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Selecting and planting shrubs

Knowing the mature size of plants before you place them in your garden is fundamental to establishing a long term sustainable garden. Plants' growth patterns and rates of growth are also important considerations when deciding what to plant and where.

Shrubs in particular need space to grow and should be released from the confines of around the house. Shrubs can form the bones of a new garden bed added to your yard. As the shrubs grow and the environment changes, the garden changes too.

Deciduous shrubs are excellent additions to the garden. Many are in flower when the perennials haven't started yet and they can form robust structural forms which shape the garden. Beauty bush (Kolkwitzia amabilis) grows to be a 10-15 foot heavily scented shrub, flowering in June. Pagoda Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) doesn't mind a shady spot, has brilliant white flowers in May and grows to be 15-25 feet with as much spread. Bridlewreath Spirea (Spirea prunifolia) will grow four to nine feet tall and six to eight feet wide. These can easily be planted as a hedge or as individuals. There is nothing like them when they're in flower in May.

If you want to introduce a large flowering shrub to your garden within a sea of an existing lawn, make a bed which will encompass the eventual size of the shrub. This will keep the mowers in check and it will also identify the bed as an area in transition. Use temporary or transient plants as early companions to the young shrub. Biennials such as Foxglove (Digitalis sp.) for a shade garden or Hollyhock (Alcea rosa) for a sunny garden would be two examples.

Over time, plants which begin to interfere with or become overwhelmed by the shrubs' growth should be removed and relocated to other parts of the garden.

At a recent consultation I was asked whether the person needed to plant three shrubs close together or would an individual do? Plants each need room to grow and will limit the success of neighbours and themselves if planted too close together. My advice: plant individual shrubs and give them the room to grow to maturity.

Annuals are excellent companions to shrubs in the early years after planting. As the shrub grows, less and less soil is exposed and in need of vegetative cover. Climbing annuals can also decorate around and over the shrub until it becomes a focal point itself.

Perennials, ground covers or bulbs can also be used, with the understanding that some will be relocated or divided at a later date. Use medium or small sized perennials within close vicinity of the shrub or use rocks and alpine plants for a temporary rockery.

I find the best way to make a good selection of plants, including shrubs, for a garden is to go in to the nursery or garden centre with the location, site conditions and aesthetic needs in mind. As you wander through, you will soon find the obvious plant for a key location or gap in your existing garden. From this selection, you can then search for companions of the right colour, height and growth habit.

I tend to plant communities rather than masses of one plant. This way, they intermingle, form their own masses and look more natural.

When we see mature specimens of trees, shrubs and perennials in the landscape we can't help but want that look immediately. No matter what the species, it will take time to reach their peak and maturity. Part of the joy of gardening is participating in the development of a plant community and helping our selected plants to grow to their potential. Be patient and enjoy!

Daisy Moore, 2000.




Other spring garden tips:

(click on the tip you want to read)


Designing Gardens

Fertilizing the Garden
Ready for Spring
Starting Seeds Indoors
Pruning Trees and Shrubs
Dormant Spraying
Planning the Vegetable Garden
Planting Early Vegetables
Early Season Care of Perennial Beds
Plants for an Early Spring Show
Cut Flowers for the Home Garden
Growing the Perfect Potato
Lawn Care in Early Spring.....GRUB DAMAGE!
Spring Lawn Care
The Garden in May
Gardening with Native Plants
Sources of Native Plants
Shade Gardening
Planting Gladiolus and Other Summer Flowering Bulbs
Weed Control
Thatch in Lawns
Weeds or Wildflowers
Improving Your Soil
Marvellous Mulch
Selecting and Planting Shrubs
Planting Trees and Shrubs
Window Box Gardening
Growing Tomatoes
Fertilizing the Vegetable Garden



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Daisy Moore 2005