Shrubs are too often the stepchildren in the garden. And if they don’t produce showy flowers, their contributions might be completely overlooked. Shrubs are invaluable for anchoring trees to the rest of the landscape, and adding structure and height to a flowerbed. Although frequently used as the backdrop, shrubs can also be the stars.
Shrub is not a botanical term, but rather a horticultural category to describe a woody (does not die to the ground), deciduous (loses leaves in winter) or evergreen, multi-stemmed plant that is not a tree. There is a fuzzy line dividing large shrubs from small trees. Shrubs are typically two to 12-feet tall, with some varieties growing even taller.
If you do a Google search for the top 10 shrubs for your garden, I can almost guarantee that at least four of them will not thrive in southern Idaho. Frequently, gardening advice neglects to account for regional climate variations. We live in a region where Rhododendrons, Laurels and Mophead Hydrangeas can be bottle-fed and survive for a year or two, but they will never stand on their own two feet.
Many outstanding choices are available, however, that will thrive rather than merely survive in our arid climate. In no particular order, here are five solid performers to consider:
ROSE OF SHARON (Hibiscus syriacus)—This is a large, vase shaped shrub that comes into bloom starting in July. Flowers are three to four inches in diameter and are statement makers. The wide range of colors includes pink, rose, white, bicolor, and the most amazing blue.
PAWNEE BUTTES SANDCHERRY (Prunus besseyi ‘Pawnee Buttes’) – This selection of the native sandcherry is best described as having multi-season interest and being tough as nails. Pawnee Buttes will reach about 18 to 24 inches high while spreading four to six feet, making it an excellent shrubby groundcover. Small white flowers in the spring, glossy silver-green foliage in the summer, and dark red fall foliage add up to one fantastic shrub. Drought tolerant once established.
BLACK LACE ELDERBERRY (Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’) – Amazing black, finely dissected leaves on a shrub that can grow to 10 feet, what’s not to love? Black Lace produces soft pink flower clusters in early summer but really, it is the foliage. It will tolerate a little dryness, but the growth is improved with regular irrigations. Black Lace is also sold under the name ‘Eva.’
IVORY HALO DOGWOOD (Cornus alba ‘Ivory Halo’)—Most dogwoods are rather boring in the summer, but not Ivory Halo. Clean, stable variegation adds a sunlit affect when planted with darker leafed shrubs or trees. If left to its own devices, Ivory Halo will reach four to six feet high and equally wide. With minimal pruning, it can be kept to four feet.
GRO-LOW SUMAC (Rhus aromatic ‘Gro-Low’) – Gro-Lows have smaller leaves than most sumac and as their self-explanatory name informs you, a dwarf habit. Expect a 24 to 30 inch plant that spreads to six feet or more. Excellent for erosion control, this easy shrub turns from green to red-orange in autumn. Gro-Lows need well-drained soil and plenty of sunshine.