Last month I wrote about some sensational new perennials. Now let’s look behind Garden Gate Number 2 to discover recently introduced (or new to our area), jaw-dropping flowering shrubs that deliver flashy color and are even less work than perennials.
Lilacs have to be one of the most beloved spring flowering shrubs, with their lovely flowers and intoxicating fragrance. Now we can also get that ‘lilac high’ in summer and fall with new repeat blooming cultivars. ‘Bloomerang’ covers itself with fragrant, purple flowers that open in April and then set new buds in summer, and again in fall. Additional attributes include its mildew-resistant leaves, compact habit (4’ – 5’ tall), and dislike by deer. ‘Bloomerang Dark Purple’ is similar to ‘Bloomerang’, but has deeper colored flowers and grows slightly larger at 4’-6’ tall. Both are hardy to Zone 3.
Another shrub with three seasons of interest is Japanese Andromeda (Pieris japonica) ‘Silver Flame’. Related to Rhododendrons, this spring bloomer has 3”- 4” racemes stems of dripping, waxy-white flowers in spring. Granted, the flowers are elegant, but it is the foliage that garners the most attention. Green and white variegated leaves are topped by brilliant red, new foliage after flowering.
Jaw-dropping. ‘Silver Flame’ is hardier than other variegated Andromeda and will get about 5’ tall. But be patient, it is a slow grower. The shrub does well in sun to part shade and is hardy to zone 5, although I would not hesitate to grow it in zone 5 if it is located near a foundation and out of direct winter wind.
Hydrangeas have always been one of the most popular flowering shrubs for gardeners in the northeast. Unfortunately, some varieties are less reliable bloomers in colder areas, including the Capital Region. Thankfully there are two groups (species) of Hydrangeas that are strong performers. Smooth leaf (arborescens) and panicle (paniculata) Hydrangeas are rarely affected by Old Man Winter. ‘Anna Belle’ and ‘Incrediball’ are two in the smooth leaf group that pump out white, mounded blooms starting in June and repeating in summer. ‘Invincibelle Spirit’ and ‘Bella Anna’ are pink versions of these. They grow 3’ – 5’ tall, bloom at the same time, but their stems can be less sturdy, making them prone to floppiness. All can be pruned hard in early spring, are hardy to Zone 3 and flourish in sun to part shade. The flower color of smooth leaf Hydrangeas are not affected by soil pH, like those in the big leaf (macrophylla) group.
Some recent head-turners in the Hydrangea paniculata gang include ‘Little Lime’, ‘Little Lamb’, ‘Vanilla Strawberry’, ‘White Diamonds’ ‘Bobo’ and ‘Tickled Pink’. ‘Little Lime’ gets 3’-5’ while ‘Little Lamb’ tops out at 4’ – 6’. Both have dense triangular-shaped, white flowers opening in summer that age to rosy pink and burgundy in fall. ‘Vanilla Strawberry’ has creamy-white flowers that change to soft pink and then rich, strawberry red. These showy blooms are displayed on red stems. The shrub gets 6’ – 8’ tall. ‘Bobo’ is the newest to market and only gets 3’ – 4’ tall with white flowers that age to soft pink. All four of these are usually sold as multi-stemmed shrubs versus single-trunked trees. ‘White Diamonds’ and ‘Tickled Pink’ are dwarf, tree-form paniculata Hydrangeas. Unlike the more common ‘Pee Gee’ that gets 12’ – 15’ at maturity, both of these only get approximately 4’-5’ tall. Perfect for smaller spaces. Both have frothy, white flowers that change from white to shades of pink with cooler temperatures. All paniculatas can be pruned in March before they break dormancy and they thrive in sun to part sun. ‘Little Lamb’ ‘Bobo’ and ‘Little Lime’ are hardy to Zone 3; ‘White Diamonds’, ‘Tickled Pink’ and ‘Vanilla Strawberry’ can handle Zone 4.
Bigleaf Hydrangeas (H. macrophylla), sometimes called Mopheads, can be finicky bloomers here. Their flower buds are susceptible to winter kill, especially from fluctuating winter temperatures. Even those that bloom on new and old wood, like ‘Endless Summer’, can cause summer frowns. I recently attended a lecture on growing Hydrangeas in northern climates. One species of Hydrangeas that is showing more promise is Mountain Hydrangea (H. serrata). They are loosely related to Bigleaf Hydrangeas but have a daintier appearance. Both the flowers and leaves are smaller. The blooms resemble Lacecap Hydrangeas, with single or double florets opening around the outside edge of the flat-headed flower. Mountain Hydrangeas grow between 2’ – 5’ tall and do best in part sun or part shade. The Tuff Stuff series, hardy to Zone 5, will be arriving at garden centers this spring. Like Mopheads, the flower color is determined by soil pH; blue in acidic soil and pink in alkaline conditions.
For a striking, dwarf foliage shrub, Ninebark (Physocarpus) ‘Lady in Red’ flaunts bright red leaves in spring that slowly age to a rich burgundy. The ball-shaped pink flowers appear in June and July, followed by berries prized by birds. ‘Lady in Red’ grows to 3’ – 5’ and gets its best color in full sun. It is hardy to Zone 3 and is quite drought tolerant.
Wisteria has long been a coveted flowering vine in our region. Sadly this glorious plant has found it difficult to impress in colder climates. Thankfully ‘Amethyst Falls’ will put huge smiles on our Zone 5 faces. This blue-flowering beauty can grow to 30’ (though it tends to stay much shorter in our colder climate) and is hardy to Zone 5. It blooms best in full to part sun, but will tolerate part shade. Another delightful treat is that it’s a repeat bloomer and is non-invasive, in contrast to Asian varieties. All Wisteria are vigorous climbers, twining their enlarging stems around sturdy supports. Let me repeat, Wisteria need sturdy supports, or they will come a tumblin’ down’ in the years ahead. Prune Wisteria in late winter and spare the fertilizer.
For a sensational late summer blooming shrub, check out Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) ‘Sugar Tip’. ‘Sugar Tip’ has lovely white and blue-green variegated leaves and soft, double-pink flowers opening in late July and August. It grows between 8’ – 12’ tall and enjoys full sun. Unlike other Rose of Sharon that can seed all over, ‘Sugar Tip’ is sterile and keeps to itself. Rose of Sharon should be pruned in late winter or early spring.
Any of these delicious woodies will spice up your landscape and be less work than most perennials. Although as a perennial enthusiast, I say there is room for them all! And wait until next month when I introduce you to some no-fuss roses. Choices, choices!
Kerry Ann Mendez is a garden designer, speaker, teacher and writer and the owner of Perennially Yours in Ballston Spa. Visit her website at www.pyours.com