While it’s always exciting to check out the year’s new annuals, I’m a sucker for shrubs. A good flowering shrub adds so much structure and beauty to a landscape, and yet they’re sort of an unsung hero of the garden centre. Personally, I rely on my shrubs to burst into life before I’ve had a chance to plant the rest of my garden for the year, and these are some of my favourites for infusing a dose of colour into the landscape!
If you’re not yet familiar with these flashy, flowering beauties, you should know that they come in two categories: early and late spring-flowering. Spireas have a great, well-earned reputation for being low-maintenance and high-impact additions to the landscape. When in bloom, the branches are bathed in absolutely stunning blooms—white ones for spring-flowering varieties, and red, white or pink for the late spring / early summer-blooming ones.
Spirea blooms best when planted in full sun, but the intense exposure can dry out the soil quickly. Your spirea will appreciate regular mulching to keep their roots cool.
Lilacs are extremely popular in Guelph landscapes, beloved as much for their fragrance as they are for their panicles of flowers in shades of pink, purple, and white. Among the best flowering shrubs for scent and beauty, every neighbourhood should have at least one!
Lilacs prefer full-sun, and do best in slightly alkaline or neutral soils. Depending on the spread of your favourite variety, you can space out a few in a row to create a delightfully fragrant, flower-filled hedge or use the tree form to create an awesome focal point.
One of my favourite picks for adding colour and drama, hydrangeas are among the few options for adding a blue flowering shrub to your landscape design. Hydrangea macrophylla, or bigleaf hydrangea, is a group of cultivars that can be encouraged to bloom in blue if grown in acidic soil.
Not big on blue? That’s just one of so many amazing options! Hydrangea arborescens, or smooth hydrangea, blooms head-turning basketball-sized flower heads. Hydrangea paniculata, or panicle hydrangea, produces stunning cone-shaped flower heads that come in a huge range of colours.
Hydrangeas tend to be summer-flowering shrubs, but they prefer to be planted in part shade. They do best in well-drained soil enriched with compost.
As shrubs go, this old-fashioned beauty never gets the credit it deserves. Weigela has so many desirable features; it’s low-maintenance, it has attractive foliage, and the flowers are both drop-dead gorgeous and highly desirable to pollinators. Butterflies and hummingbirds won’t leave them alone!
Better yet, there are plenty of weigela cultivars that thrive in Guelph. They have a wonderfully diverse selection of foliage colours—from the solid green Polka Weigela, to the lovely bicolour foliage of Variegated Weigela, to the watercolour-like My Monet cultivar. In bloom, their trumpet-like flowers come in just about every imaginable shade of pink and red, from a soft baby pink to plum wine.
Given how much they offer your landscape, they don’t need much in return. They’ll tolerate a little shade (though full sun will provide more bountiful blooms) and don’t need much more than water and an annual dose of fertilizer in early spring. An ideal specimen or border shrub, you may opt to tidy up your weigela with a bit of pruning in late winter and after flowering.
These shrubs, grouped in with azaleas, have an almost tropical vibe to them. Their dramatic foliage accentuates super-showy blooms that appear in the springtime. Not all rhododendrons are hardy to zone 5, but we carry a few nice varieties that perform well in the Guelph area. In particular, the PJM series is a well-suited to our USDA zone and comes in a gorgeous lilac-purple.
Unlike most of the shrubs on this list, rhododendrons prefer a location with afternoon shade, especially during the winter months. Dappled shade is the safest bet for rhododendrons, as it allows them to get a little sun without the sunburn. As hardy flowering shrubs go, rhododendrons have a fairly shallow root system and need to be well-mulched to prevent them from drying out. They also require acidic soil.
Viburnums have a lot in common with hydrangeas, with the notable addition of ornamental berries. This means the viburnum shrub attracts birds, as well as neighbourhood envy. They’re rather tall flowering shrubs, typically reaching heights of 8-10 feet. Some, like Viburnum rhytidophylliodes, or Alleghany Viburnum, grow up to 10 feet tall!
For most viburnum cultivars, full sun to dappled shade is the way to go. They look their best with some well-timed pruning. Leave major pruning to late winter or early spring when the shrub is dormant. For the rest of the year, you can give your viburnum a light touch-up any time you see an unruly, diseased, or dead branch.
As a landscape designer, I have a deep appreciation for how much a flowering shrub adds to a space. They’re a beautiful way to fill an empty spot with lush foliage and a big hit of colour. While these are just a few of my favourite options, there are so many more to choose from. Visit us at Royal City Nursery to see our full selection of bold and beautiful blooming bushes!