or as a cut branch.
Runner up: Witch Hazel (Hamamelis). Flowering in February or March, this shrub is one of the earliest to bloom in the landscape. It’s fall foliage is beautiful when grown in full sun.
It may be hard to know which shrubs to choose or what will grow best in your yard. We’re here to help. Email us at [email protected], or visit our stores.
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