Garden & Landscape Tips

Fothergilla in summer and fall
Fothergilla is a native shrub that gets white bottle-brush flowers in spring, left, and red or gold fall foliage, right.
George Weigel

When it comes to planting flowering shrubs, well drained soil is key. Unfortunately, many gardeners will come to find that their soil is rocky or made of clay, two soil types that commonly experience drainage issues. On the other hand, some homeowners may find that they have sandy soil that dries out too quickly, not allowing shrubs to absorb the nutrients necessary for their growth. “Builder’s soil” which is composed of a few inches of topsoil on hard compacted soil, sometimes infiltrated with various materials from construction, is also an issue for shrub growth. With all of these lousy soil conditions, it is no surprise that few gardeners have the perfect conditions for growing shrubs.

Nevertheless, growing successful shrubs that will thrive in your yard is possible. More than other plant types, shrubs are able to adapt to unruly soil conditions. So, not only can you work to change the soil in your yard to make it a better home for shrubs, but you can find shrubs that will adapt to this lousy soil.

Two ways to grow shrubs in lousy soil:

The first way to grow flowering shrubs in lousy soil is to change the soil to make it an optimal home for shrubs. This might mean creating raised beds or tilling soil to break up dense soil so that it drains well.

The second way to grow successful shrubs despite unfortunate soil conditions, is to choose fierce flowering shrubs that will thrive no matter the soil. If you are looking for less work, but still want beautiful shrubs, here are some varieties that would work for you:

Viburnum
Sunny, shady, wet, or dry, there is a viburnum that can grow in your yard’s most problematic areas.
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  1. Viburnum. A great choice around tree roots and deer, most viburnums get white spring flowers, maroon fall foliage, and fall fruits. Some species of this flowering plant are native to the U.S., while others are not. They grow five to 10 feet tall in sun or shade, depending on the species.
Spirea
Spirea, also known as Meadowsweets, attract bees and butterflies.
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  1. Spirea. Most spirea are small-leafed, rounded shrubs that bloom white or pink from late spring into summer. A few have golden foliage. The majority of these hardy shrubs grow three to four feet high and wide. Sun or light shade.
Panicle Hydrangea
Not only are they easy growers, but Panicle hydrangeas are also easy to transplant with their shallow root systems.
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  1. Panicle hydrangeas. Toughest of the many hydrangeas, these shrubs produce large, cone-shaped pink and white flowers from mid to late summer. Full-sized plants grow eight to 10 feet, while dwarf ones half that. Sun or part shade.
Summersweet
The fragrant white flowers on Summersweet make it a popular addition to many gardens.
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  1. Summersweet. These are native shrubs that tolerate damp soil, get white or pink bottle-brush flowers in early summer, and turn yellow in the fall. They grow three to five feet tall. Part shade.
  1. Fothergilla. Also known as witch alder, this under-used native has white bottle-brush flowers in early spring and striking gold or red fall foliage. It grows four to five feet tall and wide. Part shade.
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