Whether planning a landscape for a new home or revitalizing your aged back yard, don’t forget the shrubs! These wonderful plants help tie a garden together and serve as a nice backdrop for groundcovers, annuals and perennials. With proper selection and placement, shrubs can also provide a nice low-maintenance environment that provides privacy, protects your home from the weather, attracts wildlife, reduces noise and the need to mow, hides unsightly areas and simply beautifies the area around your home.

Curved beds

An informal assortment of shrubs and other plant material in a curving design is very attractive.

Photo Credit: Kris Stell

Layered landscape

Shrubs of different heights backing a row of Liriope create a nice layered effect.

Photo Credit: Kris Stell

Shrubs in lawn

Plantings reduce the amount of mowing required.

Photo Credit: Kris Stell

The thing to remember when you’re designing with shrubs (or trees, for that matter) is to plan for full growth. Even though the 1-gallon plant you brought home from the garden center looks pretty small now, it won’t always stay that way. Don’t place shrubs too close to your house or any other location where they might outgrow their allotted space and wreak havoc. Similarly, be well-aware of any shrub’s mature size before you actually put it in the ground – otherwise you may end up with a hedge that covers your windows or a shrub that attacks you (and your guests) every time you walk out the front door. (Among other problems.)

When it comes to shrub success, keep this phrase in mind: “right plant, right spot.” Your local garden center should only sell shrubs that are appropriate for your region’s climate, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the plant’s the best selection for your yard. If your planting bed is in full sun during most of the day, for example, you don’t want a shrub that likes the shade. Additionally, most shrubs grow best in moist, well-drained soil, so avoid a dry-loving shrub if your designated planting area often stays wet (and vice versa).

Before you can put any shrub in the ground, you’ll also need to know your soil’s pH level. While most shrubs are said to tolerate a wide range of soils, most prefer slightly acid to neutral ones (with a pH of 5.5 to 7). If your soil pH is above 7.5, choose shrubs that can tolerate alkaline soil. Not sure what your garden’s pH is? Soil testing is available through most state Extension Services. (Call your local county agent’s office and ask for a soil sample kit.)

Once you have your list of shrub requirements and know what your growing conditions are, picking the right shrub for your garden will ensure a long-term beautiful oasis for you and your family to enjoy.