Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
August, 2007
Regional Report

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Shrubs and small trees give this small garden the illusion of being much larger than it actually is.


Shrubs are in a family by themselves; like trees, they are either deciduous, coniferous, or evergreen, but they lack a single trunk. When deciding what type of shrub to plant, the answer depends on what you need in your landscape. Rounded shrubs like boxwood and holly work really well for borders. Vertical shrubs, such as Hollywood juniper, work in front of windowless walls (ou wouldn't want a tall shrub in front of a window). Arching shrubs, such as butterfly bush, can stand alone by themselves.

The Who's Who in Shrubbery
Deciduous shrubs come in a variety of shapes and sizes, including those with arching branches, such as butterfly bush and forsythia; those with erect branches, such as the common lilac and hibiscus; and those with a rounded form, such as the hydrangea. Deciduous plants lose their leaves in the winter.

Coniferous shrubs resemble pine trees, only they are shorter and have five main growth patterns: low and trailing such as junipers; medium spreading, horizontal spreading, such as some viburnums, round and compact like a mugo pine; and upright.

Broad-leaved evergreen shrubs include boxwoods, azaleas, and myrtles. These plants don't lose their leaves and will stay green all year long. They usually have a thick, waxy leaf that doesn't lose much water through transpiration.

What Goes Where?
Different shrubs will be more suitable to different areas of your garden. You would use a deciduous shrub in an area of your garden close to a window where there is morning sun. In the winter, the fact that the shrub loses its leaves and will allow all the available sunlight into your home is a good thing. Add to that flowers in spring and you have a perfect landscape plant ideally suited to its site.

Evergreen shrubs can be used to screen and hide certain areas of your garden, such as heat pumps, dog runs, and garbage cans. Taller evergreen shrubs like oleander can be used to guide your eye up and over a permanent landscape feature, such as a fence or wall. Low-growing evergreen shrubs can be used as ground covers.

Choosing Plants
Shrubs are the backbone of any landscape design and will be with you as long as you have your garden, so the selection of shrubs should be done with careful consideration. To maximize your landscape budget, avoid costly mistakes. Make sure you are planting the right plant in the right place; you wouldn't plant a shade-loving plant in full sun or a plant that does not need much water in a boggy area.

Avoid exotic plants, and stick with some of the tried-and-true standards such as these: hydrangea, potentilla, raphiolepis, spirea, holly, cotoneaster, juniper, rhododendron, and azalea. And remember, always choose a plant that is suitable to the site.

Plant for Success
In arid climates such as ours, build a berm around the drip line to aid in watering for the first year or two. Add no fertilizer until you begin to see some new growth. After planting, it's always a good idea to add a layer of mulch around your new shrubs.

The fall planting season is right around the corner. Take a trip to your local nursery to see what treasures they have in stock.

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