Gardening in the South - Shrubs

What conjures up a vision of the South more than crape myrtles draped in Spanish moss, azaleas ablaze with spring color, or plump blooms of camellias framed by glossy green foliage?

In Southern gardens shrubs can set the stage and create the “bones” for sunny borders, formal landscapes, as well as wooded backyards. And they fill a multitude of garden roles, serving as dramatic focal points, screening and privacy, or ideal complements for perennials, annuals, and ornamental grasses.

And shrubs are the stars of multi-season interest, offering flowers, texture, foliage color, berries, and even branch structure in the winter. Be sure to select a variety of shrubs for your garden so that every season has something to enjoy. Some shrubs, like blueberries, have it all – lovely blooms, striking fall color, and attractive fruit (that you can eat!).

Maybe you can’t grow lilacs in the South, but the list of shrubs you can grow is long and full of opportunity. For evergreens you’ve got junipers, hollies, arborvitae, wax myrtle, boxwood, yew, and Otto Luyken laurel. For flowers, hydrangeas, viburnums, forsythia, althea, abelia, spirea, blue-mist shrub, butterfly-bush, loropetalum, chastetree, mockorange, rhododendron, shrub roses, and of course azaleas. For berries, try beautyberry or deciduous hollies.

Gardeners in the South are also fortunate to have a wealth of native shrubs that make ideal garden plants, including Virginia sweetspire, fothergilla, summersweet, bottlebrush buckeye, sumac, leatherwood, and Carolina allspice.

With the heat, humidity, and long growing season of the South, there are certainly diseases and insect pests to contend with, such as powdery mildew and Japanese beetles. Choose shrub species and cultivars that are adapted to your climate and hardiness zone, and take safe (and early) action to contend with any issues that will damage your shrubs. But if the value of a particular shrub is considerably less than the trouble it is to maintain, consider growing something different. There are lots of other options!

Another result of the lengthy warm season in the South is the contingent of invasive exotic plants, many of them shrubs. Every state has a list of problem species, so be mindful of the plant pests in your region, especially if you live near a natural area. Not only are these plants a danger to native species and habitats, they can also be weedy in your home landscape. A few of the worst offenders in the South are privet, multiflora rose, tatarian honeysuckle, chinaberry, and autumn olive. Some regions are also keeping a close eye on such popular landscape plants as burning bush and nandina, so check with local organizations or invasive-plant websites to learn more about making the best shrub choices for your particular area.