Top Shrubs in 2011

Many customers came into the garden center last year looking for that special shrub to fit in one particular spot in their landscape. As always, the garden center staff helped them figure out which shrub would work best for the area they wanted to plant. Looking at the numbers sold this year, there were 5 shrubs that dominated sales this season.

The best selling shrub in 2011 is Boxwood (Buxus) ‘Green Velvet’. This broadleaf evergreen fits easily into any landscape, only growing to a mature height and width of about 3-4’. Because it is an evergreen, many people chose to put this plant into their landscapes instead of juniper or arborvitae, which dominated landscapes from the 1990s. Sometimes the leaves of this globe-shaped shrub turn tan or bronze in the winter, but more often than not they bounce back in late spring when the new growth appears. Rabbits and deer tend to stay away from the succulent leaves of this shrub as well, making it more appealing to a majority of our customers.

Buckthorn (Rhamnus) ‘Fine Line’ is a fairly new selection that appeared on the market a few years ago. This buckthorn is not invasive, unlike the columnar buckthorn varieties that are not sold in Wisconsin anymore because of their invasive qualities. ‘Fine Line’ does not get many berries, and the few it does get are sterile. This plant is often purchased for use as a hedge or as a specimen plant. It grows to a mature height of 7-8’, but will only get about 3-5’ wide. The leaves on this buckthorn are skinny and delicate looking, giving it a wispy appearance. In fall, the foliage changes to a bright yellow color before dropping off. ‘Fine Line’ will tolerate any soil type, dry or wet conditions, and full sun to full shade.

Another old variety that still remains a customer favorite is Dogwood (Cornus) ‘Ivory Halo’. The red stems of this shrub give it four season interest, looking especially beautiful in the snowy landscape. The foliage is variegated: light green centers with a white edge. The shrub flowers white in late spring or early summer, which turns into berries in late summer. Many birds will feed on the dogwood berries before heading south for the winter. Dogwoods are quite adaptable plants, tolerating many different soil types but thriving in moist to wet soils. They make a great fast growing hedge, often growing to a height of 6-8’ tall and wide in a matter of a few years. They handle pruning quite well, but benefit from regenerative pruning every 3 or 4 years. Dogwoods also tolerate full sun to full shade.

Spirea ‘Magic Carpet’ was another old favorite last year. This small shrub is very easy to take care of and is quite colorful in the landscape. It only grows to a mature height of 2-3’, with the same width. The shrub gets rose-pink blooms in summer. The leaves, when first emerging in spring, are a brilliant red and orange. The color fades to a dull orange or bright yellow for the rest of the season, unless the shrub is pruned in summer. New growth will appear again after being pruned back, and it will also spur a second flush of blooms if pruned back early enough in the season. Rabbits like munching on this shrub in winter, and I usually tell people to let the bunnies do their pruning for them. The spirea shrubs do well when pruned all the way back and often will look better when rabbits feed on them over winter. Full sun is the best place for this variety, because of the coloring of the foliage. If it gets partial or full shade, the foliage is likely to be a lime green color instead.

Weigela ‘Wine and Roses’ is the last big seller for 2011. This shrub also has different colored foliage, like Spirea ‘Magic Carpet’, and is quite adaptable to many soil types. ‘Wine and Roses’ takes longer to leaf out in spring; while other shrubs are greening up, this one may look like it’s dead. Once the soil temperatures hold steady in the 60s, however, this shrub will leaf out. The trumpet-shaped flowers are bright pink and offset beautifully by the dark purple foliage. The flowers are a favorite of hummingbirds. Many times, the shrub will send out a second flush of blooms in late summer as well. ‘Wine and Roses’ will typically get about 4-5’ tall and wide, and takes pruning pretty well. I recommend pruning this shrub after it’s done blooming in early summer because this seems to help ensure the second flush of blooms on the plant in late summer. Full sun is best for the plant’s foliage color; if it’s in too much shade, the leaves turn more brown or dark olive green than purple.

It seems that every year, we are introduced to new varieties, especially with certain shrub types like Spirea and Weigela. I will be looking at what’s available in late winter or early spring of 2012 to see what we may be able to grow in our climate. Maybe some of these new shrubs will become the new customer favorites for next year.