Landscapers know that flowering shrubs are the major anchors in many landscape design plans. With eye-catching colors, flowering shrubs are often the centerpiece of a lawn. Lawn shrubs can also be beneficial in other ways as they can attract wildlife by providing shelter and food, they can be sources of shade during the summer heat, and they can form leafy screens to block unwelcome sights. When buying flowering shrubs, by choosing the right varieties of healthy nursery grown plants, it is possible to have lawn shrubs in bloom throughout the year. Read on to learn about some of the best landscaping plants in terms of flowering shrubs for the southern US.
Crepe myrtles while technically shrubs, come in sizes ranging from low growing ground covers and dwarf and medium-sized bushes, up to 35 ft. tall flowering trees. Blooming starting in early summer, crêpe myrtles will rebloom through the summer into early fall if the seed heads are removed. They come in a wide array of flower colors lacking only yellows, oranges, and true blues. Blooming flowers in various shades of pinks, reds, purples, white, and lavender, cover the bushes in large panicles that hold their colors for weeks on end. Crape myrtles are strongly drought tolerant and heat-resistant once established, having few insect pests or disease problems other than powdery mildew on occasion. In addition to their blooming flowers, there are crepe myrtle varieties that will put on a fall show with leaves turning an array of bright red, orange, and yellow, before they are shed for the colder months. As shrubs for landscaping, crape myrtles can also offer a winter interest as many types have lovely peeling bark in contrasting colors of white, brown, and cinnamon, on their smooth graceful multiple trunks. Because of their dense foliage, crape myrtles often attract nesting birds and when in bloom they are alive with bees feeding on their nectar. Most landscaping gardeners worry about pruning shrubs successfully, with crêpe myrtles there are no worries as they don't need any pruning but can be pruned if desired. Crepe myrtles are fast growing, usually start blooming the first season they are set out, and are cold hardy up to zone 4.
Azaleas and rhododendrons are some of the best known springtime flowering shrubs. Azaleas put on a spectacular springtime show of vibrant colors that in the case of the evergreen azalea varieties, bathe the whole shrub with a solid curtain of hues in pinks, reds, whites and purple tones. With growth sizes ranging from the petite 1 to 2 ft. high gumbos to the massive 10 ft. high and wide indicus azaleas, there are choices of evergreen azaleas to fit all landscaping plans. Being native to Asia most evergreen azaleas are only cold hardy to -10 degrees F meaning they can only be grown up to zone 5, with their dark green leaves giving them a nice look all year round. For more northern gardeners there are cold hardy deciduous azaleas bred from native stock. These open and airy flowering shrubs come in all the colors of the asian varieties as well as yellows and oranges. The Northern Lights series of azaleas, developed by the Univ. of Michigan, have been known to take temperatures down to -50 degrees F without killing the flower buds. The deciduous azaleas like the evergreen types, come in a wide array of sizes and growth habits with some being more sprawling and ground hugging and others reaching for the sky and getting over 10 ft. high. The flowers on deciduous azaleas, while not as numerous as the asian varieties, are held in tight well-formed bouquets and many are quite fragrant as well. Hybrid azaleas don't form any seed heads and the flowers fall off cleanly so there is little mess after the show and both the evergreen and deciduous types have small leaves that don't require raking.
Rhododendrons are a larger cousin of the azaleas, with larger trunks and branches many of them can grow to be small tree size and there are varieties that can get over 100 ft. tall. Most rhododendrons also have much larger leathery leaves that in nearly all cases are evergreen. Their flower masses form round balls that are held above the green leaves. In the right climates there are rhododendron varieties that will bloom as early as Jan. with most types flowering in the early spring, but there are some that will bloom as late as August. Rhododendrons like cooler weather rather than the heat loved by azaleas and there are varieties such as the small-leaved PJM hybrids that can be grown up to zone 4. Flower colors include all those of the azaleas as well as more in the blue/purple/magenta range along with bicolors of all types. Most azaleas and rhodies are slow-growing and long-lived but they tend to bloom at an early age. Azaleas and Rhodies both require acid soils, prefer a semi shady spot in the garden and because of their slow growth seldom need pruning.
Camellias provide landscaping colors with their flowers in the fall, through the winter, and during the early spring, while in the summer they are covered with dark glossy, evergreen leaves. At one time camellias were strictly a flowering shrub for the deep south as there were no truly cold hardy varieties. Now there are camellias for northern gardens up to zone 4 that can take temperatures down to 0 degrees, though the flower buds will not take that much cold. Like azaleas and rhodies, camellias like acidic soil with a pH range of 6.0 to 6.5, that drains well and contains lots of organic matter. Camellias are an understory flowering shrub preferring high dappled shade especially in the heat of the day as the leaves can be scalded by full sun. They are really at home under pines or other deep-rooted, tall trees. Camellias have shallow root systems so they cannot compete with the surface roots of trees like maples or oaks. The two main types of Camellias grown in the US. are Sasanquas and Japonicas with many different varieties of each type. Sasanqua camellias can take more sun and more cold than the Japonicas, being able to survive temperatures as low as 0 degrees. Sasanqua camellias have smaller leaves and flowers, tend to bloom earlier from Sept. through Jan., have a more open growth habit and reach heights of over 20 ft. tall. Japonica camellias have the larger blossoms, up to 8 inches across, that cover the dense bushes from Dec. to April. Japonicas need winter protection when temperatures fall below 10 degrees and their flower buds usually cannot take temps below 15 degrees. Camellias tend to grow just as wide as they are tall so give them plenty of room and consider their size when planting near a structure. The flower colors range from pure white, pinks, and cherry reds, to dark burgundy reds, with many two-tone varieties and some with bright yellow stamens. There are many different flower types such as, singles, doubles, formals, peony, rose, and anemone shaped blooms. Camellia are fast growing when young and then slow down when they reach their ultimate height which can vary from 2 ft. up to 25. They are very long-lived with some specimens living over 100 years. In terms of pests and diseases, camellias can be bothered by white flies, scale insects, petal blight, and camellia die-back fungus. Pruning is not a necessity with camellias except to control growth or remove dead or damaged branches. The flowers shed freely as they start to fade and there is not major leaf fall season, so camellias are very clean in the landscape.
Nothing signals the start of spring like the stunning yellow blossoms of Forsythia that brighten the landscape amid the dull colors of the ending winter. Forsythia can be grown up to zone 4 and are not particular about the soils as long as they have good drainage. With their open growth habits and in some varieties a weeping, arched stem style, these flowering shrubs show themselves off every spring. Forsythias like full sun to grow in and the sunlight shows off their flower covered stems when in bloom. Often the first of the spring-flowering shrubs, forsythia hold their color for around 10 days and then after the flowers fall, the bare stems get covered with small light green leaves for the summer. Tolerant of dry conditions, poor soils, and city pollutants, forsythia are easy to grow and look great with spring-flowering bulbs planted around them. They do require yearly pruning after they bloom to keep the bushes tidy and in top blooming condition each spring. Pruning is easy though, you simply cut back one-fourth of the old stems right after the flowers fall to within 4 to 6 inches from the ground. The growth put on after pruning is what the plant will bloom on next year so pruning must be done right after flowering. Forsythia range from short 1 ft. varieties to giant 10 ft. tall types, with both single and double bell-shaped flowers. Them have very few pests and no major diseases.
Loropetalum or fringe flower is a relative newcomer among landscaping shrubs here in the US. but it is showing up more and more as a choice for both hedges and specimen plants. With bright pink, fuchsia, red, and sometimes white, fringe-like flowers, loropetalum thrives in hot, dry, locations with acidic soils. It has its main flowering season in the late spring with sporadic flowering throughout the summer into fall. The evergreen bushes also stand out in the landscape when not in bloom due to their dark burgundy leaves that do not fade in the sun. Loropetalum takes pruning well making it a good choice for formal hedges and for shaping as desired. Different varieties can be trimmed up to produce small flowering trees or even used as a ground cover with repeated trimmings, Hardy to the southern parts of zone 7, loropetalum likes full sun, where the leaves will develop and maintain their best color. There are dwarf varieties, midsize varieties, and types that will grow to 25 ft. tall, so when buying Loropetalum shrubs be sure to get a variety with the growth habits that meet your needs.
At the beginning of summer just before the heat starts to build, the Hydrangea will come into full bloom becoming masses of tightly packed flower heads in shades of blue, purples, pinks, and white. There are four main type of hydrangeas, French/mop head/lace cap hydrangeas, Arborescens/Annebelle hydrangeas, Oak leaf hydrangeas, and Paniculata/PG hydrangeas. Most types are deciduous losing their leaves over the winter though Oak leaf varieties can hold on to their large leaves all winter. Hydrangeas bloom from late spring until early summer. French hydrangeas have the unique characteristic of having flowers colors that are dependent on the soil condition they are growing in. In acid soils that carry a supply of aluminum, the flowers will be shades of blue or purple, while in soils lacking aluminum or that are alkaline, thus locking up any aluminum, the flowers will be shades of pink. There are also white mopheads whose color is not changeable. The other hydrangea types all come mainly in shades of white, green, and some pinks. Hydrangeas grow best in shady areas as they (especially the mopheads) will wilt badly in the full sun or during dry spells. The French hydrangeas can be grown up through zone 5 while the other hydrangea types can take winters through zone 4. Mopheads with their large flower heads get up to 4 to 5 ft. tall and just as wide, the Paniculata hydrangeas can reach heights of up to 12 ft and can be trained to a small tree shape. Oakleaf hydrangeas are usually 8 to 19 ft. tall though some dwarf and giant varieties have been developed. The bare stems of French hydrangeas cannot be pruned back after the plants put on new growth during the summer as this growth holds the flower buds for next year. Any pruning of live stems on mopheads and lacecaps has to be done right as the flowers fade. Paniculatas can be pruned from the fall through to spring as they bloom on the current season's growth. Hydrangeas can be effected by sunscald and funguses.
When buying flowering shrubs for the southern landscape there are choices available to fit all sizes of yards and lawn conditions. Remember to consider soil conditions, light exposure, temperature extremes, and the ultimate size of the shrubs before making choices at local plant nurseries. Buying locally grown plants that are already acclimated to the local climate will increase the chances of success in the long run.