Start by shopping locally, talk to the nursery folks and find out their favorites. Do a drainage test for new shrub beds. Dig a hole 10” deep and fill it with water. If it does not drain off in a couple of hours, amend the soil or choose plants that can tolerate ‘wet feet’. In general, when planting shrubs it is best to dig holes wider but only slightly deeper than the grow pot’s dimensions. It takes 2 seasons for a many shrubs to become truly acclimated to their new home. Take special care during that time to be sure they do not dry out and take a ‘slow but steady’ approach to fertilizing and pruning to get them well established for decades. Here’s an outstanding group suggested by Jeff Fulton.
- Banana Shrub is a venerable Deep South evergreen shrub with flowers so fragrant ladies dropped them into their décolletage. The inch-long banana-colored and scented blooms masked the scents of summer before deodorant. Michelia figo grows in sun or part shade in good garden soil and blooms off and on from spring into summer.
- Doublefile Viburnum is one of many members of this family that deserve more attention. The ‘Shasta’ variety of V. tomentosum grows with strongly horizontal form or as Jeff says, “Layer upon layer of white flowers in spring, which appeals to people now that dogwoods have developed problems.” Water doublefile well in dry summers.
- “Japanese Silverbell is a polite plant,” says Fulton. “You can afford to plant it under a power line because it won’t become a problem.” Styrax japonicus has pendulous flowers, that is, the sweet bells hang upside down. Grow it in sun or part shade, silverbell is a good companion to azaleas.
- Don’t be prejudiced against a shrub called Yellow Rose of Texas! Kerria japonica bursts with small clusters of intensely yellow flowers in spring. The shrub is tolerant of most conditions but looks best at the back of a bed or border where its strongly angular form can be appreciated.
- Buckeye works well as an understory shrub, a colorful spot below tall pine trees and hardwood. Aesculus pavia has big, hand-shaped leaves with a red tinge to the new growth. Long spikes of red flowers appear in May followed by the buckeyes, brown capsules with 2 seeds inside. Carry a buckeye for luck, or plant some.
- Winterberry suits poorly drained soils, including pond banks and low spots. Plant both male and female shrubs of Ilex verticillata, then sit back and watch the show. Distinctive leaves and small white flowers are followed by the shiniest red berries in the garden favored by birds in late winter.
- Sweet Shrub or Carolina Allspice or Strawberry Shrub. Some native plants like Calycanthus floridus are so beloved they get named by several generations. Sweet shrub is wider than it is tall, grows in sun or part shade and blooms May-July. You’ll smell the spicy aroma before you see the small maroon flowers!