Shrubs are incredibly versatile parts of any landscape, and because they come in such a variety of heights, they can be layered with trees, herbaceous plants, and other shrubs. Larger shrubs can make excellent privacy screens and backdrops for the rest of the garden, while smaller shrubs are often good choices for areas close to buildings. Some species stand up well to heavy pruning and can be formed into tidy squared-off hedges or globe shapes. What’s more, shrubs provide many of the same environmental benefits as trees, holding soil in place with dense roots, shielding buildings and more vulnerable plants from wind, and providing critical structural habitat and food sources for native birds and wildlife.
Click on or scroll over the images in the expandable galleries below for identifying captions. We have also included links where you can learn more about the recommended species from non-profit horticultural resources in the region.
The plants recommended here are suitable for low hedges, low-growing foundation plantings, and as a short layer in a mixed shrub border or perennial bed. Keep in mind that low height does not always correspond to low lateral spread. Some of these shrubs will spread considerably through their roots without frequent pruning. This can be good in some situations where erosion control, ground cover, or naturalization are goals, but non-ideal in others.
Top row, right to left: (1) Summersweet ‘Hummingbird’; (2) Fragrant sumac GRO LOW; (3) Carolina rose; (4) White meadowsweet; (5) New Jersey tea; (6) Kalm’s St. John’s wort
Second row, right to left: (1) Common ninebark FESTIVUS GOLD; (2) Black chokeberry IROQOUIS BEAUTY; (3) Coralberry; (4) Winterberry RED SPRITE; (5) Virginia Sweetspire SCARLET BEAUTY; (6) Dwarf fothergilla
Bottom row, right to left: (1) Mountain bush honeysuckle; (2) Alpine currant ‘Pumilum’; (3) Hybrid roses; (4) Weigela MY MONET; (5) Boxwood ‘Glencoe’; (6) Hybrid yew ‘Densiformis’
Shrubs in this intermediate size class are often quite versatile. They make effective tall hedges, privacy screens, and back-border plants for smaller sites and a mid-size layer for larger sites. Many of the natives are also fantastic additions for habitat services on the developed landscape.
Top row, left to right: (1) Saskatoon serviceberry ‘Regent’; (2) Twinberry; (3) Common ninebark; (4) Smooth rose; (5) Wild blackberry; (6) Southern arrowwood BLUE MUFFIN
Second row, left to right: (1) Winterberry holly; (2) Russet buffaloberry; (3) Black chokeberry; (4) Red chokeberry; (5) Winged sumac ‘Morton’ PRAIRIE FLAME; (6) Red-osier dogwood ‘Alleman’s Compact’
Third row, left to right: (1) Running serviceberry; (2) Purple-flowering raspberry; (3) Bayberry; (4) Vernal witch hazel, (5) Carolina allspice; (6) Hybrid fothergilla
Bottom row, left to right: (1) Weigela; (2) Korean spice viburnum; (3) Hybrid yew; (4) Hybrid rose ‘Clair Matin’; (5) Judd viburnum; (6) Boxwood ‘Green Mountain’
Among the larger plants in this group, the distinction between shrub and tree can be difficult. Here, we included species that most frequently grow without a main/leading trunk. You can see our compact tree gallery here. With any shrub, and particularly with these larger species, it is important to make sure that their lateral growth habit, sometimes referred to as suckering or clonal growth, is suitable for the planting site. Large shrubs are great for natural areas, big gardens, campuses and other spacious areas.
Top row, left to right: (1) Buttonbush; (2) Spicebush; (3) Southern arrowwood; (4) American cranberry bush; (5) Common elderberry; (6) Speckled alder
Second row, left to right: (1) Rough-leaved dogwood; (2) Winged sumac; (3) Common ninebark ‘Diablo’; (4) American hazelnut; (5) Eastern wahoo; (6) Witherod viburnum
Bottom row, left to right: (1) Red-osier dogwood; (2) Silver buffaloberry, (3) Bottlebrush buckeye; (4) Beautybush ‘Pink Cloud’; (5) Hybrid yew ‘Viridis’; (6) Blood-twigged dogwood
Many gardeners and landscape designers are considering how their plantings interact with the larger ecosystem. This is thanks in large part to recent contributions by native plant advocates and researchers to popular gardening media. The shrubs below support native wildlife including insects, birds and mammals. One of the best ways to support wildlife is to grow a diversity of native shrubs and other plants, replacing relatively sterile parts of the landscape (lawns and single-species groves, for example).
Top row, left to right: (1) Buttonbush; (2) White meadowsweet; (3) Silverberry; (4) Eastern wahoo; (5) Black chokeberry; (6) Shrub serviceberries
Second row, left to right: (1) Roundleaf dogwood; (2) Winged sumac; (3) Wild blackberry; (4) Black elderberry; (5) Twinberry; (6) Southern arrowwood
Bottom row, left to right: (1) American hazelnut; (2) Coralberry; (3) Spicebush; (4) Winterberry holly; (5) Blackhaw viburnum; (6) Shrubby St. John’s wort
These shrubs have ornamentally important flowers. Most flower in spring, though some flower in summer and even early fall. With proper care, some species may flower more than once per season.
Top row, left to right: (1) Buttonbush; (2) Common ninebark; (3) Red chokeberry; (4) Saskatoon serviceberry ‘Regent’; (5) Vernal witch hazel; (6) American cranberry bush
Second row, left to right: (1) White meadowsweet; (2) Smooth rose; (3) Southern arrowwood; (4) Summersweet; (5) Kalm’s St. John’s wort; (6) Fothergilla
Bottom row, left to right: (1) Bottlebrush buckeye; (2) Carolina allspice; (3) Hybrid roses; (4) Weigela; (5) Beauty bush; (6) Judd’s viburnum
These selections add bright fall color to shrub borders, natural areas, foundation plantings and anywhere else they are used.
Top row, left to right: (1) Black chokeberry; (2) Witherod viburnum; (3) Eastern wahoo; (4) Southern arrowwood; (5) American cranberry bush ‘Compactum’; (6) American hazelnut
Bottom row, left to right: (1) Winged sumac PRAIRIE FLAME; (2) Carolina allspice; (3) Large fothergilla; (4) Virginia sweetspire; (5) Vernal witch hazel ‘Sandra’; (6) Judd’s viburnum
These species have ornamental elements that last after hard frost, adding color and/or texture to landscaped areas during the gray days of winter.
Top row, left to right: (1) Red-osier dogwood; (2) Winterberry holly RED SPRITE; (3) Winterberry holly ‘Afterglow’; (4) Summersweet; (5) Winged sumac; (6) Common ninebark
Bottom row, left to right: (1) Spicebush; (2) Coralberry; (3) Bayberry; (4) Blood-twigged dogwood; (5) Hybrid yew; (6) Boxwood hybrids
Header image: Eastern wahoo (Euonymus atropurpureus), Kent McFarland, under Creative Commons license via flickr.com