Home & Garden

It’s shrub season; think about a border

Some hollies are evergreen and provide cover all year, while others lose their leaves in winter.
Some hollies are evergreen and provide cover all year, while others lose their leaves in winter. MCT

Good reasons exist to create a line of shrubs along the border of your landscape, such as defining the property line or creating a shield. But not to be overlooked is the opportunity to create something beautiful.

With careful selection, a stretch of flowering or evergreen shrubs becomes both a practical and visual asset.

Beautiful foliage and flowers will make it something to be proud of. And unlike a fence, a border of shrubs changes through the year. New foliage in spring is always a welcome sight, as are the flowers of spring or summer, and with some plants, colorful berries after the flowers.

So, what do you consider when making choices for your border of shrubs to plant this fall?

1 A sheared, formal look or a looser, more informal one? This is where you must think about maintenance. A sheared hedge requires attention at least once or twice a year to keep the straight sides and flat top that make it distinctive. Some conifers and small-leaved hollies lend themselves to this kind of treatment.

This makes a wonderful, dense screen, but may require more maintenance than you are prepared to provide or pay for. The airy, loose look that is typical of many broad-leaf evergreens, such as azaleas and camellias, requires little pruning, making them easier to maintain.

2 Is space a factor? Large landscapes may lend themselves to broad, roundish shrubs such as osmanthus and the bigger hollies, which are dramatic but grab a lot of space. People with less space may opt for plants such as Medora juniper that grow more vertically than horizontally to make a dense wall of foliage.

Consider, too, what is above. If there are utility lines, get their approximate height. When you shop, learn the mature height of plants you are considering. This is just part of the fact-finding that is important to ensure you get plants whose size will fit their designated space. Learn the mature width, too, because that is how you calculate the number you need for a boundary planting.

3 Sun, shade or something in between? This demands serious attention for the long-term growth and well-being of your plants. In many cases, a plant will be listed as sun to part-shade or shade to part-sun. Junipers tend to require full sun, but many other choices will prosper with just morning or afternoon sunshine and part-shade the rest of the time.

4 Must it be evergreen? Many evergreen shrubs, such as camellias and azaleas, are popular choices for boundaries. But deciduous shrubs, the kind that drop their leaves in autumn and produce fresh, new ones in the spring, should not be overlooked. Such deciduous shrubs as forsythia, with an abundant show of yellow flowers, make an outstanding stretch of beauty. The arching stems make a particularly interesting look in winter. Various spiraeas, such as bridal wreath, also look lovely when flowers and leaves emerge in spring and work where you want to establish a boundary but not a visual barrier.

5 How important are flowers? To many gardeners, flowers are the reason to plant a border of shrubs. The choice is almost endless, but it is hard to top camellia, forsythia, hydrangea, viburnum and gardenia.

Camellias certainly rank among the top choices for landscape plants in the Piedmont, and the range of flower colors is huge. Camellias also come in different bloom seasons, allowing the gardener to choose a collection with plants that will bloom from early November until March. Camellias are ideal for a loose, informal border of shrubs that will grow taller than azaleas.

Still, azaleas, especially the modern, reblooming Encores, look perfect planted as a boundary hedge. While forsythia looks splendid as a stretch of yellow, azaleas come in a range of colors that blend well and will also stretch the bloom season.