Spring Blooming Bushes Are First Rate Yard Accents

Ilona Erwin

Planting flowering shrubs will improve the value of your property.

We usually think of planting evergreen shrubs in our foundation plantings around the house,as a matter of course. But come spring, it is those that flower which draw our attention: “I want that one, and that, and that, too…

Shrubs will carry out the design of a garden in the space between flower beds and the trees. Their seasonal bloom adds a huge splash of color and often some heavenly fragrance, as well.

Viburnum burkwoodii blooms in mid spring

Viburnum burkwoodii is filled with fragrant balls of bloom.

Plus they are low care plantings when situated correctly. Of course, if you try to stuff a big grower in a small space or one that overhangs a walkway or driveway, the pruning work will increase steadily as the plant grows to maturity.

So my first word of advice for Spring blooming shrubs? Plan!

In the following post are a bevy of opinions, bits of advice, and suggested shrubs that flower for your garden.

Why Plant a Bush?

Why are shrubs important to the design of the landscape?

They provide structure year round with their woody branches; well-chosen with thought given to the foliage and fruiting contributes to all season interest; they help control climate conditions as windbreaks and give shelter to wildlife.

When privacy is needed, or it is desirable to screen a view, bushes with a full profile will fill the bill. Useful, also, for directing foot traffic or deterring trespassers.

Improving the home’s curb appeal is one benefit, practical uses, and just plain enjoyment are other reasons to plant a mix of mid size woody plants with blooming benefits.

A Glorious Spring

The spring bloom is their time of glory, but as you can imagine, it is but one feature that these bushes can provide. Because of those showy flowers, most popular plantings in Northern gardens are rarely chosen on the basis of overall landscape value by home owners.

More often the special event of the bloom, especially partnered with evocative fragrance, is the determining factor for whether we choose a plant. With just a little more forethought to include later berries or colorful foliage, as well as pleasing shape or interesting form can make a garden truly spectacular.

  • Fragrance
  • Color: flowers, fall foliage, or berries
  • Structure and form
  • Wildlife support

Consider those features while making a survey of the landscape choices.

Flowery bushes at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

The Kinds of Pictures I Dream About

We all have a yearning for a grand spring show, after the minimalist winter scenes of stark trees and snow-covered vistas. The tulips and daffodils rule our garden plans, but it is in the layers of bloom from the ground up that make the scene exciting.

Minor bulbs give way to middle height flowers and ephemeral perennial accents, the entire landscape dotted with middle ground colors from Forsythias, Spireas, flaming Quince, scented Viburnums, segueing into the many Malus, Prunus, and other Ornamental trees which offer a profusion of pastel color and sweet scent.

apricot and chartreuse green colors

Cameo Quince Bush | Gold, Green, and Apricot Color

The plants of my garden grow well in Ohio, Zone 5 hardiness, and some will not perform well without sufficient winter chill. Our winter temperatures means that these plantings have just what they need to flower and fruit, but it also means that Camellias are out of the question.

Every place has its beauties.

Old Fashioned Flowering Shrubs

lilacs over the bench

Under the lilacs is a garden seat.

Many of our favorites come from memories of Mother’s or Grandmother’s garden.

The powerful nostalgia brought on by certain scents reign in this group.

When reproducing a period garden, their inclusion might be of special interest.

Many of these have been “taken to the woodshed”, or should I say “compost bin”? From the Winter honeysuckles to the Lilacs and Forsythias, they are berated for not being native, or for not providing more than a short period of garden beauty, etc.

Gardens go through trends and fashions, just like every other human interest. People create gardens, and they disturb the natural condition of things. They also change with the winds of fashion.

Shrubs and the Purpose of your Garden

In a sense we are simply part of the ecosystem…  our presence is felt. If you wish to have the bright golden yellow of the forsythia, or the evocative scent of lilacs in your garden, it is part of your garden creation that expresses your ideas of your home’s landscape.

There are better choices than those if you wish to make a wildlife friendly place, or an all-season design. But it is up to you, and common sense involving  the use of chemicals to “make” something grow in conditions it doesn’t like is likely the over-riding rule.

Bring together your intellect and your emotional reaction to make a garden. Don’t be afraid to make the occasional mistake or to buck the trends of the day. If you need permission to plant the old fashioned choices, here it is. If you need a push to try something different, or to look beyond the color of the flowers, this is it, as well.

Should a gardener be responsible? Of course, yes.

  • Bear in mind that certain plants naturalize and crowd out needed native species, or have other far reaching, unexpected impact.
  • Align yourself with aiding the earth, not burdening it.
  • This may take some sacrifice or it might just involve some mindful self education.

But I will say that I don’t feel guilty about my Forsythia or lilacs, of which I have more than a few.

Flowering Bushes with Color or Fragrance

Old Fashioned Favorites

Spring Flowers, All Season Interest

Beauties with more of a Tree Shape

Evergreen Blooming Shrubs

  • Azaleas (Zones variable – 10)
  • Rhododendrons (Zone 4 – 10)
  • Pieris (Zone 7 – 9)
  • Oregon Holly, Mahonia (Zone 7 – 9)

Miscellaneous Choices

  • Broom, Cytisus
  • Dwarf Almond, Prunus glandulosa
  • Nanking Cherry, Prunus tomentosa
  • Kerria japonica

Best way to plant a shrub? Planting how-to.

Bits of Advice

Most flowering shrubs will need full sun to flower well, but there are choices that are good for part sun to shady conditions.

Besides light, moisture is an important consideration. How well drained, moisture retentive or drought prone the planting area is will determine the choices of any plant, but especially the longer lived woody plants.

We often spot flowering shrubs around, but they are much more effective when properly spaced in groups or as hedges.

For Shade

Begin with the evergreens. They are woodland understory plants and like dappled sun and shade sites. The Pieris japonica,  Azaleas, Rhododendrons, Oregon holly, and Witch Hazels are good choices.

Check Hardiness

Like all the other plants you include in your landscaping, check whether a bush will grow well in your zone. Most of the ones listed here will grow in cold climates. For example: Buttonbush is hardy in Zones 5 – 10.

flowering almond

flowering almond

If you look over the list, many might be missing: Daphnes, Deuztias, and more. Whole books have been written about shrubs, because there are so many; it is a large category of landscape plant.

I tend to favor all-season interest, as well as whether a plant survives in my garden with more than a little neglect and challenging weather!

How will YOU Know if a Plant Is Good for Your Yard?

I really think you can’t do better than to visit a local arboretum for a lesson in what grows well in your area, as well as the way certain plants look within the landscape. We all can read about heights and widths of a plant, but to see it at full maturity in a real garden gives a much clearer idea.

Which Have Proven to be Favorites?

At the top of my list is the Korean Spice ViburnumIt has a delightful scent, beautiful showy balls of delicate flowers, looks good in all seasons, and has a form that I find very graceful. Mid season bloom.

All of my viburnums have given increasing sense of pleasure in the garden throughout the years. Most of them grew very, very large. Only V. carlesii is a size that a small city garden could accomodate easily.

Kerria japonica has made my best of spring list due to its sunshine yellow flowers and graceful waterfall shape. It grows in both sun and shade and I have it situated in a semi shady place. It looks best when catching the morning light with the foil of bright green, finely textured leaves. Very early season bloom, for me.

Kolkwitzia amabilis is better known as “Beauty bush” for good reason. I came late to planting this, and grabbed up two of a variety called “Dreamcatcher”. I grow one in a sunny spot and the other in a shady place under a giant Silver maple. It does well in both places. Although sunshine will accentuate the golden foliage of this cultivar. I like it in all seasons.It blooms later in the season.

Chionanthus virginicus is almost summer blooming it is so late, and it is usually considered a tree, but I have some that never grew into tree form and I would call it more of a shrub. Because it is so variable, check the variety that you are buying, perhaps select directly in the nursery? Whatever you call it, and however you grow it, this is a good looking and fragrant addition. Be careful of how close it is planted to neighboring shrubs as it can be smothered by a strong grower. This might be better as a “specimen” on its own with underplantings of polite perennials.

Why Have Some Gone Out Of Fashion?

winter honeysuckle

Winter Honeysuckle in bloom. Lemon scented, and very early.

As yards became smaller, or time and effort were at a premium, certain plants and especially shrubs, were not seen to be pulling their weight, design-wise. Among those are some of the most fragrant: Winter Honeysuckle, Old fashioned Lilacs, Mock Oranges.

I have to admit that garden mavens do have a point. My Lonicera fragrantissima is ungainly, true, and it often suffers dieback, which is remedied with hard cutting back. Lilacs are lackluster for much of the growing season. My Mock oranges look quite scrawny compared to the Viburnums.

Underestimated Shrubs

But as the pendulum swings from one side of public opinion to the other, I have this to say about these under-rated plants besides their inimitable perfumes: they benefit wildlife. The Winter Honeysuckle offers foraging bees a very early source of nectar; and butterflies, often the Swallowtails, favor the lilacs.

Do not be afraid to include at least one of your most loved old fashioned choices.

It has to be said that some out-of-favor plants ought to be banned from the garden. No matter what our opinion on Tatarian Honeysuckle, they are a bane in the surrounding country side. Let’s not plant more.

Is it a Tree, or a Shrub?

Because they are woody plants, and some grow very large, the lines between whether it is called a shrub or a tree are blurred on occasion. “Shrubby” for gardening purposes is the many branched form that gives a rounded shape that fills the space between ground an d the top of the plant. “Tree-like” or trees show the trunk, and even when having a multiple trunk, the number is kept at a number that shows distinct lines.

At times a plant can be both in the garden, depending on a variable way of growing. In my own garden. Fringe trees qualify, and now my Viburnum burkwoodii bushes are taller than the shrubby Fringe trees!

Is it a Shrub or a Vine or What?

One early flowering woody plant that can be trained to climb is the Pyracantha. It has creamy white flowers that are beautiful and completely cover the branches in springtime, but people don’t think of that. It is usually planted for the bright orange berries present in the fall.

Pyracantha in bloom, usually grown for fall berries.

Pyracantha in bloom, usually grown for fall berries.

Another valuable trait of many of these types of plants are their usefulness in tolerating hard pruning so that they can be espaliered or tightly pruned into shapes. Such harsh pruning might result in the loss of the flower, however.

When Should Spring Flowering Shrubs Be Planted?

Success checklist
  1. What Zone is your garden?
  2. Good drainage or poor?
  3. Shade or sun?
  4. Clay, loamy, or sandy soil? Soil pH?
  5. How much space allotted for height and width?

Anytime during the growing season, but spring and fall are the best times for planting.

The fact is that spring is the time when gardeners are hungry for color and eager to plant, and the garden centers cater to those enthusiasms by displaying container grown flowering shrubs in full bloom.

I’m just as susceptible to this marketing ploy as anyone, and there isn’t anything wrong with spontaneously grabbing some pots of irresistible plants this way. But most will be happier with their landscapes if they plan the particular shrubs for their yard design, order them earlier, or buy them when dormant, and plant in prepared places in the garden.

Spring is conducive to growing, and the moist conditions help establish the plants quickly.

Since fall is prime bulb planting time, when we plan for spring garden pictures, it only makes sense that we also include the many spring blooming shrubs into our blueprints and planting schedules. Autumn is the best season for planting shrubs and trees in my opinion.

There is so much more time in autumn than in the overbooked spring months, the earth is mellow and the weather is fine, and if the ground is a bit dry, rains are coming.

A Shrubbery

This is an old fashioned concept. I usually read of such designs in Victorian or Edwardian age books, but experienced it as a modern day solution. My large shrubs remained when I could no longer keep pace with an English style perennial border. The border disappeared into nature, while the shrubs remain and bloom every year.

Use the idea of a garden mainly of shrubs when you must reduce the type of maintenance that requires lots of weeding, digging, and dividing. Shrubs will still require some looking after… no garden is maintenance-free, and pruning and the occasional feeding will be part of the regimen.

Shrubs are not immune to pest and disease, and the garden will change if certain key plants are lost or must be removed, but a shrubbery is a good feature for those who want a hedge of privacy or a background of structure and color at certain points of the year.

Use the same concepts of height, color, and form that a perennial border may have, but on a larger scale.

I have come to love may areas of “shrubberies” and they now play the main role in my landscape. Their companions of perennials and bulbs play secondary parts,with bright, happy color coming from containers. I am very happy to have included bushes in the original planting of this garden, and recommend that you consider these plantings for a lifetime of beauty and pleasure.

Wide Range Of Choices

This article stayed with the traditional favorites of Northern gardens, but there are breathtaking choices among the evergreen Rhododendrons, and Azaleas, and the Camellias of the South, too. Turn your attention to what these woody plants can add to your garden landscape. I hope this article gave you a taste of what that might look like, and how heavenly it can smell on a warm spring day.

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author

Ilona Erwin

I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of Ilona's Reflecting Pool. Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.