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Design

  • Specimen Shrubs that Wow!

    What's a specimen shrub? It's a shrub that really packs a punch in the landscape. It's unusual--whether due to flowers, fruits, foliage, bark, or all of the above!

    When you want an even, subdued look, you plant multiples of the same shrub to blend into the background. Foundation plantings (around the house) are mostly made up of the same shrub, but for some Wow! Boom! Bang! at the front door or near the driveway you're going to want a specimen shrub. Here are some of our favorites for you.

    Lemon Lace™ Sambucus

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    This looker is at home in full sun to partial shade. It has lacy chartreuse leaves in the summer and flowers that develop into berries in the fall. It provides three solid seasons of interest and is sure to wow.

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    Sonic Bloom™ Pink Weigela

    Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 11.43.33 AMGosh, we just love these Weigela plants. They're all great, really. Gorgeous foliage, pretty flowers, what's not to like? Sonic Bloom™ starts flowering in the summer and just keeps on going until frost. Butterflies and hummingbirds love it.

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    Sunshine Blue™ Caryopteris

    Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 12.09.01 PMCaryopteris, also called Bluebeard, is probably THE. MOST. UNDERUTILIZED. shrub in the landscape. Sunshine Blue™ has bright chartreuse leaves and gorgeous blue flowers in September. Just when you think the garden is giving it up for the year, Bluebeard roars in with a big show. You want it. Trust me.

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  • Caring for Shrub Container Gardens

    When you think "container garden" you probably think of annual flowers, maybe some greens, but shrubs are probably not the first things on your mind. You can use shrubs as your "thriller" plant in a container garden, or you can create a true garden of containers with a different shrub in each pot. If you have a lot of specimen plants, a "container garden" or garden of containers is a good way to display your collection.

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    For more about how to design a shrub container garden, read our blog post about container garden design with shrubs.

    Care Tips for Container Gardening with Shrubs

    Once you've designed and planted your garden, you need to keep it healthy! Caring for a shrub in a container over the long run is a bit different than keeping shrubs happy in the ground. Here are some tips.

    Plant Selection: Size and Hardiness

    Happy plants start with proper plant selection. If you know you're going to grow a shrub in a container long-term, select shrubs that have compact growth habits and that stay small. While you can prune back a full-sized shrub yearly, that's not what's best for the shrub or for you. Additionally, shrubs that stay compact on top will stay more compact on bottom (the roots), so you won't have as many problems with the shrub outgrowing the pot.

    Another thing to consider is that shrubs in containers are one zone less hardy than shrubs in the ground. So, if a shrub is considered hardy to zone 6 in the ground, it will be hardy to zone 7 in a container. The roots will get colder over the winter in a container.

    IMG_7887Watering

    Watering can be a bit more complicated if you plant a shrub in a container with annual plants, as the annuals will need more water. The best companions for shrubs in containers are perennials. Once the shrub and the perennials have settled in and grown new roots, they'll need similar amounts of water, which shouldn't be too much. Unlike annual container gardens that will need water every day or every other day in the summer, shrub container gardens can scoot by with once a week, or twice if it's really hot.

    Fertilizing

    Shrubs in containers will require fertilizing once a year. Generally after flowering is the ideal time to fertilize. If a shrub doesn't flower (such as evergreens) fertilize when they're pushing new growth in the spring. There's no need to fertilize more than once a year--that will encourage weak growth. But you will need to give the plants their annual shot of food because, being in containers, they don't have access to the nutrition that they'd find in the soil of a landscape bed.

    Pruning

    If you start with compact shrubs, you shouldn't need to do much pruning. However, if you want to maintain size after the first year or two, prune after flowering or after the flush of spring growth. If you're growing evergreen shrubs, read the individual care instructions for the plant because some evergreens respond to shearing or pruning better than others.

  • How to Design a Mixed Shrub Border

    Mixed shrub border

    Want to know a secret to getting a lush and beautiful garden like the one pictured above (which is, by the way, a private garden somewhere in Seattle)?

    Mix it up.

    It's that simple! Mix trees, shrubs, annuals, and perennials together and you'll get a multi-colored, multi-textured garden that delights the senses at every turn.

    This type of garden is sometimes called a "mixed border." It has a "cottage garden" type of look, and it is always lush after allowed to grow for a few years.

    But surely designing this type of garden is much more complicated than it looks?

    Actually, it isn't!

    Color, Form, Texture

    To design your own mixed border garden, you'll need to learn how to work with color, form, and texture.

    Color: The color of the leaves and the flowers on a shrub impact its place in the design. 

    Form: What is the shape of the shrub (or annual plant or perennial plant)? Is it round? (Most boxwood shrubs are round.) Or is it pillar-shaped? (The Sunjoy™ Gold Pillar barberry has an upright/columnar form.)

    Texture: Texture in the garden is just like texture everywhere else, but generally it is the leaves of the plant that display the texture. Plants with small leaves are considered fine textured. (Boxwood or Hebe are examples of this.) Plants with larger leaves are coarse textured. (Viburnums are generally coarse textured.)

    DIY Design

    Now that you know a bit about what you're working with, you're ready to start designing.

    First decide upon a color scheme. Will it be all warm colors (red, yellow, orange, pink) or cool colors (purple, blue, lavender), or a combination of both? After deciding upon colors, look at leaf textures. Choose some plants with large leaves and others with small, fern-like leaves. Last, tackle form. Pick out some plants with stiff, upright growth habits and others with softer, draping growth habits.

    shrubs and perennials

    One way to make designing a border easy is to pick a group of three or five types of plants and repeat the groupings for the length of the garden. 

    Another is to simply focus on repeating colors, forms, and textures throughout the garden, without worrying whether you're using the same plants.

    In the picture, left, the silvery color is repeated in the brunnera (foreground) and the dogwood shrub (left, back). The shape of the hosta leaves and brunnera are both coarse, while the dogwood leaf texture is finer, matching that of the phlox plants pictured, back right.

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    Working Annuals into the Equation

    Annuals are no different than shrubs and perennials, in terms of a mixed border. One advantage is that they provide a relatively constant show of color throughout the summer, while shrubs and perennials can change throughout the season--moving in and out of bloom, changing leaf colors, etc.

    Choose annuals to mix in that repeat the leaf colors of the shrubs or flowers of the perennials. In the picture above the coleus has burgundy accents that complement the loropetalum shrubs and pinkish hues that mimic the blooms of hyssop blooming in the background.

    The key to gorgeous garden design, though, is to have fun and don't be afraid! Just "grow" for it!

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