Nancy Brachey

There’s a wealth of choices among shrubs for Charlotte gardeners

Whether you plant evergreen azaleas in large batches or small doses, they make an impact in the landscape.
Whether you plant evergreen azaleas in large batches or small doses, they make an impact in the landscape. File photo

Few people start from scratch when building a shrub collection. Shrubs come with the house you buy.

The collection may be fine. But perhaps there are gaps that require closing, and some plants you simply don’t like the looks of.

The gaps may not be just empty spaces, but holes in the bloom season. More and more people want their home landscapes to show color through the year, not just in the azalea season.

Many choices are in garden centers, and it is helpful to think of shrubs in four ways: evergreen or deciduous; broad-leaf or conifer. All have a place in the landscape.

Evergreen shrubs are just what they say they are. They keep their foliage all year, though there may be some thinning of broad-leaf ones through the winter. Don’t be alarmed, new growth will emerge in spring. The range is huge, from dense conifers to broad-leaf stunners such as azaleas, gardenias, osmanthus, camellias, daphnes and rhododendrons. Because of their variety of form, color and size, evergreens should be the mainstay of a home landscape.

Broad-leaf evergreens rank high in popularity for several good reasons beyond their year-round beauty. Many do well in shade or part-shade. The Piedmont climate, including the usually mild winters, suits them. They bear gorgeous flowers. With careful selection, you can have camellias in bloom fall until spring, and a beautiful evergreen the rest of the year. Even azaleas now produce a longer season, thanks to the fabulous Encores, which also bloom in autumn and thrive as the days grow cooler.

Conifers make excellent accent plants and the modern selection includes a vast array of shapes, sizes and even colors, from light, yellow green through all shades of green to bluish green. A tall, skinny conifer may be just the thing for an accent at the corner of the house. Their density makes them a good choice to plant along a sunny stretch for a screen.

But make room for deciduous plants, also as accents to the main show of evergreens. These are outstanding ornamental shrubs that can keep the landscape blooming. You probably know them as forsythia, viburnum, spiraea, kerria, hydrangea, rose of Sharon and many more, all valued for their outstanding flowers. Every landscape should have some of these for their seasonal beauty.

These plants lose all or most of their leaves in the autumn, and some people don’t like the bare-sticks appearance. This would be a problem is your landscape were made entirely of deciduous plants. But when you work them into the scene by ones and twos among the evergreens, this tends not to become an appearance problem.

In addition to appearance, your shrub selections should be made on the amount of sun or shade in the chosen space as well as the mature size. Make sure the space has enough room for the plant to grow to its destined height and width.

Nancy Brachey: nbrachey@charlotteobserver.com

Ask Nancy

Q. I see mixtures of red and yellow tulips every spring, and they are beautiful, but I would like to do a combination just as nice but not the same.

A. The colors of tulips you’ll plant this fall all go very well together. Yellow mixes beautifully with violet. Pink and purple are gorgeous, A bright orange with softer yellow is lovely. White with another primary color can look very refreshing, and tends to make the more vivid color stand out.

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