Shrubs add shape and structure to gardens, in addition to their fragrant flowers, berries, autumn colour, foliage and coloured stems. Although shrubs are varied and numerous, most are easy to grow and can be planted, fed, watered and pruned in similar ways.
Choosing and planting shrubs
Shrubs often come from areas where it is too stressful for trees to grow, and are therefore very robust and extremely useful and reliable garden plants.
With an enormous range of shrubs offered by garden centres and nurseries it is possible to find ones to suit a wide range of sites. Selecting the right shrub for the spot and buying a good quality plant is important if the shrub is to thrive.
Shrubs are easier to plant successfully than trees although the basic principles are similar. Ericaceous (lime-hating) plants should not be planted on alkaline or limed soils.
Routine shrub maintenance
- Feeding: Shrubs are not demanding and in most cases annual feeding with 50-100g per sq m (1½-3oz sq yd) of general-purpose fertiliser every late winter will suffice. Shrubs in containers need feeding from early spring until late summer
- Mulching: Shrubs benefit from mulching to suppress weeds, provide nutrients, improve soil conditions and conserve moisture. Shrubs are usually mulched in late winter, after any fertiliser application, but can be mulched any time between autumn and late spring provided the ground is damp
- Watering: Although newly planted shrubs need careful watering, once established they usually need little water
- Deadheading: Although all shrubs benefit if spent flowers are cut off, if time is limited the most benefit comes from deadheading Kalmia, lilac (Syringa) and rhododendrons
- Container-grown shrubs: Need careful watering and feeding, and, every few years, repotting, either into a bigger pot or into the same pot after replacing 30 percent of roots and potting media
- Reversion and sports: Remove reverted shoots promptly
- Suckers: Remove any shoots arising from below graft level (e.g. with rhododendrons) or from the roots (e.g. with tree peonies)
Pruning and training
To keep shrubs healthy, productive and attractive as well as to restrict their size, shrubs often need pruning. This can cause gardeners concern but these simple guides should help:
There are literally thousands of shrubs to choose from and some of the best can be seen on the RHS Plant Selector. See the links below for help with choosing suitable shrubs for your garden:
RHS Plant Finder
Planting time October and April
Height and spread From less than 45cm (18in) to more than 4m (12ft) height and spread.
Aspect sun, part shade or shade
Hardiness fully hardy to tender