Every fan of Monty Python remembers the test assigned by the Knights who say Ni to King Arthur…”you must bring us a…shrubbery!!! One that looks nice and isn’t too expensive…” I’m no King Arthur but I will accept the challenge and bring to you five low maintenance shrubs! Five shrubs so easy to grow they are almost foolproof! So get ready to join me on the shrubbery crusade of a lifetime!
The first question you want to ask yourself is what purpose is the shrub serving in your garden? While they don’t often get a great deal of attention shrubs can serve some very important functions:
• Screening-They can help to separate your yard from your neighbor or hide that tool shed that you don’t want people to see.
• Direct Traffic-Shrubs can help guide guests through your garden. The use of boxwoods in colonial gardens is an example of how shrubs can be used to keep your guests on a desired path.
• Unity-Shrubs can be used to tie your garden together and connect one flower bed to another.
So, what is it that makes a shrub low maintenance? I’m sure we all can come up with our own criteria but for my purposes I’ve always found a shrub to be low maintenance if it can accomplish the following:
• It has to look good. After all what is the point of planting it if it isn’t attractive!
• It has to be easy to work with and once planted it doesn't’t need a lot of special attention. I want it to be reliable and to know it will always be there even if I neglect it a little bit…or a lot!
• It should hold your interest year-round. A lot of shrubs bloom in the spring but it’s also great if it can be interesting at other times of the year too.
The bottom line is that you want a shrub to maximize its visual interest in your yard while not taking up a lot of your time to achieve this.
I am sure everyone has their favorite shrub that meets these requirements but these are our five low maintenance choices:
• Witch Hazel-This shrub is one of the earliest blooming shrubs available which is kind of nice as we can all use a little color in the garden in January and February. Many varieties have a spicy scent, and they tolerate a variety of soil conditions with the exception of soil that is perpetually wet. They can grow in full sun or partial sun conditions and require very little pruning.
• Forsythia-Has pretty yellow flowers in the spring and is tolerant of a variety of soil conditions. It does well in full sun and partial shade. It is easily shaped and is a great choice as a screening shrub. You can cut twigs late in the winter and force them to bloom indoors too.
• Oak Leaf Hydrangea-Does well in both full sun and shady conditions. Blooms in mid-summer when many other shrubs are already finished flowering. It tolerates a variety of soil conditions and looks great as a stand-alone specimen plant or in a mass planting, it has red foliage in the fall as well.
• Red Twig Dogwood-This is another shrub that does well in sunny or partially shady conditions. It will tolerate a variety of soil conditions, but does particularly well in moist soils. It has white flowers in the spring which attract butterflies and berries in the fall which feed the birds. Its bark is a deep red which stands out beautifully in winter snowstorms.
• Blue Rug Juniper-This is an evergreen whose color seems to intensify in the winter. It makes an excellent ground cover in dry soil conditions, does well on slopes, and has distinctive blue berries in the fall.
I know this is cheating, but I I’d like to give an honorable mention to other great shrubs who could fit the low maintenance category; including, boxwood, ilex, weigela, cotoneaster and spirea. One final hint that I would like to share is to make sure when you are purchasing shrubs that you check on how tall and wide they are at maturity. Nothing is worse than planting something that you have to remove a few years later because it really doesn’t fit the space it is in!