The Q&A Archives: Children Friendly Shrubs

Question: I would like children friendly, close to home shrubs that don't attract a lot of bugs. What do you suggest?

Answer: Here are a few suggestions from which to choose:
Abelia grandiflora (Glossy Abelia). There is hardly a more satisfying shrub for the small garden. It is a rapid grower, quickly reaching 4 feet. It has a nice rounded habit, and glossy green leaves true to its name. Pink tubular flowers start in late summer and carry on well into the fall, when hardly anything else is flowering. It is undemanding in its soil requirements, happy in sun or shade, and takes beautifully to pruning.

Buxus (Boxwood) Although adaptable to a range of climates and conditions, it prefers a good, loose loam, well-drained of course, and sun or partial shade. It grows 3 to 4 four feet high, but can be kept pruned lower with no loss of character. The small oval leaves are medium green in summer, turning bronze in cold weather. The variety koreana is by far the best choice for cold weather.

Euonymous fortunei (Wintercreeper Euonymous) It grows to 3 to 4 feet, flowers in June or July, and follows with red capsules enclosing orange-red seeds that hang in clusters. The foliage texture is interesting on its own, but particularly handsome when paired with a needled evergreen such as any of the junipers below. Emerald Gaiety sports silver-edged leaves as wide as they are long -- about an inch -- and grows to about 4 feet in either sun or shade.

Juniperus spp. (Juniper) Among the hundreds of junipers with their characteristically sharp, scale-like evergreen needles, there are a few superb choices for the small garden. Some grow as tall as trees, while others can be used as groundcover. Somewhere in the middle is J. chinensis 'Pfitzeriana,' the Pfitzer Juniper, one of the most popular. It grows from 5 to 10 feet high and can be used as an individual specimen or as screening. Juniperus horizontalis, Creeping Juniper, has the spreading characteristics of a groundcover, but has enough bulk to be considered a shrub. J. horizontalis 'Wiltonii,' the 'Blue Rug' juniper, is gray-blue and grows relatively flat but can be deployed effectively as a shrub in raised containers on rooftops and terraces. Other members of the J.horizontalis group should be reserved for use as a spreading groundcover.

Kalmia latifolia (Mountain laurel) It is dense when grown in full sun, and rangy and open when grown in the shade. The shrub in flower is more subtle than the azaleas and rhododendrons, but equal in beauty. The foliage is as handsome; leaves can be up to five inches long and appear polished. It likes well-drained, acid soil and, like the rhododendrons, it does not like winter sun. Mountain laurel only flowers when mature, so buy a well-budded plant in spring to make sure it will bloom.

Pieris Japonica (Japanese Andromeda) A broad-leaf evergreen showing beautiful foliage in all seasons. Although it flowers freely, it is the foliage that counts in this background plant. The new foliage appears in early summer, and is red-bronze turning to green as the season deepens. The flowers, drooping white racemes 3 to 6 inches long, appear in early spring and last from two to three weeks. Spent flowers should be removed. It will grow to about 8 feet in partial shade, planted in a moist, acid soil rich in compost.

Pinus mugo (Mugo Pine, Swiss Mountain Pine) A two-needle pine, medium to dark green in color, growing to less than 8 feet high. It is extremely adaptable to wide variations of climate, soil and pH. The dwarf form is a fine choice for Japanese-style gardens, or for containers used on a terrace or a rooftop garden. To maintain the small size, prune the bud candles (the new shoots) when they are half their mature length.

Best wishes with your landscape!

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