Just because winter has just arrived, that doesn’t mean we can’t start day dreaming about things we want to change in our landscape next spring; like some new shrubs. One of the big mistakes a lot of homeowners make when choosing shrubs is the failure to check the mature size of the plant to be sure it will fit the space allotted. Small shrubs planted in a two or three gallon bucket may balloon to a monstrous size in four to five years requiring an annual haircut to keep them contained. And once overgrown, more often than not, they are sheared into meatballs and boxes that totally distort Mother Nature’s beautiful handiwork.
Take the lovely Summersweet Clethera alnifolia for instance. It’s one of the few shrubs that bloom in summer in relatively heavy shade. But in its native form this fragrant summer flowering shade lover can be expected to climb as high as eight feet when grown under the right cultural conditions. In a small landscape a plant of this size will need regular pruning to keep it from over running the place. However, the selection of a dwarf hybrid, such as ‘Hummingbird’, that maxes out at 3 feet or ‘Sixteen Candles’ with a tidy compact form that grows just to just 24inches in height, will do away with the need of pruning for reduction in height.
Left to its own devices, the glowing harbinger of spring, Forsythia intermedia, will burgeon to the 10 feet high and a width of 12 feet. But the cultivated variety ‘Golden Peep’ forms a 30-inch glowing ball in spring. ‘Gold Tide’ rises to 30 inches with a 4-foot spread and makes a nice easy care ground cover for large areas that get full sun.
Looking for something unusual? After a the golden flush of flowers in spring, Forsythia ‘Kumson’ produces incredible variegated foliage – dark green background highlighted with a pure white tracery of white veining. A stunning addition that will top out at about 4 feet in a shaded garden and possibly 6 feet in full sun. See the forsythia file in yarderner website for much more on this popular shrub.
The fabulous flowering oak leaf hydrangeas Hydrangeas quercifolia may reach 10 feet with an 8 foot spread when mature. However, the dwarf cultivated variety ‘Little Honey’ which sports bright golden yellow foliage matures to a manageable 3 to 4 feet in height and width, making it a perfect for brightening up shade gardens. Another handsome dwarf oak leaf Hydrangea, with an upright habit and elegant green leaves that stays in the 3 to 4 foot range is ‘Sikes Dwarf’.
Woody plant guru Michael Dirr’s illustrated encyclopedia Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs (Timber Press $69.95), which includes more then 500 species and over 700 cultivated varieties recommended for use in cold climates ranging from Zone 3 to Zone 6 is a great resource when searching for great landscape plants.