From hydrangeas to lilacs, flowering shrubs brighten any garden

SUNDAY, MAY 29, 2011

Planting flowering shrubs is a great way to add structure and interest to the garden. Their beautiful flowers can brighten dark corners of the landscape, some have delightful fragrances and many have attractive fall foliage.

There are so many shrubs with wonderful attributes that thrive in Inland Northwest gardens. Here is a guide to some of the very best:

One of the old standbys is the hydrangea. If you like those with large blossoms, choose one of the new Smoothleaf hydrangeas (H. arborescens) because they bloom on new wood.

With the old cultivars, if you cut off some of the previous year’s blossoms or lost some canes to a tough winter, the plants wouldn’t bloom the following year. Not so with new cultivars like white Annabelle or pink Invincibelle Spirit; they will still bloom after bitterly cold winters or severe prunings. Height: 3 to 5 feet.

But don’t limit yourself to the Smoothleaf hydrangeas. As the name implies, Oakleaf hydrangeas (H. quercifolia) have foliage that looks like oak leaves and creamy white flower heads that fade to pale pink. Height: 6 feet.

PeeGee hydrangeas (H. paniculata) have arching branches, a strong scent and white flowers that mature to pink. Height: 6 to 10 feet.

All three of the above hydrangeas are very hardy.

Another excellent family of flowering shrubs is the viburnums. Many provide fall color and have berries that attract birds during the colder months.

Koreanspice viburnum (V. carlesii) has beautiful pinkish white flower clusters that emit an intoxicatingly spicy scent. The dark green leaves turn yellow and red in the fall. Height: 5 feet.

Burkwood viburnum (V. x Burkwoodii) is similar to Koreanspice in that has fragrant, small flower clusters and glossy leaves. The plants have a tidy, rounded growth habit. Height: 6 feet.

American Cranberrybush (V. trilobum) is a native plant hardy down to Zone 2 temperatures. The stunning white lacecap flowers and shiny red berries are a knockout in the garden, and the leaves provide attractive fall color. Height: 8 to 10 feet.

Doublefile viburnum (V. plicatum tomentosum) is another stunner with its multitude of lacecap flowers borne on horizontal branches. The flowers are followed by red berries that mature to black. Height: 8 to 10 feet.

What would a garden in Spokane – known as the “Lilac City” – be without a lilac or two?

The Common Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) is hardy to Zone 3 and has pink, purple or white flowers. While the panicles – cone-shaped flower clusters – are showy, it’s their heavenly fragrance that makes garden visitors smile.

Of special note is that there is a ‘Spokane’ cultivar with double pink blossoms. Lilacs are easy to grow, prefer full sun and well-drained soil. Height: up to 10 feet.

A welcome sight in early spring is the yellow flower of the forsythia. These shrubs are hardy to Zone 4 and do best in full sun. Most types tend to have arching branches.

For the biggest impact in the landscape, plant groups of forsythias. The most challenging aspect of this shrub is that it develops buds for the following year during the summer, so any pruning done at that time will eliminate the next year’s flowers. It’s better to prune about one-third of the oldest branches every couple of years. Height: Up to 10 feet.

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana or vernalis) is another shrub that brings interest to the landscape for two reasons in particular: it blooms during the fall or winter, and the blossoms are fragrant.

Native to North America, the Witch Hazel is very hardy for our region. Most of the shrubs have yellow flowers but there is also a red-flowering type called H. x intermedia Diane. Height: 10 to 20 feet.

Azaleas and rhododendrons are two attractive shrubs from the same genus. They need acidic soil and should be planted in an area protected from strong winds.

Azaleas are deciduous plants with funnel-shaped flowers that come in a variety of appealing colors including white, pink, yellow, red and orange. Some of the hardiest azaleas are Exbury and Northern Lights hybrids. Height: Up to 6 feet.

Rhododendrons are evergreen shrubs, meaning they hold onto their leaves year-round. They have large flower clusters that are also available in many amazing colors. The hardiest rhodies are the PJM hybrids with their early-blooming purple blossoms. Height: 3 to 8 feet.

Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) is a hardy shrub with fragrant white flower spikes that attract butterflies. There are some pink-flowered cultivars available as well. It is easy to grow in moist, acidic soil in full sun to part shade. Height: 3 to 8 feet.

Japanese Kerria (Kerria japonica) is an easygoing shrub that is not particular about soil type and is prized for its showy yellow flowers and bright green stems. This shrub is tolerant of shady conditions and is deer-resistant. Height: 3 to 5 feet.

Susan Mulvihill can be reached via email at inthegarden@live.com.Visit her blog at susansinthegarden.blogspot.com for more gardening tips and information.

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