June 30th, 2015
Continuing my mini-series on favorite plants, here’s my current list of top 10 flowering shrubs.
For more of my favorites (and not-so-favorites), check out my George’s Favorite Stuff page.
1.) Spirea Mellow Yellow (Spirea japonica ‘Ogon’). Texture, color, multi-season interest, low care, durability… this shrub has it all.
Mellow Yellow starts the season by nearly covering itself with dainty white flowers. It’s one of the earliest shrubs to bloom – typically end of March.
Then as the flowers fade, the narrow, willowy, golden foliage emerges to give the plant its showy season-long finely textured, golden look. The habit is loose and arching and about 5 to 6 feet tall and wide, unless you want to prune it to less.
In November and December, the foliage turns coppery to burnt orange-gold before finally going bare. It’s a great focal-point plant all season and has no bug, disease or animal issues. Best in full sun but also does fine in part shade.
2.) Panicle hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata). Also sometimes called “tree-type” or “PeeGee” hydrangeas, these are upright hydrangeas that flower on new wood from July into fall.
The flowers are more cone-shaped and generally white, pink, rose or bicolor instead of the rounded blue of the more familiar big-leafed hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla).
Panicle hydrangeas not only have big and long-lasting flowers, they’re much more sun-tolerant than the big-leaf hydrangeas and bloom reliably each year (unlike the big-leaf types, which suffer from flower-bud dieback in cold winters).
My favorites are Limelight (white) and Pinky Winky and Quick Fire (white/rose bicolors). They’ll grow 7-by-6 feet, but if that’s too big, look for more compact varieties, such as Little Lime, Bobo and Little Quick Fire. Full sun to part shade.
3.) Witch alder ‘Mt. Airy’ (Fothergilla x intermedia). I’m not sure why more people don’t plant this trouble-free U.S. native shade shrub.
Witch alder grows 4 to 6 feet tall with a slightly narrower spread, although it can “fatten out” in time if you let its emerging root shoots walk.
White bottle-brush flowers emerge in early spring and smell like licorice. Some varieties have bluish foliage in summer. But I like ‘Mt. Airy’ best for its neon golden fall foliage.
All witch alders have nice fall foliage, though, ranging from scarlet to red/gold to burnt gold. They’re easy to grow and deserving of more use. Best in shade to part shade.
4.) Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia). Here’s another U.S. native shrub that’s not used in landscapes nearly as much as it should be.
Oakleaf hydrangeas have four-season interest – large, oak-shaped leaves; white cone-shaped flowers in early summer; burgundy fall foliage, and peeling cinnamon-colored bark for winter interest.
Snow Queen and Snowflake are two very good 6- to 8-footers. Check out ‘PeeWee’ and the new pink-blooming ‘Ruby Slippers’ if you prefer something more like 5 feet tall and around.
I’ve seen oakleaf hydrangea do well in all kinds of light, from full sun to nearly full shade.