How to Pick the Best Bushes and Shrubs for Landscaping Your Yard

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How to Pick the Best Bushes and Shrubs for Landscaping Your Yard

Offering an enormous diversity of sizes, shapes, flowers, and foliage, using shrubs for landscaping can turn a bland backyard into a beautiful, dynamic showpiece. These sturdy plants help fill in beds and solidify foundation plantings, which makes your yard more inviting.

Flowering varieties add extra color and sweet fragrances. Depending on where you live and the conditions in your yard, different shrubs can add evergreen texture, groundcover on a slope, and even more privacy by blocking street noise. They also help protect the soil from erosion and support wildlife with food and shelter.

Here’s a look at various important characteristics to consider to pick out the best shrubs for your yard.

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Types of Shrubs and Bushes

Cascading sprays of white spirea blooms appear in spring.

Before diving into the different types of bushes and shrubs for landscaping, you may wonder precisely what they are. In general, they’re plants with multiple woody stems that usually don’t die back to the ground in winter (which most perennial plants typically do). However, a few trees, like serviceberries, can have multiple woody stems, so some experts distinguish shrubs further by saying they stay under 10 feet tall.

There are exceptions to this rule, which has led to the term “trub,” labeling those plants that can’t seem to decide if they’re a tree or a shrub.

Shrubs can be deciduous (meaning they lose their leaves every winter) or evergreen. Some families of shrubs include both of these types, like hollies. There are also coniferous (cone-bearing evergreens) species like many junipers and yews.

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Shrub Foliage Colors

Diabolo Ninebark

‘Diablo’ ninebark has eye-catching reddish leaves and stems.

The leaves of shrubs for landscaping come in almost every color, even nearly black, like ‘Black Lace’ elderberry ($21, The Home Depot). Even plain green deciduous varieties often turn bright colors in the fall. And evergreen shrubs, despite their name, offer a fantastic range of foliage colors beyond green, including soft blue, yellow, and variegated in yellow or cream with green. These hues look even more striking in a snow-covered winter landscape. When selecting bushes or shrubs for landscaping, consider their appearance throughout all seasons.

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Shrub Shapes and Forms

In addition to the usual upright, rounded configuration, shrubs for landscaping can be weeping (branches drape downward), prostrate (branches grow low and outward, which works well for covering slopes), and topiary (pruned into interesting shapes). Some species are available in dwarf forms, especially conifers, which are a good choice for smaller properties.

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Drought-Tolerant Options

Compared to many smaller plants, most shrubs are pretty drought-tolerant once they are established (for the first year after planting, you’ll want to make sure your shrub stays well watered so the roots have a chance to grow in). Unfortunately, you can’t always count on rain to water your plants in some parts of the country. So if you want to use less water in your garden, choose shrubs that tolerate dry conditions. Some examples are potentilla, spirea, and many viburnums.

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Avoiding Deer Damage

Deer can damage shrubs by nibbling their twigs, fruit, and foliage. Gardeners across the country always look for ornamentals that deer won’t touch. Lists vary by region (and even neighborhood), but certain types of plants appear on many of them. Consider shrubs with thorns or prickers, resinous wood, aromatic foliage, and fuzzy leaves.

Advantages of Native Shrubs

Dwarf fothergilla produces fluffy white flowers in spring.
Doug Hetherington

Native shrubs are also a good option. Because they’ve existed in the same regions for centuries, they’ve adapted to local climate and soil conditions. They also have plenty of low-maintenance benefits: They usually don’t need extra watering, tend to resist pests and disease, and are big favorites of local wildlife. A few options that combine the virtues of beauty and low maintenance include:

  • American arborvitae
  • American beautyberry
  • American holly
  • Bayberry
  • Bottlebrush buckeye
  • Carolina allspice
  • Chokeberry
  • Dwarf fothergilla
  • Mountain laurel
  • Oakleaf hydrangea
  • Oregon grapeholly
  • Rhododendron (some)
  • Sweet pepperbush
  • Virginia sweetspire

Shrubs That Attract Wildlife

Firethorn produces bright red berries that birds love.
Denny Schrock

Many shrubs with berries (native or not) attract birds and other wildlife. These include:

  • Blueberry
  • Cotoneaster
  • Dogwood
  • Euonymus
  • Firethorn
  • Holly
  • Juniper
  • Viburnum
  • Wax myrtle

Most Popular Flowers & Plants in the USA

RegionPopular FlowersPopular Plants
Northeast (e.g., New York, Massachusetts)Rose, Purple Lilac, Mountain LaurelSugar Maple, American Elm, White Pine
Southeast (e.g., Florida, Georgia)Orange Blossom, Cherokee Rose, Southern MagnoliaLive Oak, Spanish Moss, Saw Palmetto
Midwest (e.g., Ohio, Illinois)Carnation, Violet, Purple ConeflowerBur Oak, Prairie Grasses, Wild Bergamot
Southwest (e.g., Texas, Arizona)Bluebonnet, Saguaro Cactus Flower, Indian PaintbrushJoshua Tree, Agave, Mesquite
West (e.g., California, Washington)California Poppy, Coast Rhododendron, BitterrootGiant Sequoia, Redwood, Manzanita
Rocky Mountain (e.g., Colorado, Montana)Rocky Mountain Columbine, Bitterroot, Indian PaintbrushBlue Spruce, Aspen, Sagebrush
Great Plains (e.g., Kansas, Nebraska)Sunflower, Goldenrod, Purple ConeflowerCottonwood, Bluestem Grasses, Buffalo Grass
Pacific Northwest (e.g., Oregon, Alaska)Oregon Grape, Forget-me-not, Pacific RhododendronDouglas Fir, Western Hemlock, Ferns

This table includes the most popular flowers and plants in the USA by region, which considers a range of botanical species, including native and widely cultivated varieties.

Most Popular Flowers & Plants in Australia

RegionPopular FlowersPopular Plants
New South WalesWaratah, Bottlebrush, Flannel FlowerEucalyptus, Acacia, Banksia
VictoriaCommon Heath, Waxflower, Pink HeathMountain Ash, Silver Wattle, Victorian Blue Gum
QueenslandCooktown Orchid, Golden Penda, Umbrella Tree FlowerMoreton Bay Fig, Macadamia Nut, Queensland Bottle Tree
South AustraliaSturt's Desert Pea, Kangaroo Paw, Eucalyptus BlossomAdelaide Blue Gum, South Australian Blue Gum, Saltbush
Western AustraliaRed and Green Kangaroo Paw, Mangles Kangaroo Paw, Swan River DaisyJarrah, Marri, Karri
TasmaniaTasmanian Blue Gum, Leatherwood Flower, Tasmanian WaratahHuon Pine, Tasmanian Oak, Myrtle Beech
Northern TerritorySturt's Desert Rose, Frangipani, Desert RoseBoab, Gidgee, Spinifex
Australian Capital TerritoryRoyal Bluebell, Australian Daisy, CorreaSnow Gum, River Red Gum, Black Mountain

This table offers a basic overview of popular flowers and plants in each Australian region, focusing on a combination of state flowers, native species, and other characteristic plants. It's important to note that specific species' popularity and prevalence can vary. This table is a simplified representation. Consulting local botanical gardens or regional horticultural societies in Australia would be ideal for more detailed and accurate information.

Charlotte Gammon

By Charlotte Gammon

Meet Charlotte Gammon, our expert and author. She's our true treasure, as she has got 20+ years of experience in gardening, winery and house design. In early 2000s, she worked for today.com magazine and was in charge of the gaardening section. Later on, Charlotte opened her own designer agency and worked as a designer and decorator. We are happy to have Charlotte with us, as she is our good friend. We value her experience and we're sure you will love the articles she created for our blog.