Favorite Trees and Shrubs for Your Garden

Barbara Mrgich
Adams County Master Gardener

Trees and shrubs and permanent structures make up the "bones" of your garden. If you are planning a new garden, or thinking about improving the landscaping of your property, always think about the bones first.

I like plants that are big enough to give my garden structure, but not so big that they eventually take up the entire space. It is very important when planting trees and shrubs to check the planting tag carefully and note the mature size. If this tiny plant is going to grow to 12 feet in width, you have to plant it at least six feet from the house or any other structure. You can always widen the bed in front of it, but you can't move the house behind it.

The following are some favorites of mine that I have in my gardens:

1. Arizona Cypress 'Blue Ice' - Size, color, and texture make this a wonderful tree for a garden. It will grow 20 or 30 feet tall and 8 to 10 feet wide making it large enough for beautiful screening without filling up your entire yard. They are fast growing. Mine are five years old and a good 20 feet. These trees have a lovely powder-blue tone, and the texture of their needles is super unique. If you like to decorate with greens, they are a must-have. Cut, and in a dry arrangement, they will stay beautiful for weeks and never drop their needles.

2. Ilex (Holly) 'Nellie Stevens' - I bought three of these back in 1990 and planted them on the north side of my house to break up a vast expanse of siding. They get next to no sun and a good bit of harsh wind, but they are constantly beautiful. They are 20 feet tall and about 10 feet wide at the bottom. Their shiny green leaves and abundant red berries always bring oohs and aahs from people when they come to visit. They are also a favorite of the cardinals.

3. Gold Cone Juniper - These are tall skinny evergreens that are like exclamation marks in the garden. Mine is 5 years old and about 9 feet tall and 18 inches across. It is very pointed at the top with a gold cast to its needles.

4. Cherry Laurel 'Otto Luken' - These plants make a wonderful screen for the back of the garden. About three feet tall by four feet wide, they are a broadleaf evergreen. In the spring, they get some bottle brush-shaped white flowers that come and go with little notice. Their constant dark green shiny leaves during every season are their major draw.

5. Dwarf Skylans Oriental Spruce - This is another lovely garden tree that I fell in love with because of its distinct color. Its needles are both gold and green. It stands straight with very airy limbs (you can see straight through it) and only grows to 20 feet tall.

6. Kousa Dogwood - The Kousa is a small tree with beautiful structure. Unlike its American Dogwood cousin, it is resistant to Anthracnose disease. Also, it gets its leaves first and then its flowers, blooming later than its American cousin. My Kousa will be blooming in June when my other spring flowering trees are finished. If you are drawn to textures, it has a lovely peeling bark.

7. Viburnum 'Snowball' bush - This is far from a new shrub. It has been popular in American gardens from Colonial times. A friend gave me a start of this bush about five years ago. It is now about five feet tall and will probably hit the eight to twelve foot mark before reaching its full height. The first year its little, spindly branches produced a crop of huge flowers that just bent over to touch the ground. Since then, the branches have become quite sturdy and just loaded with huge white 'snowballs' each spring. Bare, in the winter, it has an interesting limb structure, and its bark is a bright tan. Smaller versions of this shrub are available; check with your favorite garden center.

8. Spirea 'Magic Carpet' - There is a huge variety of Spireas to choose from. Be sure to check the mature size before you buy. Magic Carpet is a small one, only two and one half feet tall by three feet wide. It starts out in the spring with bright red/orange foliage fading to a bronze, then lime/green. The flowers are a beautiful magenta. The shrub will flower in the spring and, with a little deadheading, will continue sporadically all season. For best color, plant in full sun. Prune this plant in the very early spring before foliage starts to appear. You can cut it back to a foot, and it will flower even more. Other cultivars that I especially like are 'Orange leaf' and 'Little Princess' which are just slightly larger.

9. Knock-Out Rose - Knock-out roses were introduced some years ago with huge fanfare and with good reason. Here is a rose bush that is practically maintenance free. I prune mine back to about two feet in March before its foliage shows. It will almost immediately begin to leaf out and begin blooming by May. The knock-out rose will cover itself in blooms. It is not necessary to deadhead for continuous bloom, but I like to cut off the dead blooms occasionally to keep it looking neat. Mine will usually bloom right into December. Occasionally, the Japanese beetles will bother it. I brush them off into soapy water in the early morning.

10. Flame Honeysuckle - Of course, this is neither a tree nor shrub, but it does add year around height and structure to my garden. Climbing over an obelisk trellis my husband built for me years ago, my Flame honeysuckle blooms all summer and fall well past the first frost. It's a favorite of hummingbirds.

Each of the plants described above requires very little or no maintenance from me. Annually, I give my gardens a feeding with an organic fertilizer and spread compost and mulch. Each plant I have owned between five and twenty years and have never felt the need to spray with a fungicide or insecticide. A small amount of annual pruning on a few of them is all that has been necessary.

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