Shrub Growing Simplified

The term ‘shrubs’ covers a wide range of plants. You can buy those which grow to a few inches to those growing to thirty feet or so. Generally speaking, they are easy to grow, particularly in this country, and it’s surprising how many shrubs, which originate from such far-flung places as Chile, Morocco, the Alps and various parts of Asia and South Africa, flourish here quite happily. With their variety of colour and size they mix easily in the border, or you can make them individual focal points of the garden.

Even though most shrubs are tolerant about their environment and easy to grow you must take care in the preparation of the planting site, with the subsoil, soil and topsoil well dug and broken up with fertiliser added. It’s important to get them off to a good start, in fact. It’s as well to remember that shrubs like humus-forming material such as peat, leafmould, garden compost or rotted straw, which should be dug into the soil when preparing the site.

Planting holes must be deep and wide enough to receive the roots so that they spread freely. Leave a shallow mound at the base of the planting hole, spread out the roots and work soil among them. Sometimes shrubs arrive from the nursery with their roots wrapped in sacking. Provided any ties are removed it won’t hurt to plant them just as they.are, with the roots undisturbed. The sacking will soon rot away.

It’s important, too, to plant your shrub at the right depth. If you examine the stem you’ll see the soil mark left from the shrub’s stay at the nursery and this can be used as a guide. Make sure newly planted shrubs get some sort of support from the wind until they’re well established. You can plant them any time between October and March, provided the ground is frost-free and isn’t waterlogged by heavy rain. It’s as well to inspect them every now and then to make sure they haven’t worked loose, particularly after spells of frost or high wind.

What shrubs to plant and when do they flower? Thoughtfully planned, there should always be some species doing its thing – even from November to February, when the pink flowers of the viburnum fragrans appear to gladden and scent the scene. December sees the witch-hazel brigade flowering. The golden flowers of the hamamelis mollis are perhaps the most popular. Then there is the ‘winter sweet’ chimonanthus praecox; the yellow-purple centre will scent a whole room. In fact, there is such a host of shrubs that it is impossible to list or comment on them all here, although the daphne species ought to be mentioned for their scented varieties.

In spring and summer your main display of colour could come from viburnums, brooms, lilacs galore (in singles and doubles), philadelphus (mock orange), weigelas, deutzias and the ‘snowball bush’, viburnum opulus sterile.

Autumn brings a brilliant display of coloured leaves from cotoneasters and berberis, to name but two.

Shrubs should not be planted too close together. Leave a space between them which equals about half their height when they’re fully grown – and watch for and remove any diseased, dead or damaged wood.

A point to remember when deciding on the type of shrub to suit your purpose is its shape. There are four categories. Arch-like shrubs include brooms, fuchsias and weigelas. Then there are the spreading types, like the Japanese azalea, which are akin to the creeping kind, like cotoneaster horizontalis (very useful for covering unsightly drain covers!). Next come the fan-shaped types, which include buddleias, ceanothus burkwoodii and some hydrangeas. And finally there are the circular-like berberis darwinii and forsythia. The list is almost endless.

And for those who want to keep their walls winter-covered there’s the evergreen lonicera giraldii and winter jasmine – its’ lovely yellow flowers appear even in the most atrocious weather, so they deserve encouragement!

Pruning? As a general rule, spring-flowering shrubs can be pruned when their blooms are finished. Summer and autumn types that flower on the current year’s wood should have that season’s growth cut right back annually, in the early spring.

Most shrubs, however, need very little pruning apart from the removal of dead or diseased wood. Never clip them back with garden shears to make them conform to a shape – you’ll do more harm than good. Hedging types, however, can be pruned to a convenient shape. As for others, your nurseryman will advise you on the pruning of individual plants. And remember -never prune just for the sake of it!

Many shrubs can be grown from seed—a fascinating process. But from seed to berries… Sometimes disappointment is caused when shrubs which should bear ornamental berries don’t! This is probably because they belong to a small group in which male and female flowers are carried on separate plants. Again, get advice from your nurseryman when buying.

A mention of hedges won’t be out of place. These are usually intended as a frame for a garden or as a screen, so obviously an evergreen is the best way of filling the bill. For really rapid results the best bet is the cupressocyparis leylandii, which grows about four feet each year. You plant it, in fact, and step back quickly! There’s another, thuja plicata, which is about as quick. But there are many other suitable plants which make admirable hedges. Hurry to that garden centre!

To sum up… Take special care in preparing the soil and planting your shrubs and they will grow well for years and years. Losses occur chiefly during the first few months after planting.


When planning your shrub garden it’s as well to bear the plants’ shapes in mind.

Spreading (Cotoneaster Horizontalis) Other ‘spreaders’ include Japanese Azalea Genista Hispanica Hypericum Calycinum Viburnum Mariesii

Fan-shaped (Buddleia)

Other fan shapes include:




Viburnum Fragrans (Hydrangea


Other circulars include:

Berberis Darwinii

Ceanothus Burkwoodii



Vase-shaped (Fuchsia)

Other vase shapes include:

Cytisus Albus




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