Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
July, 2004
Regional Report

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Hypericum 'Hidcote' is a beautiful woody shrub that dies back to the ground every winter like a perennial.

Shrubs for Structure and Summer Color

Most perennials that are commonly grown in the Midwest are herbaceous, meaning they die back to the ground in winter and then new shoots emerge from the crown the following spring. There is another group of plants that are technically woody shrubs, but since they are not completely hardy in our climate, they die back to the ground most winters.

In spring, these plants send out new growth from the roots or the lower parts of stems whose upper sections died. These plants are great additions to the perennial garden and can be treated just the same as herbaceous perennials.

This group of dieback shrubs includes such beauties as Hypericum 'Hidcote', butterfly bush (Buddleia), bluebeard (Caryopteris), beautyberry (Callicarpa), chastetree (Vitex), and some of the hydrangeas.

In milder years the stems of these shrubs may stay alive through the winter, but in most cases they die completely. Even if some of the stems do stay alive, it is a good idea to cut them back in spring for a more attractive plant. The stems tend to look leggy and sparse when they survive the winter.

One of the best features of these dieback shrubs is they lend a good sense of structure to the garden. Their stems are generally quite sturdy since they are woody, and they seldom need any type of support to keep them upright. Most of these shrubs grow large enough to give a real impact to the garden. Because of their habit of dying back to the ground, most of them are mid- to late-summer bloomers, another plus in the perennial garden.

Butterfly Bush
Here's a favorite with many gardeners because of its sweetly scented, bottlebrush flower clusters that are absolute magnets for a wide variety of butterflies. This durable plant will thrive in almost any well-drained soil as long as it is in a sunny spot. Colors range from clear white to pink to the deepest purple-black, and some have variegated foliage.

Hypericum 'Hidcote'
This plant is a delight because it grows only about 3 feet high but is graced with delicately arching stems; blue-green, tidy foliage; and bright, lemon-yellow blossoms with a fireworks display of prominent stamens. These sturdy shrubs perform best in full sun and well-drained soil.

Bluebeard comes on strong in spring with silvery, almost white, toothed foliage, followed by the clearest blue, starry flowers in late summer. The colors together are magnificent, and there are cultivars available with dark purple flowers and light powder blue flowers as well. Give it full sun and well-drained soil.

This plant is generally grown for its lovely purplish pink fruits, which can be quite abundant. The pink flowers appear amidst deep green flowers in midsummer, followed by berries that are spectacular when the leaves drop in the fall. This dieback shrub will tolerate some shade.

Chaste-tree is similar in appearance to bluebeard except the blossoms are in large panicles of blue-purple. It also needs full sun and well-drained soil.

The old-fashioned, 'Annabelle' hydrangea is best used as a dieback shrub although it will usually have some stems that survive the winter. If you grow it, make sure to prune back the stems every year so it will look its best with lush new growth and full flower heads.

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