University of Illinois Extension

Landscape Shrubs for Color and Interest

Shrubs can literally define a green space and, as they continue to grow, continually redefine the area. The variation in blooms and foliage as well as bark and berries in shrubs can be amazing and spectacular,” said James Schuster, U of I Extension horticulturist. “Shrubs can be grown for their natural beauty or used to help screen for privacy or to hide objectionable views.

“If done right, you can have the screening and the beauty.”

Choosing the right shrub can ensure an intriguing and interesting garden/landscape. Used as a focal point, the right shrub can grow more interesting from season to season and from year to year.

Schuster described a number of shrubs that grow in Illinois and offer seasonal interest year-round.

“Viburnum is a genus that contains more than 30 species and numerous cultivars and the ones that grow in Illinois are mostly deciduous,” he said. “Some have fragrant blooms. Some have long-lasting bright red or black fruit for winter effect.

“Viburnums need well-drained soil and light shade to full sun.”

The cultivar ‘Mohawk’ grows up to seven feet tall and its fall leaf color turns shades of orange, red and reddish-purple that hangs on in mild winters. In mild winters, the reddish flower buds survive to produce five-pointed white stars forming an abundance of domes. The flowers can be fragrant and can be smelled as far as 30 feet away.

“Butterfly bush attracts butterflies,” said Schuster. “It often freezes to the ground but re-grows rapidly from its roots. In mild winters, there is very little, if any, die back.”

The cultivar ‘Argentea’ has foot-long, trumpet-like flowers. Butterfly bushes tend to bloom most of the summer. The leaves are slender, willow-like, and gray-green with a silver sheen. The plant needs a sunny, fertile, and well-drained spot.

“Mockorange is a fast-growing shrub that reaches a height of 10 feet in just a few years after planting,” said Schuster. “When mockorange is only half-grown, the plant will start producing white flowers which smell like orange blossoms.

“Once established, this plant needs yearly to every-other-year pruning of the largest stems. Stems need to be cut between one and three inches above the soil line.”

“’Virginal’ has probably the most intense fragrance of the mockorange and ‘Minnesota Snowflakes’ probably produces the greatest number of blooms,” he said.