• Sandi Manna

13 Shrubs for High Impact, Low Maintenance


There are a lot of shrubs that I love. Just like many other gardeners, I love the classic mophead hydrangea (hydrangea macrophylla). I love Red Twig Dogwoods for their bright red winter bark.

If you're like most people, you don't want a lot of maintenance (unless we're taking care of maintenance for you, which is GREAT! We love it!)

Although I love them, hydrangeas can be high maintenance if you think about it. For one, they are usually at the top of the list on the deer dinner menu. They need specific pruning to flower. (For tips on how to properly prune your hydrangea macrophylla, click here for our blog). They benefit from winter protection. (For our blog on protecting hydrangea from winter damage, click here: http://www.mmgardendesigns.com/single-post/2016/12/29/Protecting-Hydrangea-From-Winter-Damage).

1. Endless Summer Hydrangeas

These hydrangeas are very easy to care for. They bloom 10-12 weeks longer than typical mophead varieties and they bloom on both old growth (last year's growth) and new wood (this year's growth) so it takes the guesswork out of pruning.

2. Japanese Aucuba

These fabulous evergreen shrubs are a delight in any Garden. 'Gold Dust' is a variety with deep green foliage and heavy yellow speckling. Aucuba, or Japanese Laurel, has the ability to adapt to a wide variety of conditions including shade and dry soil. This is a standout shrub in the winter months. It can take full sun to full shade here in CT, and almost any type of soil except waterlogged soil. You can use it in containers, or even as an imposing host plant. It's tolerant of salt wind so is an excellent choice for waterside landscapes. It can eventually reach 10 feet high and wide, but is relatively slow growing and can be easily pruned to maintain the desired size.

3. Bloodtwig Dogwood 'Midwinter Fire'

For all season performance, this is a shrub that's hard to beat. Clusters of fragrant white flowers emerge in early spring attracting butterflies. These give way to clusters of dark purple berries in the summer that birds enjoy. As fall fades into winter, leaves drop to reveal stems that start out yellow in color at the base and then graduate to an orange towards the top and then fade into crimson tips.

These shrubs get about 5 get high and wide. They are disease and deer resistant and need very little pruning. They do get their best color on new wood, though, so prune older stems flush to the ground in early spring every 2-3 years.

4. Silver King Euonymus.

This is a very versatile shrub that does great as an individual specimen in a garden, but can also be massed together to form a hedge. This eye-catching, upright, variegated form has attractive foliage all year long. This is a tough-as-nails shrub that can tolerate a wide variety of conditions including full shade, heavy clay soil, and acid soil. It's even tolerant of salt air which makes it a great shrub for any waterfront landscape.

5. Ninebark

Ninebark is a very easy shrub to care for. It's a shrub that's Native to North America and tolerates a wide variety of conditions. It has unique burgundy foliage with many varieties. Some varieties have foliage that starts off with a yellow/gold color on the interior of the leaf and then mature to a deep burgundy, still maintaining a touch of that inner golden color. There is also a chartreuse variety. It has clusters of white blooms in early summer and it's peeling bark adds interest to the winter landscape. Ninebark is drought tolerant, deer and disease resistant. A great all around shrub that's a carefree, strong performer in the landscape.

6. Sweetspire

This is a long blooming shrub that has elongated panicles of lightly scented pure white flowers in early summer. It grows in sun or shade and requires almost no pruning or maintenance. When summer fades to fall, this shrub lights the garden on fire! Exceptional fall color that puts a burning bush to shame. This shrub grows 2-3 feet tall and wide so is a great selection for small spaces.

7. Korean Spice Viburnum

Early spring blooming Viburnum has pink buds that open to soft white flowers that have a powerful spicy-sweet scent that's not easily forgettable. It has attractive deep green leaves that change to a pretty red in the fall. It develops berries in the fall that are attractive to birds. It grows 6 feet tall and wide in full sun to part shade. It needs little pruning and is relatively tolerant to drought once established. It's deer resistant which is always a bonus!

8. Buttonbush

This is a shrub that has it all. In the spring it has unusual, fragrant white flowers that look fiber-optic to me. Its flowers attract butterflies as well as other beneficial pollinators. It has ornamental fruit and good overall structure which adds to the winter garden. It tolerates both wet and dry sites once established. It likes full sun or part shade and is tolerant of a wide variety of soils. Minimal pruning is needed.

9. Panicle hydrangeas are super easy to grow and care for. Pinky Winky is one of my favorites with huge blooms that grow up to 14"! Each bloom has nearly double the petals of other Hydrangeas giving this variety a fuller bodied look. New flowers emerge white and then progress to dark pink. As the older flowers mature, new flowers emerge white and create a spectacular show! This Hydrangea is adaptable to a wide variety of soils and is reasonably adaptable to drought once established. This hydrangea blooms on new wood so it can be pruned in late fall or early spring.

10. Pieris, or Japanese Andromeda.

I like this shrub for a number of reasons. First of all, this shrub comes in all kinds of sizes from dwarf to 7' tall or so. It also has winter interest. It's Evergreen, it holds its dried flowers all throughout the year. Some of the varieties have variegated leaves, while other varieties get bright red new growth. Japanese Andromeda does best in partial shade and is happier if it's not pruned.

11. Itea, or Virginia Sweetspire. Another great shrub. This shrub gets pretty white blooms in the spring and has amazing fall color that will rival that of any burning bush (and as a bonus, it's not invasive and burning bush is)!

12.Ilex Verticillata, or Winterberry Holly. For the most part, these shrubs are pretty nondescript throughout the summer. There is one variety that is variegated. When the fall comes around they put on quite the show. Early in Fall, they get loaded with bright colored berries that range anywhere from a deep red to a light orange, or a pale yellow, depending on the variety. The berries will persist long into winter and add winter interest to the garden until the birds have consumed them all.

13. Annabelle hydrangeas. One of my favorite shrubs, this one looks great in the garden year round. Known for its cloud-like white blooms it's a prolific bloomer all summer. It generally needs no pruning and no staking, which makes it great for low maintenance. Even better, if you leave the blooms up, it's an attractive addition to the Winter Garden.

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